SOCHI, Russia – When the puck drops at the Sochi Games, friends will become foes.
The Czechs will face the Swedes on Wednesday, just four days after Boston beat Ottawa, 7-2, in one of the NHL’s last matchups before its Olympic break.
David Krejci and Loui Eriksson both had two assists for the Bruins in the rout. On Wednesday, the forwards will be playing against each other and for their countries – Krejci for the Czech Republic and Eriksson for Sweden.
Most of the 18 preliminary-round games will feature NHL teammates as temporary opponents.
Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are not scheduled to face each other in the preliminary rounds, but both are hoping for a U.S.-Canada rematch in the elimination round.
“We’re always, in a fun way, competing against each other on a daily basis,” said Toews, who helped the Canadians beat the Americans for the gold in 2010. “We’ll be competitive if we get a chance to play each other.
“One guy is not going to want the other to get the best of him.”
The Los Angeles Kings have six Olympians, representing four countries. Trash-talking began soon after the rosters were set last month.
“Throughout the room with the different teams, there’s always been ribbing going on,” Canada’s Jeff Carter said.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has an NHL-high 10 of his players in the Olympics, spread out over five teams. He’s looking forward to the game within the games.
Quenneville can see a trio of Swedes – Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger – gang up on the Czech Republic’s Michal Rozsival on Wednesday. The next day, he can watch Kane get tested by Slovakia’s Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus.
“It’s going to be great watching these guys play,” Quenneville said. “I think they’re going to learn a lot being on that stage, in critical situations and big moments.
“There’s a good chance somebody’s going to come back with a gold medal.”
Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal winning goal in overtime at the Vancouver Games. There’s a chance he might have to beat Pittsburgh Penguins teammates to repeat when the tournament becomes a win-or-go-home format.
Before the elimination games, Crosby will be on the ice against two Penguins, Finland’s Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen, in the final preliminary-round game Sunday. Sid the Kid might move on to see more familar faces such as Evgeni Malkin if Canada faces the Russians, and Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik if it goes against the Americans again.
“It’s always a little weird,” Crosby acknowledged. “But once you get out there, you’ll know it’s the same game. You’ve got to go out there and play the same way.”
Sochi marks the fifth time the NHL has halted its games for two weeks to allow players to participate in the Olympics.
“It’s two weeks of your life to give it your all for your country,” Kane said. “It’s not Chicago playing against Philadelphia or Detroit. All those cities are rooting for you when you’re over there. To have 300 million people have your back and cheering for you to win for the gold medal, it’s pretty amazing to think about.
“You feel fortunate to play in an arena in Chicago with 22,000 people and that seems like a lot every night. But to know you’ll have support of so many more people from so many different cities is amazing.”