Will Canada's long-awaited dynasty begin today? Eight years ago, with the introduction of NHL players into the Olympics, Canada entered the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano stocked with the league's most prominent stars -- Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros and Patrick Roy, to name a few -- but stumbled in the semifinals against the Czech Republic.
Four years later, at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake, Canada again took a star-laden lineup to the Games and this time did not slip. Led by Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla, the Canadians topped the United States for the nation's first gold medal in Olympic men's ice hockey in 50 years. Since that victory, Canada has cemented its status as the dominant force in international hockey, winning two world championships and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
This year's team, assembled by Gretzky, includes Rick Nash, Rob Blake, Roberto Luongo, Ed Jovanowski and Sakic and more high expectations for a nation that considers hockey its national pastime. The last time Canada's men's hockey team won gold in the Olympics before 2002, it was part of a back-to-back achievement with top finishes at the 1948 and '52 Games.
The United States will be looking to upset Canada and win its first gold since the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. After a crushing sixth place finish in 1998, the Americans rebounded to claim the silver at the 2002 Winter Games under the late Herb Brooks -- also the coach of that storied 1980 team. This year's squad includes 44-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios and 10 others who have competed on at least one Olympic team, with six of them veterans of at least two Games.