Olympic rivalries hit NHL dressing rooms

Verbal sparring begins in Chicago

By CHRIS STEVENSON

The first game of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament is less than three weeks away and the chirping has begun.

In NHL dressing rooms across the league, players selected to represent their countries are looking around the room and finding trash-talk targets.

It’s cranking up in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room where there are six ’Hawks heading to the Vancouver Games – defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and centre Jonathan Toews, Canada; forwards Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, Slovakia; and forward Patrick Kane, USA.

In a room like Chicago’s, which is full of young players finding their stride and emerging as some of the best in the game, the confidence is high with the ’Hawks fighting for first place overall in the NHL.

Some swagger?

You bet.

“I think we definitely have a different belief. We believe we can win any game, every game. That definitely instills a lot of confidence in our group. I think going into games believing that we can win that night definitely helps us play looser,” Seabrook told QMI Agency.

That confidence comes through in the verbal sparring between teammates.

Most of the dialogue at this point in the Chicago room is between Keith and Seabrook, the brilliant defensive duo who complement each other so well on the ice, and Kane, part of a young and talented forward group for the Americans.

Canada and the United States will meet at the Olympics Feb. 21 at the tail end of the three-game preliminary round, a game which could have huge implications. The top four teams in the 12-team field after the preliminary round will get a bye into the quarter-finals. The remaining eight will play a single elimination to see who advances to the quarters.

In their dressing room at Scotiabank Place recently, Seabrook and Keith’s stalls were side-by-side, facing Kane’s across the room.

Kane stood in front of his stall and nodded his head in the direction of Seabrook and Keith.

“(Seabrook) is always telling me to keep my head up. (Keith) is one of those guys... you can’t beat him, you can’t get by him at all. He’s starting to chirp and say I can’t beat him one-on-one, he knows all my moves and he knows exactly what I’m going to do on the ice. Hopefully I have a few tricks up my sleeves against them and can prove them wrong a little bit.”

The Olympics put the players in a unique situation to use information about their teammates’ tendencies they’ve seen countless times in games and practices.

Seabrook and Keith typically play against the other team’s top lines with the ’Hawks and the Olympics will likely be no different, so a collision course with Kane is likely.

“They complement each other real well,” said Kane. “(Seabrook) is a big, strong, physical defenceman and (Keith) is quick and is great defensively and been putting up some good numbers this year, too. They know how to play with each other, they use each other a lot. Watch the game. You’ll see them go ‘D-to-D’ a lot. That’s something I look forward to in the Olympics, maybe I can pick one of those off and go down on them.

“You learn a lot playing with them like it’s not going to be too fun playing against them. They’re definitely both great players.”

Is Kane working on new moves, maybe tipping off his future Olympic opponents?

“In practice? Definitely not. A game is a different situation. I usually like to pull up and hit (Keith) wide, coming in late, so he knows that play pretty well. Hopefully, I can get him with either (American teammates) Ryan Suter or Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson coming in. That would be good.”

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