ADLER, Russia -- The four San Jose Sharks players here have not seen a whole lot of each other in the Olympic Village. Well, except for Team Canada's Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who are roommates.
But otherwise? Nope. Joe Pavelski of Team USA has not seen those two guys. They haven't seen him. Antti "Nemo" Niemi of Team Finland has barely come across the other three, even though there are common areas inside the Village.
"I've probably seen Nemo the most," Pavelski reported Sunday. "But not much. Just to nod at him."
All of this is likely to change by the end of this week.
But the most intense socializing will occur on ice.
Sunday, the Olympic hockey tournament finished up its round-robin circus, after a sweep of exciting games that decided the seeding for the elimination round that comes next.
And when the permutations sorted out, this much became clear: We are surely headed for a USA-Canada showdown Friday in the semifinals. That would mean we'd see Pavelski against Marleau-Vlasic.
"Don't go there yet," Vlasic cautioned. "We've got other games to get by in the quarterfinals."
True. But the way Team USA and Team Canada have looked over the past four days while staying undefeated to win their respective groups, the matchup seems inevitable.
"We're getting better," Vlasic said. "We're getting to feel better about being on the big international ice with every game we play."
"There's a very similar feel to Vancouver," said Pavelski, referencing the USA team that reached the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics. "We expected a high compete level every night and we're getting it."
Both the USA and Canada finished off their round-robin schedules Sunday with a flourish -- though in dramatically different ways.
Pavelski assisted on three goals to help the USA rout overmatched Slovenia 5-1 and grab the tournament's second seed.
Marleau and Vlasic were quieter for Canada, which stayed disciplined and beat a breakneck-paced Team Finland in overtime 2-1 on a goal by Drew Doughty. (Niemi dressed for Team Finland as a backup goalie but didn't play.) This gave Canada the third seed. Sweden is No. 1, Finland is No. 4.
Four years ago, of course, Canada beat the USA in that gold medal game. Is there evidence that the result could be different this time? Yes. In fact, if the teams played tomorrow, you'd probably have to pick the USA, strictly off what we've seen here so far.
"They are strong," Slovenia coach Matjaz Kopitar said about the American skaters. "They are fast. They are a title contender for sure, to me."
It all starts with Pavelski, who has been centering probably the most dangerous forward line in Sochi. For this, you can credit Dan Bylsma, the USA coach.
Before the tournament, Bylsma pondered his combination options. He decided to keep No. 1 centerman Ryan Kesler on the same line as Patrick Kane because of their success together at the 2010 Games. So the next choice was to have Pavelski play between high-production Toronto linemates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
The results have been stellar. Two great Pavelski passes set up Kessel for the first two goals of a hat trick Sunday. Pavelski had the second assist on Kessel's third goal.
"Joe has been maybe the best offensive player from the U.S. the first four months of the NHL season," an effusive Bylsma said. "He's certainly been hot of late. He's always right there in the middle of the ice, staying responsible defensively and finding the right people. To put that kind of skill and responsibility between Kessel and van Riemsdyk as a pivot, it made sense. They're maybe our best forward line."
Pavelski sloughed off the praise, saying Kessel's speed and hands make him an easy target for passes.
"We are having fun out there," Pavelski said. "And Van Riemsdyk and him have good chemistry. I just try to get them the puck when I can."
Mainly, after the emotional victory over Russia on Saturday followed by Sunday's game against Slovenia, Pavelski was looking forward to Monday's scheduled day off.
"Maybe I'll do some laundry or something," he said.
Canada also has Monday off and its own emotional high to come down from, after the thriller against Finland. The most impressive element of the Canadians' game was their ability to keep up with the Finns' velocity and tempo on the larger international surface. Succeeding from this point will require both that and the ability to be physical when necessary.
Vlasic, at his first Olympics, has looked comfortable playing both ways.
"It's what I expected," he said. "Fast-paced games, lots of skill, the best players, all the talent out there."
As he noted, however, Canada is showing improvement with each game -- and presumably each practice. So assuming both the USA and Canada win their quarterfinal games, by the time we get to Friday ... well, if they play, the pick here is Canada. Not just to beat the USA, but to win the gold.
Just don't tell Pavelski. Let him do his laundry in peace.
How the San Jose Sharks fared on the ice. PAGE 5