Friends, and enemies, will be made in 2010

August, 26, 2009

CALGARY, Alberta -- Two playoff seasons, two Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins series and plenty of jousting between opposing captains Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby. That's all forgotten this week at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp, right?

"We're just two competitive people trying to play the game with each other and trying to help our teams," said Richards. "I don't think we've had differences. We're friends off the ice and we have a lot of respect for each other. We've been talking a lot the last few days. I think it's just heat of the battle those times between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia."

But just as NHL rivals become friends at the national team level, NHL teammates can also become enemies. Last week, Team USA star Patrick Kane told us about playing against Chicago Blackhawks teammate Patrick Sharp in the world championships and the Team Canada forward's warning Kane during a game that Sharp was behind him in the corner so as to brace for a hit and not get hurt.

The Olympics? Different story, Kane figured. He won't get a warning next time.

"Definitely," Sharp said with a smile. "There's always a lot of talk during the year among the Americans and the Canadians and what would happen if some of us faced off [at the Olympics]. And definitely, if I could see Kane at the Olympics, I wouldn't give him that heads-up next time. I'd put him right through the boards. But don't tell Chicago that."

Canada's version of the Nasty Boys

Last week, we chronicled Team USA's Nasty Boys who are likely Olympic-bound, the intimidating trio of David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Kesler.

Team Canada has its sandpaper boys, too. If I were Canada coach Mike Babcock, I would put Richards between Brenden Morrow and Shane Doan on a line that would make other teams pay the price. As it stands so far this week, Morrow and Richards have skated together with Dany Heatley.

Morrow said he would welcome the chance to play with Richards at the Olympics.

"I've seen a lot of his highlights and how he finishes his checks," said the Dallas Stars captain. "That's along the same lines of my game -- punish the opponent and wear them down. I think that would be a good fit."

Mind you, they haven't been able to play "their game" here this week. Not a lot of hitting at an orientation camp.

"It's so ingrained in you to go in and lower the shoulder and bury the guy. But you have to pull up here," said Morrow. "We're respectful here. It's a good social outing; we're getting to know the guys."

Having missed most of this past season because of injury, Morrow can't wait to pound some bodies when the NHL season begins.

"I've got a bit of pent-up aggression right now," said Morrow.

Yikes. We pity the rest of the Western Conference.

Puck hogs?

It'll be interesting (especially if Heatley is finally traded) to see whether or not Ottawa Senators coach Corey Clouston decides to pair newly acquired winger Alex Kovalev with top center Jason Spezza.

Both star players love to control the puck, so perhaps it's not a great fit. Hard to know until you try it, though.

"You don't know what they have planned in terms of lines, but certainly Kovalev is a guy that's magical with the puck. He can score, he's got a good shot," said Spezza. "I think he'll fit in well with our team, really help the power play.

"I like to have the puck, he likes to have the puck, but we want to do it all within our system and play the brand of hockey that Corey wants to play," added Spezza. "It has the potential to be a really good fit because we both like to hang on to the puck and we want to be more of a puck-possession team."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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