Crosby gets rival Richards as linemate

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canadian Sidney Crosby will have an interesting new linemate on Sunday. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — The Olympics make for strange bedfellows.

And linemates.

In the quest to find some chemistry among a forward line that doesn’t have Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau on it, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock is shuffling the deck again for Sunday’s big game against the USA.

Mike Richards, who has been on the fourth line at times, will get a shot on the left side of Sidney Crosby with Rick Nash shifting over to the right.

Richards and Crosby have gone against each other in some heated battles in the playoffs between their teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively, but now they will be trying to find some common ground, or ice.

“It’s easier to play with him than against him,” said Richards after skating with Crosby in practice Saturday. “You do the best you can. You play any position you’re told to when you throw the Maple Leaf on. You wear it with pride and you try and do your best.”

Richards said he has an approach to skating with a great player like Crosby. Richards played with Peter Forsberg when both were with the Flyers and that gave him a taste of playing with a creative, talented player.

“You’ve just got to expect the puck at all times. Never count him out of the play. He’s a fast player, so always try and give him the puck with speed,” he said of Crosby.

“I don’t think it changes a lot. Richie is going to be creative offensively and responsible defensively,” said Crosby, who has played with Nash on the left side and Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla on the right so far in the tournament. “You couldn’t get a better situation as far as a supporting cast here.”

Sunday’s game against the Americans will be the middle match in what a lot of people here are calling Super Sunday, a day of great rivalry games. Before the USA-Canada matchup, Russia will play the Czech Republic and after, Sweden meets Finland.

At stake in the Canada-USA game — aside from bragging rights —is first place in Group A and a ticket straight to the quarterfinals. The loser of the game could find themselves having to play an extra game in the elimination round. Canada has five points after a win in regulation over Norway and a shootout victory over Switzerland. The USA has six points after beating both those countries in regulation.

The Canada-USA rivalry has become the biggest in the minds of many of the players on both sides.

“I hate ’em,” said USA centre Ryan Kesler. “It’s a big rivalry. It’s their game. I shouldn’t say I hate them. I have respect for them. They expect to win gold and nothing else. It’s going to be fun to try and knock them off. We’ve won two times on their soil (the U-17 and the world junior tournament) and I’m thinking they don’t want to lose another one.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

POLL