Patriot games begin

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:00 PM ET


 They grew up in the good ol' USA.

 But these days, Chris Clark, Craig Conroy and Jordan Leopold are getting quite a dose of different patriotism playing on Canada's team, the Calgary Flames.

 With fans in Calgary and across the country celebrating the team's run at the 2004 Stanley Cup, the trio of Americans never anticipated -- for the most part -- such a passionate hockey embracenorth of the 49th parallel.

 "I was disappointed when I came here from St. Louis," said Conroy, a New York native traded to the Flames in 2000.

 "It was like, 'Uh, Calgary?'

 "It's strange how things turn around in three years.

 "It's just perfect. I couldn't ask for a better setting."

 He likely wouldn't have had this chance at a Stanley Cup with the Blues. And Conroy admits he never imagined the appreciation hockey gets in this country.

 "Since I've played and lived here, I've watched the Olympics and world juniors," said Conroy, who started his NHL career in Montreal.

 "Just the coverage and the way fans embrace each team, it's special -- it really is. So it's a special feeling to win in a Canadian city. I don't think it can get any better. It's very emotional.

 "And you look around and see what the fans are doing. It's great."

 Clark, a Connecticut native, hasn't been quite as surprised at the outpouring of fan sentiment.

 "This is my sixth year playing and I've been playing my whole career in Saint John and here," Clark said.

 "And my parents grew up in Canada, so I was here every summer. So I think I have a lot of Canadian blood in me that way.

 "But just to see the fans and how knowledgeable they are, I noticed that right away when I got here. You read the paper and the reporters know exactly what's going on. Most of the people have all played. You can hear the fans when we chip the puck out or negate the icing -- they know how big that is."

 It's kind of like in Leopold's home state of Minnesota, where hockey is huge.

 "I'm an American," said Leopold, a native of Golden Valley, Minn. "But to live in this city and breathe the hockey here, it's refreshing. It's a nice feeling, because this is what I grew up doing. The city's passionate about hockey, which is what I am.

 "Honestly, I'm honoured to be here. Because it's a city that is just so into the game -- you can't even describe it in words. The city's nuts right now -- I don't even think it would be this way back in Minnesota where I'm from. It's a pleasure to play in a city that's so into their hockey."

 It's a pleasure to play for Canada, say the Flames' Americans.

 "I hope we have most of the country rooting for us," Clark said.

 - - -

 SEA OF RED, WHITE 'N' BLUE

 THE THREE AMERICAN FLAMES:

 *CRAIG CONROY

 Born: Potsdam, N.Y.

 Last Amateur Club: Clarkson

 *CHRIS CLARK

 Born: South Windsor, Conn.

 Last Amateur Club: Clarkson

 *JORDAN LEOPOLD

 Born: Golden Valley, Minn.

 Last Amateur Club: U of Minn


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