Country first for Ducks, Kings players
Walk inside the Ducks' locker room at the Honda Center and there's nothing particularly noteworthy or remarkable that catches the eye. It's bright and carpeted; spacious stalls line the walls, music blares loudly, players trudge in and out, on their way to or from the weight room, showers, massages or physical therapy.
Goaltender Jonas Hiller is there on the left wall, right next to the captain, Scott Niedermayer. Bobby Ryan is squeezed into the corner, adjacent to the door to the training room, off limits to the media. On the other side of that door sits Teemu Selanne, who's an immediate neighbor to the Ducks' version of Frick and Frack -- Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. And nearby, on the next wall is Saku Koivu.
Just a bunch of world-class athletes rubbing shoulders with one another before and after every game or practice, all united in one noble cause to make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup.
Except for right now.
Because many of these guys are in Vancouver, Canada, playing for their countries, trying to win Olympic gold for their team.
All told, there are nine Ducks who are participating on four different teams in Vancouver, more players than any other team in the NHL.
"Obviously, I'm very happy to see so many of my teammates going to the Olympics," said Selanne, who along with Koivu is playing for Team Finland. It's a big honor to put your country's jersey on, especially for the Olympics. It's going to be fun to play against these guys. Obviously we're good friends off the ice. But once you put the helmet on and your country's jersey, it's a new game. Everybody wants to beat each other. And once we get there, the war is on."
So during that last stretch before the Olympics, as the Ducks were focusing on trying to earn as many points as possible before the break, the Olympians on the team were also steeling themselves for Vancouver and what would be some inevitable run-ins with one other during the Games. Translated: If an NHL teammate, or locker mate, is skating between you and a chance at a win or a medal, keep your head up is the mantra for everyone involved.
"Definitely," said Perry, "you're on that team to win. You're playing for your country. You take pride in that and you'll do anything to win those games."[+] EnlargeCris Bouroncle/Getty ImagesScott Niedermayer, captain of Team Canada, says he and his fellow Canadian Ducks teammates are trying not to get too carried away with trash talking ahead of the game against the U.S.
So when Perry, Getzlaf and captain Niedermayer of Team Canada face off against Ryan of Team USA on Sunday afternoon, Perry will have blinders on -- at least as far as any name on the back of the jersey of the team he'll be playing.
"You play for that crest on the front of your jersey," Ryan said, "and when you step on that ice you want to do anything to win. So there's no friends out there; it's all enemies."
(Especially now that the perception -- particularly in Canada -- is that the home team has something to prove. While Team USA won its two games rather handily in the preliminary round, against Switzerland and Norway, the tournament-favorite Canadians were forced into a shootout with the Swiss on Thursday and will go into Sunday's game with five points to the maximum six that the underdog Americans have earned so far with their two wins.)
Niedermayer isn't as fiery as Perry -- after all, he is the captain of both the Ducks and Team Canada -- and he was a tad more diplomatic about the proximity of his locker to Ryan's.
"We're a quiet corner to begin with," he said, allowing a small smile to cross his face, "so we're not getting too carried away with that stuff. But for the most part, yeah, there has been some friendly stuff going on between the guys."
"Our corner," he said with a wink in a grin, "is all about respect for each other in this area.
"I don't mingle with them over there," he continued, nodding toward Perry and Getzlaf and the Finnish contingent. "I stay here. Scotty's here and him and I just watch from our nest over here. We don't get involved in all the trash talk."
Taking the high road, huh, Bobby?
"We are," he said laughing, "and we're not trying to talk about it too much. Scotty and I won't be friends a week from now, that's for sure. It'll be a lot uglier then.
In Team USA's first Olympic game Tuesday against Switzerland, it was Ryan, the Ducks' leading goal scorer with 28, who got his team rolling with the first score of the tournament -- a rocket from the high slot that beat his teammate, Swiss goalie Hiller, high on the glove side.
Of course, beating a goalie with a shot is one thing. But what about beating -- or at least physically punishing -- an NHL teammate?[+] EnlargeBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDustin Brown of the Kings and Team USA has a friendly battle going with Kings teammate Drew Doughty, who plays for Canada. The teams will play each other Sunday in the Olympics.
"We've been bugging each other," Doughty said. "He's been telling me he's going to run me for a little while now so I'm ready for it. But we're all pumped to play against each other. It's going to be a pretty cool experience."
Said Brown: "Oh yeah. It's one of those things where we're teammates during the year but any opportunity we get to play against each other at that level and on that stage you're going to play just as hard against Canada or someone you play with regularly."
Of course, few play harder than Brown, consistently one of the top hitters in the NHL, especially when it comes to entering the opposition's offensive zone.
"I mean it's the Olympics," said Brown, when asked about the prospect of going head to head with Doughty, "so obviously I'll think I'll have my head up coming down the wall, but the advantage I have is I can just chop it in. He has to go get it.
And naturally Brown will be right on his tail?
"Exactly," Brown said grinning, "so it's a double-edged sword for both of us.
"I told him I'll be head-hunting for him," Doughty said laughing. "It's definitely weird. If he's coming down on a rush or something like that and I can line him up for a hit, I guess I'm supposed to.
Oftentimes Jack Johnson teams up with Doughty on the Kings' blue line. But come Sunday afternoon, he'll have no problem putting a bulls-eye on his back.
"If one of my [Kings] teammates is wearing a different country's jersey," said Johnson, without any hint of a smile, "they're not teammates for those two weeks. Just plain and simple. They're the enemy pretty much and that's just the way it is. And when the tournament's over they'll be my teammates again.
Which explains why on the Monday night before the Olympic break, shortly after the Kings and Ducks played their usual intense and hard-hitting game against each other at the Honda Center, there was Ryan and Johnson having a friendly chat in the hallway in between their locker rooms, no doubt discussing their living arrangements in Vancouver, where the two are rooming together.
And of course, Brown and Doughty aren't sharing the same space these days, either. Doughty is rooming with mates from the Canadian team and Brown is bunking in with another Kings teammate, Team USA goaltender Jonathan Quick.
"It'll be a relief," Brown giggled, just before the break. "I spend most of my time babysitting Dewey [Doughty] when we're on the road. Quickie will be a lot easier."
Doughty only shook his head and chuckled when Brown's remarks were relayed to him.
"I don't want to hurt him for the rest of the season," he said, a glint in his eye, "but you know, we are playing for our countries."
He paused and then glanced to his right, where Brown was tugging off his skates, and then to his immediate left, where Johnson was holding court with several reporters.
Doughty grinned and shook his head.
"It's going to be a battle," he said, "it's going to be a real battle."
Tom Murray covers hockey for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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