SOCHI, Russia — For hockey fans, it should be a fantastic Friday.
The United States and Canada will renew their rivalry in the Olympic semifinals, a rematch of the 2010 and 2002 gold-medal games, both of which Canada won.
In the other intriguing matchup, top-seeded Sweden faces Finland in a rematch of the 2006 Turin Games final won by the Swedes.
The winners will go for gold Sunday in the Sochi Games.
“To win a medal of any kind at the Olympics is a home run,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said. “But there’s one medal that everyone came for and dreamt about.”
Swedish defenseman Nicklas Kronwall knows all of the players on the ice for the Americans and Canadians, giving him a unique perspective on the game.
And like his coach, Kronwall isn’t afraid to make a prediction.
“I don’t know what it is, but it just feels like the U.S. has had a real good tournament so far,” Kronwall said after Thursday’s practice. “It seems like everyone is on the same page. It’s going to be a tight game, but I think that maybe the U.S. will take this one.”
Even though many of the players in the U.S.-Canada matchup are NHL teammates, including Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, there will likely be a lot of hitting and perhaps some talking on the ice.
“There’s a lot of animosity, a lot of feelings like there’s something to prove between both teams,” Toews said.
Sweden and Finland, neighbors in Europe, also are not fond of each other.
“It’s a love-hate relationship, definitely,” Kronwall said.
Twenty-four American and Canadian players have returned from the Vancouver Games finale, which ended with Sidney Crosby’s goal in overtime.
This time, Sid the Kid will go against the coach who leads his NHL team.
When Crosby is on the ice, U.S. forward David Backes will probably be ready to match up with the superstar.
“We’re certainly going to have David Backes out there in key situations,” U.S. and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “And, some of those will be against Sidney Crosby.”
Canada has won two of the last three Olympic golds, but the Americans are in an ideal position to win their first hockey gold medals since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980.
Sweden won gold eight years ago, the last time the Winter Olympics were in Europe.
The Finns, meanwhile, are the only nation with three Olympic hockey medals at Olympics with NHL players in the tournament. And yet, no one seems to be talking about them.
“Every time we go into tournaments like this we’re disrespected,” Finland forward Olli Jokinen said.