Team USA must maintain composure

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SOCHI, Russia -- Let's be honest, in their heart of hearts, it really doesn't matter to anyone on this U.S. men's hockey team who it plays if there is a gold medal at the end of the road.

The Americans don't make the schedule. They just play the games.

But let's dig a little deeper in the honesty field, and there is another undeniable truth: The fact that the gold-medal path once again leads through Canada is more than a little OK with Team USA.

There are 13 members of this current team, including nine forwards, who were in Vancouver four years ago and had their hearts pulled from their bodies with Sidney Crosby's overtime goal in the gold-medal game.

On Friday, they will have a chance to avenge that loss in an Olympic semifinal match with Canada, with the winner heading to Sunday's gold-medal game and the loser to Saturday's bronze-medal match.

"I don't think at this stage of the tournament you need any extra incentive or motivation," U.S. captain Zach Parise said Thursday. "The guys that were there in Vancouver, whether it's from being reminded by it, it's definitely in the back of our minds that we want to be on the winning side of that game.

"Everyone from our side, it was a special game, a great game to be part of, a lot of fun. But at the same time, it goes hand-in-hand. You can't think about how fun the game is without thinking about how disappointing the end was. They go together. You have excitement from playing in the game and disappointment from losing."

In an interview shortly before these Olympics, defenseman Brooks Orpik talked about the feeling, bordering on disgust, at the end of that game, as officials hung the silver medals over their necks.

A few hours after the Americans' loss, Orpik was on a charter jet with Crosby back to Pittsburgh, where a group of fans were asking Crosby show off his new gold medal.

Those are memories that have been brought back into sharp focus in the hours leading up to Friday's game.

Coach Dan Bylsma wasn't part of the U.S. team four years ago -- he watched the game in a Pittsburgh deli/bar after his son's youth hockey game -- but he acknowledged this is the matchup his U.S. team has been craving at these Sochi Games.

"The 2010 Games and the gold-medal game has not been very far from a lot of these guys' memories," Bylsma said Thursday. "I think this group has wanted this game and wanted this rematch and they're ready for it."

Is it possible that Friday night's game will simply pick up right where the Vancouver game ended, or as it never ended? It is kind of a romantic notion, but it's not going to happen that way.

Much has changed in four years on both sides of this longstanding, intense rivalry. How could it not?

There is a general consensus that the U.S., winners of four straight games and the most offensively dominant team in the tournament, averaging five goals a game, has come together in an almost textbook fashion.

Part of that is the veteran experience, especially among the forward lines.

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