By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada and Russia opened the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament with explosive wins on Tuesday to set the old rivals off on a collision course toward the gold medal final.
Canada launched their bid for the gold that matters more than any other to them by crushing Norway 8-0 while Russia rekindled memories of the Big Red Machine to dump Latvia 8-2.
The United States, seeking their first hockey gold since the "Miracle on Ice" 30 years ago at the 1980 Lake Placid Games, opened their account with a workmanlike 3-1 win victory over scrappy Switzerland.
For the 11th-ranked minnows from Norway it must have seemed like they had been thrown to the sharks when they were drawn to face Canada in an electrically charged opener in front of a raucous capacity crowd demanding nothing less than a mauling.
SEA OF RED
As Canada stepped on to the Olympic ice for the pre-game warm-up they were greeted by a seething sea of red and deafening roar from a crowd that had been anticipating the moment since Vancouver was first awarded the Games.
With no NHL players on their bench, the Norwegians looked across at the cream of Canadian hockey and a roster stocked with NHL MVPs, Norris trophy-winning defensemen, all-stars and the most successful netminder of all-time.
Canada had faced Norway three times in Olympic competition and outscored them 29-3 but the Norwegians came prepared to fight battling the gold medal favorites to a scoreless opening period.
But the Canadians finally broke through early in the second on a powerplay goal from Jarome Iginla who added two more in the third to complete his hat-trick.
Russia, seeking their first gold since the breakup of the Soviet Union, were led by two goals each from the NHL's top sniper Alexander Ovechkin and Danis Zaripov.
The United States were inspired by netminder Ryan Miller against Switzerland.
Miller, involved in a dispute with the International Olympic Committee over slogans painted on his helmet, put the controversy behind him to stop 14 shots and he also scored a small personal victory.
IOC rules regarding a clean field of play forced Miller to remove the nickname "Miller Time" from his mask since it also serves as a popular beer slogan but the netminder was allowed to keep "Matt Man" on his helmet as tribute to his cousin who died of cancer at the age of 18.
"I didn't want to start some kind of international incident, I respect the rules here it's not a big deal," Miller told reporters. "I put in a request that we would cover everything else. I just wanted to pay him tribute."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)