For one day, Nikolai Kulemin felt like the Maple Leafs dressing room was enemy territory.
While the majority of his teammates clearly were pulling for Team Canada in Wednesday night’s Olympic quarterfinal showdown against Russia in Vancouver, Kulemin’s allegiances were evident.
Even if he wouldn’t say it.
Asked if he would making a prediction, Kulemin politely replied “No.” But, given the fact the Russian team had put him on standby as a possible replacement in case an existing player was hurt prior to the Olympics, you knew he’d be cheering for Ovechkin and Co.
“It’s a big game. Our whole country is going to watch,” said the Russian-born Kulemin, a one-time linemate in the Russian elite league of star forward Evgeni Malkin.
“It’s going to be very exciting.”
Kulemin was contemplating going out to see the game with teammate Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski hails from Belarus, not Russia. Close enough.
Meanwhile the Canadian-born members of the Leafs were not nearly as tightlipped about their support.
Forward John Mitchell of Waterloo said Team Canada should be superpests right from the drop of the opening puck, taking every opportunity to get the Russians off their game. That included having Canadian forwards spray snow through the bars of goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s goalie mask.
Defenceman Luke Schenn, who faced the Russians at the world championship last spring, knows it won’t be an easy task for the hosts.
“The Russians are talented enough on their own, but when come together to play for their country they seem to raise the level of their game,” Schenn said. “It’s going to be tough.
“Having said that, Go Canada Go!”