This afternoon's USA vs. Canada hockey showdown, with a game time of 7:40 p.m., is the first marquee match-up on the men's side of the hockey draw during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The battle of neighbors and rivals figures to be a hotly contested showdown with significant medal implications.
For the Canadian squad, widely considered the favorite in the tournament, it's an opportunity to display its dominance before the medal round arrives. For the upstart United States group, it's a chance for the young roster to prove it belongs on the biggest international stage.
The pressure figures to fall squarely on Canada in this one. Given that the Olympics are set on home ice and the Canadians are the favorites, it's almost a must-win. Losing to the rival United States in front of an entire nation would be a catastrophic mental blow.
The U.S., meanwhile, enters with an underdog mentality anxious for an upset. Youngsters like defenseman Eric Johnson of the St. Louis Blues and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks are part of the youthful makeup of a squad also bolstered by the duo of Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas in net.
Canada, of course, is stacked, led by the young face of the NHL in Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are deep from top to bottom and figure to be difficult to beat in this tournament.
But the United States has it's chance this evening. Regardless of the outcome, it figures to be the kind of marquee match-up that reminds us how exciting it can be when you get the best athletes in the world on the same stage in a team sport.