SOCHI, Russia -- The players don't talk about that day so much. Which is odd, considering the game was so memorable.

Four years ago in Vancouver, the USA and Canada men's teams played one of the great gold-medal contests in Olympic hockey history. More than 40 million people watched on television across North America. Canada won in overtime.

Two members of the Sharks who are also back at these Sochi Olympics, Patrick Marleau (Canada) and Joe Pavelski (USA), were on opposite sides in that emotional, exhausting, triumphant and heartbreaking game. They shook hands after it was over.

Team USA player reacts from the bench after a goal by forward Phil Kessel during the third period of men’s quarterfinal hockey game against the Czech
Team USA player reacts from the bench after a goal by forward Phil Kessel during the third period of men's quarterfinal hockey game against the Czech Republic in Shayba Arena at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip ) (David J. Phillip)

And then they barely mentioned it to each other for four years. It was just the usual "Good job, great game" before moving on. But what could they say, really? Winning was terrific. Losing stunk. They had to immediately go back to being San Jose teammates again. Why rub anything in too much? Why gloat?

The same held true for so many other NHL teams, the ones that provided players for both the USA and Canada. But now comes the rematch. The teams meet in an Olympic semifinal here Friday. And we are learning something: No one has forgotten 2010.

"It'll be great to have another crack at them," Pavelski said Thursday of facing Canada. "But they just don't give out these medals. There are a lot of good teams here."

These two teams stand apart, however. Sweden meets Finland in the other semifinal. But the USA-Canada winner will become the gold-medal favorite. It's just how the bracket fell.

"I think it's going to be the best game of the tournament," Canadian defenseman Drew Doughty said.

Canada, on paper, still has the best roster. And before the games began, in this space, Canada was the gold-medal pick. There's no sense backing down on that prediction. Would be wimpy.

However, the eyeball test over the past week makes that pick far less certain. Anyone who has watched the Olympic tournament knows that to this point, the USA has been playing more consistently productive hockey on the larger international ice surface.

The USA and Canada have 4-0 tournament records. But the USA has been more cohesive and is scoring more goals -- 20 of them to Canada's 13, even though Canada has faced generally weaker opposition. It's not a matter of finding shots. Canada has outshot the opposition here, 168-74. Those shots just have not connected.

Their performances in Wednesday's quarterfinals were illustrative. The USA breezed over the Czech Republic, 5-2, while Canada struggled to edge Latvia, 2-1, despite 58 shots on goal.

"We're playing a U.S. team that seems to score real easy," said Mike Babcock, the Team Canada coach. "We haven't scored real easy. But we'll be ready to play."

(Provincial Bay Area note: If Canada can't score goals, it makes you wonder why the nation's hockey brain trust did not select the NHL's second leading assist man, Joe Thornton of the Sharks, for its team. But too late now.)

Canada's offensive drought could end any time. With scorers such as Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews and Marleau on the team, fire could ignite any time. But so far, those four players have zero goals.

On the flip side, USA forward Phil Kessel, playing on the same line as Pavelski, leads all Olympic scorers with five goals and three assists in the four games. Seven USA players have four points or more.

Of course, those numbers might mean nothing Friday, especially if the game turns into a physical North American style game as most people think. Four years ago, the USA defeated Canada in a more free-flowing round-robin game, only to lose the tight-checking gold-medal final.

"We are not going to try to outshoot a team like Canada," USA coach Dan Bylsma said. "We are going in with a blue collar mentality, to outwork them. We want to win a low-scoring game, a 2-1 game ... This is the team and the game we wanted."

"They have a deeper team than we have," USA forward Paul Stastny said of the Canadians, "and they have more skill. But we are going to be very hard to play against."

If those words sound like scrappy words, that's because they are. With Russian hockey continuing to falter -- Wednesday's quarterfinal loss to Finland spread angst and disgust from here to Siberia -- you can say the sport's premier international rivalry is now self-contained in North America. Even when the game is played here in Eastern Europe.

"It's the biggest in hockey," Bylsma said. "For a long time the Canadians have been expected to win tournaments, junior tournaments and international games. And I think the Americans have challenged that in recent years."

The USA has a lot of ground to make up in that challenge. Over the years, Canada has a 49-7-3 record against the USA in international competition. That didn't happen because Canada is lucky. It happened because Canada was better.

But Friday, the task is simple. Team USA needs to find just one more goal than Team Canada -- and then go hunting for gold Sunday. Followed by four years of not gloating, just knowing you were the better team. As Pavelski says, the Olympics doesn't just give out medals. Time to earn a bright and shiny one.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.