The Americans, Swedes, Russians, Czechs, and Finns are here to win a gold medal. The Canadians have an even higher purpose. They are here, as one Canadian television inquisitor put it, to "take back our game."

Most of the Olympic men's hockey players would never acknowledge the extra burden exists. But it does. Ever since the Russians established parity with hockey-obsessed Canada a quarter-century ago, Canada has felt proprietary about its most popular sport.The National Hockey League, once a Canadian playpen, is now 40 percent non-Canadian. The bully nation to the south has upset the fragile balance of franchise power. It is entirely possible that before too long, the only Canadian cities boasting NHL hockey will be Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. When a good Canadian hockey fan sees Charlotte, Phoenix, and Exit 16W with teams and Quebec, Winnepeg, and, let's say, Regina without one, he starts sticking pins into his Uncle Sam voodoo doll.

Losing the World Cup to the - ugh - Americans in 1996 was the final indignity moment. As Popeye might say, "That's all I can stands; I can't stands no more."

The Canadian people want their Olympic hockey team to take a stand. They want this nonsense to end and they want it to end in style. And based on what we've been looking at in Nagano, they are on their way to avenging the national honor.

Following Monday's 4-1 conquest of the U.S. there was a lot of "the-game-was-closer-than-the-score-indicated" rhetoric floating around on both sides, but the plain truth is that Canada was much the better team. Thus the tiresome American mantra: "The tournament begins on Wednesday."

But so far Team Canada coach Mark Crawford is pressing all the right buttons.

Crawford, you'll recall, caused something of a stir up north last week when he said Patrick Roy would be the Canadian goaltender, period. That's a strong position to take when you've also got Martin Brodeur available.

Well, guess what. Mrs. C didn't raise herself no dummy. Patrick Roy is making his mentor look very good.

I'm not saying he was transcendent against the Americans, but he was pretty darn good, and he was at his best when it mattered most.

That's what the nation to our north wants to hear. The Canadians are not gathering at 4:45 a.m. in a bar in Ottawa, for example (coffee and breakfast only; no alcohol served), to watch these games because they'd like to see their team come home with a silver or a bronze.

No, no, no. They're pulling themselves out of bed to see the Canadians kick some international butt.

They've played nine good periods, which means they are halfway there. People back home really don't care what the players plan to do with their medals. They just want their game back.