SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- On the final day of the Winter Olympics, the United States and Canada will play for the hockey gold medal and for four years worth of bragging rights.
After neither nation won a medal in Nagano, where National Hockey League made their debut in the Olympics, both will win one this time.
"Obviously the visibility of this game is a little bit greater because of the worldwide attention its going to get," said Canadian General Manager Wayne Gretzky. "Our players understand the meaning of this game and they are focused and ready to play.
"I don't know if I have enjoyed it too much. The Olympics are something so special and unique. I think there is a sense of a North American championship here. I think it's going to be great for hockey, one of the greatest things that has happened in the NHL for a long time.
"It's going to be great physical, exciting hockey. The United States has come a long way as far as rhythm is concerned and they have been, without question, the best team."
Although both teams are laden with NHL stars, Canada has not demonstrated the teammwork displayed by the Americans.
Canada was overwhelmed by Sweden in the round-robin portion of the tournament, battled the Czech Republic to a tie and barely beat a weak German team. And then, after a one-goal victory over Finland in the quarterfinals, the Canadians got an easy semifinal assignment when Belarus shocked Sweden.
The United States, meanwhile, blasted Finland and Belarus and played two tough games with Russia -- tying one and winning Friday's semifinal, 3-2.
"This is big for us," said Canadian coach Pat Quinn. "Big for a lot of reasons that don't count about it being a game of hockey. They have terrific forwards. They play the power game, and they can also play a tactical game. What's impressed me is their discipline defensively."
The United States is looking for its first Olympic medal since winning gold in 1980. Canada has not won the gold in 50 years.
"Jeremy Roenick, USA Forward (Philadelphia Flyers), " All of Canada will stand still and watch," said American forward Jeremy Roenick. "This has been talked about for six months and it's finally going to happen.
"I think that the big ice favors us. We have more speed than they do, especially in our forwards, and maybe we can get away from some of the big Canadian defensemen.
"The United States has made great progress and is now a dominant hockey power, helped by winning the World cup in 1996. I am proud to be an American."
Mike Richter will be in goal for the United States, having come through in the clutch against the Russians.
"I guess anyone under the circumstances would want to be here," Richter said. "I think everyone dreams of winning the gold medal. It's going to be 60 minutes of hard hockey against an excellent team with great pride -- an excellent skating team that will be a very tough opponent."
Also in the spotlight will be American coach Herb Brooks, who guided the youthful U.S. team to the shocking gold medal in 1980 and who has been able to work just as well with the NHL veterans this time.
"What happened in 1980 jump started the American game and this will be a memorable game in my career," Brooks said. "I have never had a chance to coach in the Stanley Cup Finals, but this is a unique moment. This team has already done an awful lot for American hockey. In 1980, I was more a mentor or surrogate teacher. Now I am a conductor."