Feb 19, 2014 11:59 PM by Greg Smith
Before coach Dan Bylsma left the United States for the Olympic ice hockey tournament in Sochi, he and his star player from the Pittsburgh Penguins had a brief and cordial conversation about the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
"We wished each other luck," Bylsma said on his conversation with Sidney Crosby, who was heading to Sochi to play for Canada.
As luck would have it - or perhaps, very little of it come game day - the head coach of the United States men's hockey team will face captain Crosby and the Canadians as the two teams square off Friday for a spot in the gold-medal game.
"We're going to get that opportunity to go head-to-head," Bylsma said of their rivals from the 2010 Winter Games final.
The U.S. defeated Czech Republic 5-2 in the tournament quarterfinal at Shayba Arena Wednesday to move ahead to the semifinal. Across the street in the Olympic Park in Sochi, Canada edged out Latvia 2-1 to join the U.S. in the game.
"It's two teams that bring out the best in each other," said U.S. team captain Zach Parise after the victory. "We're going to have our hands full. We know it's going to be great game."
Team USA skated past the Czechs in Wednesday's victory, displaying sharp combinations, growing dynamics and by using speed to their advantage.
Dustin Brown scored the second U.S. goal after 14:38 off a sharp cross-pass by Ryan Suter while Phil Kessel picked up fourth goal of the tournament - and the fifth goal of the night for Team USA - off a quick long pass from Ryan Kesler.
James van Riemsdyk broke scoring 99 seconds into the game by connecting the puck through a small gap between Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec and the post. Parise, Dustin Brown and David Backes also put up goals for Team USA.
Czechs forward Ales Hemsky managed to get two pucks past U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick with 25-23 total shots in favor of the U.S.
The quarterfinal win marked the first Olympic victory for the U.S. against the Czechs in the two previous games played against the nation in the history of the Winter Games. The Czech last came away with the win in 1998 and went on to capture the gold medal.
Team USA cruised by Slovakia and Slovenia in bookend games in the preliminary round and came away with the win against Russia in a glorious shootout display by T.J. Oshie.
The U.S. won't be slated to head into another heated contest with a host nation at the 2014 Games as Finland put an end to Russia's aspirations for hockey gold earlier Wednesday.
"We're not upset that they're out, with how good they are" Parise said of the Russian team. "When you do have that home crowd, that home atmosphere always makes for an exciting game but when guys like [Ilya] Kovalchuk, [Alexander] Ovechkin and [Evgeni] Malkin aren't in the tournament anymore, it's pretty nice"
The team will skate into the larger arena, Bolshoy Ice Dome, Friday to play against Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medalists, for a spot in the 2014 gold-medal game. Sweden is scheduled to play Finland for the other slot in the final.
"This was certainly one we all wanted and possibly looked to," Bylsma said of the Canadian match-up. "You don't want to get ahead of yourself... but you're looking forward to the prospect of this rematch.
"And now," he said, "We have it in the semifinal."