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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Upgraded to captain's 'C,' Parise back as best rivalry in hockey returns to Olympic stage

Posted: 02/21/2014 1:18 AM | Comments: 0


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SOCHI, Russia - Everybody wants to talk about revenge except one of the guys to whom it's supposed to matter most.

Four years ago, Zach Parise was front and centre at the Vancouver Games as the United States vs. Canada emerged as the best rivalry in hockey. And as America's captain this time around, Parise figures to be right back in the middle of things Friday, when the two powers renew their clash in a semifinal on the Olympic stage.

But first, the soft-spoken winger wanted to make sure people don't get carried away.

"We," he corrected a reporter Thursday, "didn't let them win."

Far from it, actually. With 24 seconds left in the 2010 gold medal game, Parise carved out a tying goal and briefly stopped Canadian hearts beating from Vancouver to Halifax. He celebrated memorably by throwing himself against the glass above the boards. But soon enough, the other skate dropped.

Less than eight minutes into overtime, Sidney Crosby beat U.S. netminder Ryan Miller, making sure bragging rights still belonged to the land that believes it invented the game.

"I don't think at this stage of the tournament you need any extra incentive or any extra motivation," Parise added. "But I know for the guys that were there in Vancouver, whether it's from being reminded about it a lot when we've been here, it's definitely in the back of our minds that we'd like to be on the winning side of that game."

The same question would bubble up three or four times more before Parise's half-hour session was done. And like so many other players on either side, Parise went out of his way to explain that the matchup is less blood feud than sibling rivalry. He joked that he might have watched the replay of that fateful goal in Vancouver more than once had things turned out differently.

But either way, genuine resentment is in short supply on either side.

The National Hockey League, after all, resumes regular-season play just four days after Friday's game, and players from both teams will be back playing on the same team in some cases soon enough.

Still others were teammates in the past and some played together in college. A few more, like Parise — whose father J.P., played for several NHL teams and for Canada in the legendary 1972 Summit Series against the old Soviet dynasty — probably could have wound up playing for either side if they'd explored the options their parents' lineage provided.

But the flip side is this: From the first faceoff until the last whistle, the ties that bind them will be looser than ever.

"It's a pretty small hockey world, you feel like you've crossed paths with everybody at one time. ... But once you play, all that goes out the window.

"I've played against teammates," Parise added a moment later. "And trust me: They'll hit me and do everything they can to not allow me to score or do anything. So there's that understanding. It's not a disrespect for a player. You still respect your teammate and everything once this tournament's over, but you do what you have to do to win."

How both teams plan to do that are not state secrets.

The unbeaten Canadians have looked less than their potent selves on the stat sheets, largely because they've played cautious opponents — Norway, Austria, Finland and Latvia — determined to pack in their defences and try to steal a 1-0 win. In the last of those, a 2-1 quarter-final win over Latvia, nearly all the traffic was one way; Canada peppered tough-minded goalie Kristers Gudlevskis with 54 shots before he finally cracked.

The U.S. team's march through the bracket has been, if nothing else, more entertaining. Anticipating tight games, the roster was packed with two-way forwards and solid defencemen. But when Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic in succession roped the Americans into wide-open contests, they responded with a slew of goals, scoring five or more against each except Russia.

U.S. coach Dan Bylsma insisted one more time Thursday that was just happenstance and that his team's real character was strictly "blue-collar." The last thing they intended to do, Bylsma made clear, was get into an up-and-down-the-ice shootout with the Canadians.

"We're going to have to be ready to win a low-scoring game," he said.

If so, Parise will be one of the players Bylsma leans on to set the tone. Parise wore the "A'' of an assistant captain in Vancouver and was awarded the "C'' in Sochi, but he insists the letters matter little in terms of real leadership.

"It's guys that are used to playing 18, 19, 20 minutes back home and play on power plays and penalty kills and come over here and you play in a lesser role," he said. "But I think the guys who are doing that, they're really embracing what they're doing and taking a lot of pride in what they're doing, even if it is different than what they're doing at home."

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