United States now Canada's top hockey rival, Stamkos says
No offense to the rich and emotional hockey history forged by Canada and the former Soviet Union/Russia, but the United States is now Canada's No. 1 hockey rival, Lightning star Steven Stamkos said.
"I think even more now, with the success the American team has had, I think that's the bigger rivalry, to be honest," said Stamkos, who would be playing for Canada at the Sochi Olympics if not for a broken right leg. "You have all North American players, a lot of guys who are really familiar with themselves, so I think that brings a new mentality in. It's going to be another great game."
The game Stamkos is referencing is Friday's Olympic semifinal. The other semifinal is Sweden-Finland, another great rivalry.
The United States-Canada rivalry is fairly young. That is because, as Lightning coach Jon Cooper pointed out, "30 years ago, USA Hockey was not where it is today."
Indeed, Canada, according to a story in the San Jose Mercury-News, has a 49-7-3 overall record against the United States. But as Cooper said, "(USA Hockey) has done a heck of a job starting a grass roots program. Now that the U.S. has become a power and Canada has stayed a power, and geographically it just makes sense."
Things began to really change in the rivalry when the United States beat Canada for the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship. The sides played for gold at the 2002 Winter Olympic in Salt Lake City with Canada coming out on top. In the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the United States bested Canada in preliminary play, but Canada beat the United States for gold.
Add that the United States has won three world junior championships since 2004 (only Canada with five has won more) and the heated rivalry between the country's women's teams, and you have a big deal.
As for Friday's game, "I think you're going to be watching guys who are going to be playing as if it is the Stanley Cup playoffs," said Lightning center Nate Thompson, who played for the United States at the 2012 and '13 world championships. "I think guys are going to be blocking shots, hitting. It's going to be a hard-fought game. It's going to be fun to watch."
"You think of Canadian hockey and the '72 series with the Russians, that's the big thing that sticks in Canadian hockey history," Stamkos said of the Summit Series, dramatically won by Canada. "But I do think the (Canada-United States) rivalry is definitely growing and is equal or if not surpassed the Canada-Russia game. We've seen it in the world juniors, the amount of success the American have had lately and the amount of success they've had in the Olympics. It's going to be a big test for Canada."