Commentary

Players in unusual spot for prelim clash

Updated: February 21, 2010, 1:59 AM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The matchup between Canada and the United States on Sunday isn't just a border war, it's a battle of brothers, a stunning clash of players who only days ago were sitting shoulder to shoulder in their NHL locker rooms.

Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, part of the visiting U.S. squad Sunday, said quite simply on Saturday afternoon, "I hate them."

"It's a big rivalry. I wouldn't say I hate them, you have respect for the other team," he added, perhaps understanding how harsh he sounded. "Canadians expect to win the gold and anything less is not good enough. It's going to be fun to try and knock them off."

How deep do the connections run between the two countries?

Eighteen Canadian players will face off against at least one NHL teammate on the U.S. roster. Here's a look at how that breaks down, and what players are saying on the eve of what promises to be an emotional clash.

Anaheim Ducks

Canada's Scott Niedermayer, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf versus USA's Bobby Ryan and Ryan Whitney: Ryan opened the Olympic tournament scoring for the U.S. against Anaheim teammate and Swiss netminder Jonas Hiller. He is hoping to make it 2-for-2 against Ducks teammates Sunday.

"I really hope so, I hope that's the case," Ryan said. "I would love to give Getz and Perry the minus, maybe even Scotty a minus, and put one in. That would be great."

Is there an advantage to knowing players as intimately as Ryan knows his two NHL teammates with whom he often plays on a forward line?

"Maybe to a degree," Ryan said. "I think the style that Getz and Perry play in the offensive zone, you really can't shut down. You can contain and you can try and let them do their thing from the outside. But from me playing with those two on a line so much, if the D asks me about them a little bit, I'm just going to say let Perry spin around the corner as much as he wants and try to keep Getzy to the outside because you can't shut them down, you can only contain them."

Does it add to the emotion on Sunday?

"A little bit. The national pride obviously will be No. 1 and is the main factor, but I know going back to that room in Anaheim, I'd love to have bragging rights on the three of them," Ryan said. "I love the fact that I can get on Hillsy all year about scoring that goal, and it's certainly something that will be talked about in that room. And I'm sure all these other guys that are going to get a chance to do the same will tell you that, so I'm looking forward to it."

Perry looks forward to the test.

"If he's in your way, you're going to go through him," he said. "Bobby, he's a big kid. He's got good hands and he can shoot the puck. He's a guy that has deceptive speed and he can beat anyone one on one."

As for playing against Whitney, a defenseman, Perry won't hold back.

"I'm sure if he's in the way, you're going to run him over," said Perry. "You're playing for your country and everybody wants it as bad as you do."

Canada captain Niedermayer has a wealth of international experience, so this dynamic isn't new.

"I've taken shots from guys I would have called my friends," Niedermayer said. "That's just part of it."

Chicago Blackhawks

Canada's Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith versus USA's Patrick Kane: For the past three seasons, Kane and Toews have been inexorably linked. Now that link will be broken at least for a day.

"We've always been included on everything single thing we've done [in Chicago], as linemates, as roommates, whatever, in three years in Chicago," Toews said. "This will be cool to test ourselves against one another. We both want it pretty badly for our own teams. This is bigger than just a friendship between two players.

"I've never joked about it with Kaner that much, but after what happens tomorrow, there definitely will be bragging rights I guess," he said.

Kane acknowledged it is "a little weird."

"You play with him for the past three years. I've developed chemistry with all three of those guys where you pretty much know what they're going to do when you're on the ice," Kane said. "That chemistry takes awhile to develop."

Kane figures he will maybe be able to exploit that chemistry Sunday.

"I've watched them the past couple of years, so hopefully I can learn from what they do a lot," Kane said. "Especially Seabrook and Keith. I know they like to do some things. If they're paired up, I kind of know what to expect. We'll see what happens. It's Canada versus the U.S. It's not me versus them three."

Los Angeles Kings

Canada's Drew Doughty versus USA's Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Jack Johnson: Like Kesler, Johnson has been blunt in his thoughts on his Kings' teammate; in short, he doesn't consider Doughty a teammate at this point in time.

"Not right now, to be honest," Johnson said. "Once we throw on our country's jerseys, they're not teammates at all. Not one bit. They're just playing for the other country and they're the enemy."

Has Johnson talked to Doughty?

"Nope, I haven't said a word," said Johnson. "And I don't think anything needs to be said."

Brown, the Kings' captain, is good friends with Doughty.

"We room together, we talk about the game quite a bit," Brown said. "I'm sure he's going to have his head up for me and vice versa."

Who will deliver the first hit?

"Most likely, he will. I might just chip it in every time I'm on the ice with him," Brown said with a laugh.

San Jose Sharks

Canada's Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle versus USA's Joe Pavelski: Boyle said he ran into Pavelski downtown and they chatted briefly, so it's not at the point of not speaking.

Given the Sharks' forward combination and Boyle are power-play regulars and Pavelski is a top penalty killer, it is possible all five Sharks will be on the ice together. Thornton said he hopes his faceoff acumen gives him an edge over Pavelski, another center.

"I know him, and he knows me, so hopefully my strengths outweigh his strengths," Thornton said. "But it should be interesting for sure."

"If anything, when we get back together in a week here, you don't want to be the guy that lost, on the losing end," Boyle added.

Carolina Hurricanes

Canada's Eric Staal versus USA's Tim Gleason: Said Gleason of playing against his teammate: "I think you obviously play for your country and you try to do the best that you can. But you put that aside and the fun part of it is, and you go back ... you're going to take some heat if you lose and you're going to have all smiles if you win. It'll be interesting to see what happens. ... and I'm going to play it like any other game, just like he probably would."

Pittsburgh Penguins

Canada's Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury versus USA's Brooks Orpik: Earlier this season, Orpik wondered aloud how popular he would be in Pittsburgh if he did something at the Olympics to either Crosby or Russian star (and teammate) Evgeni Malkin. Yet Crosby said Saturday he expects Orpik to show no quarter.

"It's something I guess we both accept and we've still got to play our games. Deliver anything dirty or cheap, I wouldn't expect it," Crosby said. "But if there was a hack or a hit or anything, I wouldn't hold it against him. We're playing desperate games here and that's his role, and I don't expect him to let me skate freely out there.

"I always see these games as being bigger than individual guys," Crosby added. "It doesn't matter if you have 15 guys from your team over there, it still would be the same thing. I think it's easier to have that mentality that this is bigger than just a couple of guys playing against each other."

New Jersey Devils

Canada's Martin Brodeur versus USA's Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise: Although everyone wanted to know what kind of edge he might have shooting on his own goalie, Parise said he was more interested in how other shooters viewed the winningest goalie of all time.

"I shoot on him in practice all the time. I think practice is a different atmosphere than a game," Parise said. "I think it's a different situation. I mean, I can have some pointers here and there, but Marty knows where I like to shoot, too, so I don't think either of us really has much of an advantage."

Brodeur, who will start Sunday, joked he didn't want to know what his U.S. teammates might be telling their new colleagues in red, white and blue.

"Don't forget, we played for the gold medal [in 2002] against the Americans and they had teammates and we had friends on the other side, it's just the way it is," said Brodeur. "It's definitely fun for everybody to be part of this. It's one more week of hockey, and after that, we're all going to be buddies and teammates again. But right now, we're going to play hard and play well for our own countries."

Team USA captain Langenbrunner said they are all competitors to begin with regardless of the stage.

"We could be out golfing and we want to compete against each other. You're out in practice and you want to compete against each other," Langenbrunner said. "You want to get the best of each other. It's not that you lose any respect for him or your friendship goes away or anything like that, but we like to compete and we like to win. I think you'll see that with all the guys. There's a lot of guys on our team with teammates over there and they'll all want to get the best of them and have the bragging rights moving forward."

Other matchups

Nashville Predators: Canada's Shea Weber versus USA's Ryan Suter; Boston Bruins: Canada's Patrice Bergeron versus USA's Tim Thomas; Vancouver Canucks: Canada's Roberto Luongo versus USA's Kesler.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.

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