By Steve Keating
SOCHI, Russia Feb 11 (Reuters) - It has been four years since the United States men's ice hockey was left heartbroken, a silver medal hung around their necks after a crushing overtime loss to Canada in the final at the Vancouver Olympics.
Such was the sting of that defeat that until four weeks ago, American sniper Patrick Kane had not watched a tape of the gold medal final, but with the Sochi Olympics a month away he figured it was time.
"The first time I watched it was this year, probably three or four weeks ago," Kane told Reuters on Tuesday. "It took me a couple of days to watch it all.
"At the time you don't realise what a big game it was, how many people were watching, how much coverage there was, how big it was for the game of hockey in general.
"From that sense you are happy to have been a part of it but it still stings that we couldn't pull off the victory. Really it was awesome to watch. It was kind of like watching the game not knowing what the result is going be."
That result, a 3-2 Canada win decided by Sidney Crosby's overtime winner, cannot be changed but the outcome of the Sochi Winter Games is still to be decided.
Despite reaching the gold medal game at two of the last three Olympics, the Americans will open the tournament on Thursday against Slovakia as underdogs.
While Russia, Canada and Sweden are expected to battle for top spot on the podium just like Vancouver, the United States is largely being overlooked as a gold medal threat and that suits Kane and his team mates just fine.
"One of our greatest strengths was the media and other teams didn't really think we had what it took to win a gold medal and going into the tournament I think we might have been ranked fifth or sixth," recalled Kane.
"Now you look at it and there has been a lot of talk about Russia and Canada and Sweden so you almost feel like an underdog again.
"We've thrived in that role before so it's not something we're not use to."
Where Kane has excelled, is coming up big when it matters most.
He scored the game-winning overtime goal in the Chicago Blackhawks' first Stanley Cup win in 49 years in 2010 and picked up a Conn Smythe trophy as the Stanley Cup playoffs' most valuable player last season when Chicago hoisted the Cup again.
"You always want to prove yourself as a big time player in big games," said Kane. "Just try to prove yourself at the highest levels of hockey.
"They are great opportunities, opportunities that don't come along often, if at all, so you try to take advantage as much as you can.
"I don't think you go into a game putting too much pressure on yourself to shine in these moments just try to go out play hockey and do the right things.
Doing the right thing has not always come easy for Kane, whose reputation as a partygoer has irked the Blackhawks management.
But Kane has worked hard to rehabilitate his bad boy reputation and comes to Sochi as a thoughtful team leader.
"The thing with the Olympics is it only comes around every four years so you get one or two of these opportunities to be here so you really have to take advantage and fulfill the opportunity," said Kane.
"In 2010 it didn't happen, it's cool to say maybe that you went home with a silver medal but it's still bittersweet because you lost and you get a medal for losing.
"It would be nice to bring home a gold medal." (Editing by Julian Linden)