Cheryl Preheim explains the difference in the rules for men's and women's hockey. Gannett
SOCHI, Russia - Russia's identity seems to be Alex Ovechkin's face. Canada's is Sidney Crosby's hands. The Czech team is all about Jaromir Jagr.
The symbol of America's hockey team might be horns and a pitchfork.
One of the keys to the USA's unbeaten record heading into Wednesday's quarterfinal game against the Czech Republic has been its devilish playing style. The players are playing like the fire down below.
Centers David Backes and Ryan Kesler have been monstrous forces. U.S. coach Dan Bylsma wanted this team to be hard to play against, and Backes and Kesler have stormed around the ice like human tornadoes.
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On one shift against Russia, Backes rubbed out Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin with clean legal hits.
Bear wrestling seems easier than facing Kesler in this tournament. He has hit, bumped or growled at every opponent he has faced in the USA's first three games.
"For the most part, we've done a pretty good of being in the other team's face," U.S. captain Zach Parise said. "And we've been tough to play against without giving up any odd-man rushes."
There's more than one way to build an Olympic team, and the Americans, who will play noon ET on Wednesday, wanted a team that would annoy and frustrate their opponents on every shift.
Parise appreciates this strategy, because he saw it work when he played for the New Jersey Devils.
"When I played with the Devils, everyone would tell me they hate playing the Devils because you get nothing offensively," Parise said. "It's tough when you pick your head up and always find a guy in your face."
This American team is rich in spirited players who believe that grit can be the pathway to goals.
"Ryan Callahan has been as hard to play against as any of our guys," Byslma said. "David Backes is a big guy down the middle, and he is such an abrasive-type guy."
Byslma said Backes had been "going right after" opponents' top players. "And that's when we are at our best," the coach added.
Dustin Brown also plays that style. Brooks Orpik also can play physical. But being hard to play against doesn't always mean body on body. Ryan McDonagh is a relentless one-on-one defender, and if you watch him closely he never gives a puck-carrier any room. Not an inch. Skilled players have stopped, bobbed, weaved and cut against him, and they can't shake him. He's relentless and agonizing to play against.
The Americans played a similar style in 2010 when they won the silver medal in Vancouver.
"There are some similarities," Orpik said. "You try to generate momentum as you go, trying to get better and better as you go."
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But the USA seems more predatory and rougher in this tournament. The Americans are playing heavier in this tournament than they did in 2010.
"(Bylsma) wants a fast game and wants a team to play in their face, and I like playing that way, so, yes, this is (good)," Kesler said.
The USA has skilled players, but it doesn't have as many offensive dynamos as some of the other teams, such as Canada or even Russia. To be successful, the USA has to travel a different path.
Playing with an edge is contagious. Against the Russians, Pavel Datsyuk was skating through the neutral zone and seemed genuinely stunned to look up and see Phil Kessel dogging him stride for stride. Message sent.
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Going into the quarterfinals, the Americans have many reasons to feel good about themselves, but chief among them might be team unity, everyone believing that a layer of prickliness can be a beautiful thing for a hockey team.
"(Team building) doesn't happen with a magic potion or a bus ride," Bylsma said. "This team knows how it needs to play."