Caps divided between rooting for Canada, Carlson

Caps divided between rooting for Canada, Carlson
February 21, 2014, 6:00 am
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When these Olympics are said and done, someone will walk into the Capitals locker room on Tuesday holding an Olympic medal.

Will it be gold, silver or bronze?

Will it be John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom or Marcus Johansson?

Backstrom and Johansson will kick off a riveting day of Olympic hockey Friday morning when Team Sweden faces off against its bitter rivals from Finland at 7:30 p.m.

But that game’s outcome will pale in comparison to the epic battle between USA and Canada at noon.

So who will be playing for gold when the tournament concludes on Sunday?

“I haven’t seen much of Sweden, but they’ve got to be counted in there,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “And the way Finland played Russia, they’re right there.

“I think all four teams have an equal opportunity to win, but the U.S. has got to be heavily considered.”

Brouwer is from Vancouver but admits he’s a little nervous about how his country will fare against a U.S. team that has recorded 19 non-shootout goals in its four victories.

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“Canada is doing just enough to get by right now,” Brouwer said. “The States has looked strong in every single one of their games, outscoring opponents, outhitting them. They’re a fast team and they look real good right now.

“Hopefully, it will be a good game, but I think the U.S. is playing real good hockey right now.”

That’s not enough to deter Mr. Canada Brooks Laich, who is fiercely proud of his native Saskatchewan and is not only willing to predict a winner, but the score and who will net the game-winner for Canada.

“Three-two, Canada,” Laich said. “Corey Perry with the game-winner.”

Why Corey Perry?

“He always plays big in big games,” Laich said. “I’ve played with Corey in World Championships and he really cares. He’ll find a way.”

Laich described Canada and U.S. as two trains on a collision course, crashing his fists into each other for effect.

“These two teams are coming right at each other and meeting in the middle of the ice and it’s going to be fast,” he said. “One mistake is going to be the difference in the hockey game and hopefully it’s not the Canadians that make it.”

Laich has a lot riding on the game. He has a double-or-nothing wager with Capitals assistant coach Calle Johansson, who is from Sweden. If Canada loses, Laich owes Johansson two bottles of wine. If Canada wins, Laich gets a bottle of whiskey.

Joel Ward, who is from Toronto, said he can’t see how Canada can come up short with the star-studded lineup coach Mike Babcock has at his disposal.

“To me, it’s like, how do you lose?” Ward said. “I mean, I find it hard they can lose with [Jonathan] Toews and [Sideny] Crosby on the same team. Obviously, the U.S. has been firing, but I still think it’s hard to lose with those guys.”

Regardless of who wins, several Caps said they’ll be rooting for Carlson to play well for Team USA, even though it goes against everything they were taught growing up in Canada.

“When we were kids the World Juniors were on TV in the classrooms,” said Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who’s from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. “You never get rid of that national pride. It’s engrained in your brain. We hope John plays well, but …”

The Capitals’ roster is made up of 13 Canadians and just three Americans – Carlson, Jack Hillen and Connor Carrick, who was 15 when Canada defeated the Americans in overtime to win the gold medal in 2010.

“I tip my cap to all the guys on Team Canada,” Carrick said. “They’re great hockey players, but I want the red, white and blue to win, just like any American kid would.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner, who is from Burnaby, British Columbia, said he’ll have dual allegiances when he sits in front of the TVs set up in the player’s lounge of Kettler.

“Because Carly’s there and we don’t have anyone on the Canadian team, we end up cheering for the U.S. almost as much as Canada,” Alzner said.

“It depends on the teammate, I guess. If you’re really close with the guy like I am with Carly then it’s hard for me to cheer for Canada over U.S. too much.”

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