RALEIGH, N.C.—Fans across the continent embraced Friday’s men’s hockey semifinal between Canada and Team USA at the Sochi Olympics. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper bet a case of beer with President Barack Obama. A Chicago billboard suggested a different wager: The loser had to keep embattled Canadian pop star/U.S. party boy Justin Bieber.
In the end, the United States lost the Bieber Cup. Canada’s Jamie Benn scored in the second period, his teammate Carey Price made 31 saves, and Canada beat the United States 1-0 to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game.
With 24 American and Canadian players returning from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medal game, which famously ended with Canadian Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal, there was no shortage of motivation. There was also a wealth of mutual respect between North America’s hockey powers, both of whom went unbeaten through four games in Sochi.
“It’s a team that you want to be able to beat to say that you played through the best,” U.S. forward Patrick Kane said this week. “You’ve got to respect them, but at the same time, we have a chance to prove we’re in the same sentence with Canada.”
Team USA fans wanted that, too, especially after a heartbreaking loss by the U.S. women’s hockey team to Canada on Thursday. Fans were glued to TVs from the New York Mets’ spring training clubhouse to Raleigh, N.C., at Lucky B’s bar, co-owned by former Carolina Hurricanes player Bates Battaglia. Battaglia played for Team USA at two World Championships. (And, if he sounds familiar, he won CBS’s The Amazing Race last year with his brother, Anthony).
The midday crowd of about 50 people included supporters of both teams. Canada fans shrieked at near misses by their offense as others screamed at the U.S. defense, “GET IT OUT. OUT.” Antsy fans bobbed up and down on their toes.
In classic Southern style, though, “dagnabbits” replaced cheers as Canada’s defense ruled and the American special teams played especially poor.
The United States got some chances early in the third period. “America is coming! I’m telling you,” an American fan yelled like a movie voiceover guy. But Team USA couldn’t break through Carey Price at Bolshoy Ice Dome. The Canadians have not trailed during a game in the Sochi Olympics, and they didn’t need overtime to maintain border supremacy over the United States. The team’s stifling defense has allowed just three goals in five games, and they clamped down on the high-scoring American offense for every minute of a slightly anti-climactic evening.
The tournament isn’t over, though. The United States still has a chance against Finland on Saturday to win its first men’s hockey medal outside North America since 1972. Canada will face Sweden in the gold medal game Sunday, and for Calgarian Anthony Gaynor in Raleigh on Friday, beating Team USA won’t mean much if Sunday goes awry. “It’s gold or nothing for us,” he said.