Final Olympic Showdown: USA vs. Canada

USA's Jamie Langenbrunner (15) celebrates a goal past Canada goalie Martin Brodeur (30) during the third period of a preliminary round men's ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010. The U.S. upset Canada 5-3.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
It's the last day of the Vancouver Games, and the head of the International Olympic Committee says Canadians can hold their heads high.

Jacques Rogge says they can be proud of both their athletes and the way Canada has welcomed the world.

Canada's Olympians have won 13 gold medals in Vancouver and Whistler - more than any other nation. They've tied the record for the most ever won by a single country at a Winter Olympics.

But the gold medal that is more precious than all others to most Canadians is still up for grabs.

And the anticipation of this afternoon's men's hockey final between Team Canada and the rival Americans is palpable across the land where hockey rules.

Complete Coverage: Vancouver Olympics

For all intents and purposes, this country will grind to a halt this afternoon as Canadians glue themselves in front of their TV sets.

The puck drops at 12:15 p.m. PT (3:15 p.m. ET) for an event that's expected to produce a record audience for a Canadian sports event.

The North American neighbors played the most competitive game of the Olympic hockey tournament a week ago on a day dubbed Super Sunday. It was a 5-3 U.S. victory, which convinced the Americans they were the best team, and awakened the Canadians to the fact that an Olympic gold medal in their national sport wouldn't be a walkover.

"There were no expectations for us, from the media or the fans, no expectations for us other than ourselves," U.S. defenseman Jack Johnson said. "I think we had higher expectations for ourselves than anyone. Our expectations were to win a gold medal, we've put ourselves in a position to do that and I think we've earned that, absolutely."

Canada is the hockey superpower that always was supposed to play for the gold medal, on home ice, in the very country that claims the game as its own.

The U.S. hasn't won a hockey gold outside of its own borders but has been the best team in the Olympics so far.

Beating Canada once was difficult enough for the U.S., but they'll have to do it again if they don't want to leave with the silver for the second time in three Olympics. Canada also beat them in Salt Lake City eight years ago.

"It's hard to beat a team twice in a tournament like this," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "But we've beaten Canada, and we'll play better than we did the last time we played against them."

Last Sunday's win by the Americans over Canada was the first in the Olympics for 50 years. On Sequel Sunday, the U.S. will try to become Olympic champions on in the 50th anniversary year of their gold medal in Squaw Valley, California, in 1960.

"We all talked, `Wouldn't it be nice?' and now we have the opportunity," said U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller, who has arguably been the games' best goalie. "We have the talent. We have some youthful excitement, we have the right kind of veteran players."

A decidedly young U.S. team also has a chance for the gold that the now-eliminated Russians, Swedes, Czechs and Finns don't have. The U.S. is the only team to win every game in regulation in Vancouver, and it owns two of the most impressive victories by beating Canada and 2006 silver medalist Finland 6-1 in the semifinals.

Team Canada has been beaten only once in Vancouver - to the Americans - and have been very good since losing to the U.S., blowing out Germany 8-2 and Russia 7-3, but they've also shown some vulnerability. The Americans' speed confounded them, and they barely held on to beat Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinals Friday night as Roberto Luongo gave up two late goals.

"We've got to jump on them early," American forward Ryan Kesler said Saturday. "The Russians and Slovaks sat back and we're not going to do that, we're going to go right after them from the puck drop. We're going to have to get in his (Luongo's) face."

Canada's confidence apparently wasn't shaken by last Sunday's loss. Coach Mike Babcock was half-smiling after the Slovakia game when he said the U.S. should be favored, and defenseman Shea Weber said, "They did beat us, but now it's a whole different game."

Miller might represent the United States' biggest advantage; he has outplayed Luongo, who took over for Martin Brodeur following the loss to the U.S.

"We were too easy on Miller last time," Babcock said. "We won't be this time."

Neither will the crowd, which has kept the pump-up-the-Canadians volume at rock-concert levels game after game.

"The Canadians view this as their game and they view this game as planting a flag on a peak," Burke said.

The player expected to be Canada's best, Sidney Crosby, hasn't scored in two games and his most significant contribution was beating Switzerland in a shootout. He has yet to dominate, but what better time to start than the gold-medal game? When Crosby last faced Miller in the NHL, on Feb. 1, he scored three goals.

"I feel like I've generated a lot of chances," Crosby said. "The puck hasn't gone in as easy for our line the last couple of games, but we've been right there and that's a good sign. Hopefully, this is the time we're going to break out here."

If there is one shared sentiment in the Canadian dressing room, it's this: We're not going to let the United States beat us twice.

"It doesn't matter who we play in the gold-medal game, we want it so bad," forward Jonathan Toews said. "It will feel good to beat the U.S., for sure."

The game, Toews said, is "an opportunity of a lifetime" for any player.

Canadadian forward Rick Nash said this "is going to be a fun day."

At the Vancouver Olympics, the U.S. squad has a perfect 5-0 record, including a 5-3 win over Canada in a preliminary round game a week ago.

In Toronto Sean Fleming says it's more than just a game, it's a battle between the two countries.

He says hockey represents Canada's national identity and there's always that special desire to beat the Americans at our game.

Bruce Arseneau of Moncton, New Brunswick predicts a tough game, but says Canada will win if it plays 60 minutes of good hockey.

The tickets still available for today's gold-medal hockey match between Canada and the U.S. are selling for thousands of dollars. wants $138,000 for a suite, or about $6,900 for a seat in the suite.

Tickets on eBay Canada are selling for as much as $15,000, but Renee Smith-Valade of Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee says buyer beware.

She says there's no guarantee the tickets are legitimate if they haven't been purchased through authorized ticket reseller.

Ticket prices from those resellers are capped at 10 times the original price - which ranged from $350 to $750 apiece.

The closing ceremonies take place this evening at 8:30 p.m. ET.