If Bylsma can take credit for reuniting a group that spent time playing together four years ago in Vancouver, he cannot take credit for the big line's "Meat" moniker.
"They're a tough line to play against. In the NHL, each of them on their own team are tough to play against. Putting them all together makes it extra tough," offered U.S. defenseman Ryan Suter, who had three assists versus the Czech Republic and toils on the blue line for the Minnesota Wild. "I thought they played well. They do have some skill. We call them the Meat Line, but they showed a lot of skill."
"I'm the beef, Dustin Brown's the pork and Callahan's the chicken, so that's our Meat Line," Backes quipped.
If there is a constancy to the Olympic tournament, it is the desire to keep pushing forward, to keep finding those elements that need to be put in place to take another step. The Russians never found that, playing by far their best game against the Americans on Saturday in a losing effort and ultimately dropping a 3-1 decision Wednesday to Finland.
Coming into the quarterfinals as the second seed, the U.S. likely deserved a better matchup than a Czech team heavy in established NHLers. Sweden, the No. 1 seed, drew surprise Slovenia and won handily 5-0, while third-seeded Canada drew another surprise team, Latvia, and struggled, finally winning 2-1 to set up the classic semifinal clash with the U.S.
The Americans have played three teams with a significant NHL presence (Slovakia, Russia and the Czechs) in their four games, which might provide them with the challenge needed to take on a deep, richly talented Canadian team and return to the gold-medal game for the second Olympic tournament in a row.
"It sucks that we lost, but they were better," said Czech netminder Alexander Salak, who came on in relief of Winnipeg Jets netminder Pavelec after the Americans' fourth goal. "They have a great team and I hope they're going to get the gold."
Will the tougher road to the semifinals serve the U.S. well? And will Salak get his wish of a gold for the Americans? At least in part, that will be revealed against Canada on Friday. At this point, the U.S. will have to be satisfied in knowing that they continue to build something impressive, perhaps even formidable as they move to the final four of this unpredictable tournament.
"I don't know if we're supposed to meet, but it seems like it was inevitable at some point we'd be meeting," Backes said of the matchup with Canada. "Semifinals in a foreign land. We've traveled 5,000 miles to play each other, and we share a long border with each other. There's great things about this tournament; in order to win it, you're going to have to beat great competition."