'Miracle' far from U.S.' minds

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SOCHI, Russia -- Saturday's clash of early Olympic tournament titans, the United States and Russia, is a rivalry steeped in history and myriad personal connections.

Whether it's Ryan Suter's father, who played on the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. team or Zach Parise's father, J.P., who was part of Canada's seminal 1972 Summit Series against the Russians -- "The '72 series was the highlight of his career, playing against the Russians," Parise said earlier this week -- or assistant GM Ray Shero's Russian connection via his father, Hall of Fame coach Fred, whose visit to Russia played a large role in the elder Shero's coaching doctrine, the backdrop for Saturday's game is rich in storylines.

Heck, the head of the Sochi Olympic Games organizing committee told reporters Friday about his own memories of the 1980 Olympics and the historic loss to the Americans.

"I was only 11 years old but knew the names of all the players by heart, even though I grew up in an area where there was no ice," Dmitry Chernyshenko said.

"We all grew up in the culture that hockey is a religion in our country, and we were educated by this very dramatic story of the competition between our two great countries," Chernyshenko added.

But here's the funny thing: The history, the storylines are all something of white noise to the players who will decide the next chapter in this rivalry.

U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma was asked Friday how many times he was planning to show his team the movie "Miracle" chronicling the 1980 team's unlikely march to Olympic glory.

"Zero," he said.

"What those guys did in 1980," St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said after the team's practice Friday, "it's outstanding. It's amazing what they were able to do and to come together as amateurs beat professionals with all the political side notes that were going on at that time. But that's 34 years ago and we've got a crew that would love to write our own chapter, and maybe give the generation of kids that's playing hockey today something else to look forward to or strive to repeat.

"That's some motivation we have. But we've got to take it one game at a time and in the end that will take care of itself."

Make no mistake, this is the most important game of the preliminary round.

It's expected Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in attendance.

But this isn't about a clash of cultures. Hasn't been for a long time.

Instead it's a clash of gold-medal hopefuls playing for an opportunity to open up a more direct route to that goal.

"I think the atmosphere is going to be out of this world in that building," Backes said. "It's very tight with the crowd right on top of you. The fans as enthusiastic as they've been at the Olympics so far. They love their hockey and I'm sure it's going to be a rowdy, rowdy crowd. You look forward to that; you also look forward to playing against some of the most skilled players in the world, and they've got a long list of them on that team."

The winner of Saturday's contest will almost certainly win this group and earn a bye to the quarterfinals. The Russians will close out the three-game preliminary schedule against Slovakia, while the U.S. will close out Sunday against the first-time Olympians from Slovenia.

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