For 6 teams, it goes beyond the gold

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For 6 teams, it goes beyond the gold

VANCOUVER - Sometimes a game is about more than the score, a place in the standings, a line in a record book. Sometimes it’s personal.

This morning will see hockey’s version of Super Sunday, a day that should presage what should be a dramatic final week of the Olympic tournament, as six teams with long and sometimes antagonistic relationships go head-to-head in rematches of each of the last three Olympic finals.

Best friends playing best friends: Canada meets the United States, a replay of 2002. Bad feelings renewed: Russia plays the Czech Republic, a rematch from 1998. Good neighbors, deep rivals: Sweden faces Finland, as it did in the 2006 gold-medal game.

It promises to be one of those days that are recalled by future generations, when talk turns to memorable Olympic Games and someone says, “Remember when ...”

“Anybody who’s a hockey fan is going to be watching,” U.S. coach Ron Wilson said.

Which game is the biggest depends on citizenship papers. For Canada, the gold-medal favorite, the match against the United States could signal whether the team’s dramatically altered lineup from 2006 is one of substance or hype. The Canadians struggled to beat Switzerland 3-2 on Thursday, and the United States - which won each of its first two games - is much faster, more skilled and should offer a much tougher test than the Swiss.

The Czech Republic is always ready to play the Russians, as evidenced by two of the last three Olympics. Each time, the Czechs won a medal - gold in 1998, bronze in 2006 - by beating Russia. Each time, the victory was cheered by millions back home, and for reasons that extend from a sheet of ice to political history.

Russia already has lost to Slovakia 2-1, so going down to the Czechs could doom one of the pre-Olympic favorites to playing through a qualification game merely to get a unfavorable matchup in the quarterfinals.

Sweden and Finland each won their first two games of round-robin play in regulation, so the winner is guaranteed to advance to the quarterfinals. Sweden beat Finland 3-2 for the gold medal in an all-Nordic finals in Turin, but today’s loser may have a much harder route to the finals.

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