Teammate becomes foe. Friend becomes enemy.
So it goes for the Olympics when it comes to men’s hockey. As the tournament begins, six Chicago Blackhawks will disperse to three different teams and then fight it out for gold in Vancouver.
Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook will suit up for Canada, Marian Hossa (health permitting) and Tomas Kopecky for Slovakia and Patrick Kane is the lone representative from the Hawks on the U.S. squad.
In preliminary rounds only the U.S. is slated to face Canada, but any of the three teams could meet in later rounds as they whittle it down to the gold medal game on Sunday, Feb. 28.
The Hawks say they understand the enormity of the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean they’re out for blood -- especially if and when they face each other.
“It’s going to be a little awkward when you see them on the opposite team,” Marian Hossa said recently. “I’m sure when the puck drops everybody will focus on their jobs.”
But when your job includes delivering bone-crunching checks to your friends, awkward seems to just scratch the surface.
“When you have a chance to finish a check, you want to finish a check, but you have to smart about it,” Hossa said. “You don’t want to be stupid.”
No two players are linked more than Toews and Kane. They’ve done just about everything together since they came into the league, including signing exactly the same contracts on the same day earlier this season. Now they will go head-to-head on the ice.
“You’re not friends when you’re out there,” Toews explained. “It’s a competition. Its fun to go up against a teammate like him and you don’t want him to get the best of you, so you have to give that effort and make sure that it doesn’t happen. I look forward to being on the ice with him at the same time.”
“I mean you’re going to try and beat him in a one-on-one battle but, no, there will be no cheap shots,” Kane responded.
No cheap shots doesn’t mean no hitting, though. Kane knows he might feel it from one of his friends that plays defense for Team Canada. In fact, you can expect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to be tasked with stopping the shifty forward.
“They might light me up,” Kane said. “[Keith] lit me up in training camp this year. I was reaching for the puck, going for the puck, and I didn’t expect it at all and he labeled me. That was training camp. This is the Olympics so I would expect it.”
“Nobody is out there to hurt anybody, but obviously everybody has to play hard,” Keith said. “You can’t take anyone lightly, but at the same time I realize he’s on our team. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt but I especially don’t want to see him get hurt.”
You might think Hawks coach Joel Quenneville would be the one guy rooting for little checking in the Olympics, but even he says the fierce competition won’t allow for that. He doesn’t expect any letting up, even if it is Hawk vs. Hawk.
“You’re playing hockey,” Quenneville said. “You don’t have the time to think about that. You know, nice guys finish last.”
Toews, for one, understands how the city of Chicago will react if one of the six Hawks does get injured. He answered the question about the only way he could.
“We’re putting the Hawks on the map on an international level ... and, knock on wood, you don’t want anything like that to happen,” Toews said. “Hopefully the fans understand that’s what we are trying to do -- represent our team the right way.”
In the end, it should make for great theater and with players who know each other so well, they say, it will be very interesting who gets the better of whom.
“I’m sure [Keith] will play me hard and be yapping on the ice or whatever,” Kane said. “[Seabrook] will be the same way. He’ll probably try to line me up and fold me. Hopefully I can get the better of them.”
“I don’t know all of his [Kane’s] moves,” Keith explained. “He’s got too may moves to memorize. He’s pretty skilled. I’m going to have to be on my toes.”
Toews isn’t opposed to laying a nice, clean hit on his buddy.
“It could be pretty funny and something to talk about after, for sure,” Toews said.