Gold is in sight for Americans

But first, U.S. must get past Finland in semis

The United States men's hockey team will play for a medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. It just doesn't know what color yet.

The Americans last won gold in the “Miracle on Ice” year of 1980. Since then they have only medaled once — a silver in 2002 on home ice in Salt Lake City. To do so this time around, Team USA must go through Finland, a team it faced in both of those Olympics.

The semifinal contest takes place at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. The last time the United States and Finland played was the quarterfinals of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino — a 4-3 win for the Finns en route to a silver medal. So far, the Americans are an unexpected 4-0 and the No. 1 seed after pool play. The experience has been everything the players hoped, especially the 5-3 upset of Canada on Sunday.

“But the next step in this tournament is going to be a new level,” said United States forward David Backes, who has a goal and two assists through four games.

Fifteen players return from the Finns' silver-medal squad in 2006 and the country has medaled at three of the last four Winter Olympics. Eighteen members of the 23-man roster currently play in the NHL and the other five have NHL experience. The Finns have few elite offensive stars in the Alex Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby mold. Only forward Mikko Koivu (56 points) ranks in the top 25 in the NHL in scoring. He's 24th overall.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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