Is there a better international hockey rivalry than the United States and Canada?
Canada and Russia have a history, as do Sweden and Finland, but over the past decade the USA-Canada matchup has developed into one of the most intense and exciting rivalries that hockey has ever seen.
The rivalry's recent roots are most closely traced to the Olympics, with Canada and the US facing each other in the gold medal games in both 2002 and 2010, but the WJCs have also significantly added fuel to the fire as of late, with the countries meeting each other in the finals of the tournament in 2004 and 2010, both of which were won by the USA.
The two great hockey nations will face each other once again on Sunday (3:30 AM Central Time), in what could be one of the most compelling matchups of the round robin.
Despite outplaying the Russians in their last game and outshooting them 42-30, the US (1-1) wound up on the losing side of a tight 2-1 decision. The US has played well defensively so far, allowing only two goals in their two games, and will need to keep that trend going if they want to stymie Canada's potent offense. John Gibson was a beast against Russia and is expected to start again against Canada, despite going up against his OHL head coach Steve Spott, who is currently coaching Team Canada.
The Canadians (2-0) are undefeated so far, but the wins have not come without their share of setbacks. Canada allowed six goals over those two games, against lower-scoring Germany and Slovakia teams, and will face their first true defensive test against a USA squad that has scored nine times so far and is more dangerous on the attack than many are giving them credit for. The Canadian team will have to do so while shorthanded two forwards for the entire game, as both Boone Jenner and J.C. Lipon are out with suspensions. Stars prospect Brett Ritchie has yet to score for Canada, but given his proficiency for puck depositing this season in the OHL he's certain to be feeling an itchy trigger finger.
Switzerland (1-0-1) and Finland (1-1) both have wins and losses so far, but the Swiss have an extra point in the standings due to losing their first game in overtime opposed to regulation. Both teams are close in terms of their talent levels and playing styles, so beyond USA-Canada this could be another game worth keeping an eye on.
Radek Faksa has yet to register a point so far in the tournament, but should get plenty of chances as his Czech Republic team (1-1) takes on Latvia (0-3), a team that has allowed a whopping 17 goals over their first three games at this year's WJCs. With a win the Czechs would gain valuable ground in their group, while Latvia is almost all but eliminated already from tournament playoffs, even if they win.
The last game on Sunday features Germany (0-3) versus Slovakia (0-1-1). Slovakia still has playoff hopes, but would likely need to defeat both Germany on Sunday and then the USA on Monday to achieve that feat. Germany, after losing badly in all three of their games so far, have already been forced out of medal contention and down into the relegation round.