Canada ready for ultimate pressure test

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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Canada v U.S. Olympic final on Sunday is the match-up North American ice hockey fans dreamed of, but the question facing the Canadian squad is how do they stick-handle the pressure puck?

A poll published this week found one third of Canadians would consider the Vancouver Winter Games in the hockey-mad country a failure if the ice hockey men do not win gold, something the Canadian women have already done.

"We've been under pressure for two weeks now," goaltender Roberto Luongo said on Friday, brushing off suggestions the Canadians could struggle with the extra emotional weight on their shoulders.

"It's part of the process, we're excited and we're going to have a lot of fun, especially against the U.S.," said Luongo, who became Canada's starter when Martin Brodeur struggled in their 5-3 loss to the Americans last week.

That game set a record for television viewing in Canada.

The U.S. started playing the pressure card against Canada before the Olympics got under way, with general manager Brian Burke calling it "glacial" and suggesting the Canadians would crumble under it.

They are still playing it, even after beating the Canadians earlier in the tournament.

"I still don't think we'd be the favorites at all," said U.S. forward Zach Parise after the Americans dispatched Finland 6-1 on Friday to get a shot at the gold.

U.S. coach Ron Wilson downplayed the significance of the American's earlier win, saying not too much should be read into the earlier games when squads using players from different NHL teams really begin to gel.

The Canadians also warned against making too much of that loss because they have learned how to handle the pressure.

"We're definitely a better team now. We're getting use to the crowd and the energy," said forward Dan Boyle.

(Editing Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story