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Special mementos keep it in perspective for Team USA

Players, coaches reminded why it's a privilege to represent their country

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

Team USA faces a must-win game against Canada today if it hopes to make the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey.

Around that dressing room, there are some more subtle - yet significant - symbols of why players don the uniform for the United States. To start, more than a few sets of pads have an American flag sewn to the left breast.

"It was during the Sochi Olympics, we all got those American flags," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "They were worn by Navy Seals that were overseas fighting in the war so they gave one out for everybody on the team and we had it sewn on (over the heart), because that's where it's sewn on (for our servicemen).

"I thought it was awesome that we got one of those, and I will continue to wear that the rest of my career."

McDonagh says the flag patch reminds him how thankful he is to be able to play a game for a living - and he's not alone. David Backes, his teammate in Sochi, and now again in the World Cup, still has the Special Forces patch sewn to his pads.

And the patch isn't all Backes carries with him. One of his closest childhood friends has served three tours of duty with the Marines, and he thinks about him before every game.

"The thoughts of him going over there and defending our country...that really rings true as far as how great this nation is and how somebody is willing - one of my friends - to go defend my freedoms and allow me to play," Backes said. "I play a kid's game and make a great living off it and (his sacrifice) means a ton to me."

Other Team USA members who received flag patches have added more special mementos to their gear. Forward TJ Oshie carries a memento in his bag that goes with him everywhere on the road.

"I have a coin that I always keep from a member of the military's family," Oshie said. "They had lost their son. They told me about their son (who served) and gave me a coin with his initials on it, so it was pretty cool. I still carry with me every where I go." Oshie met the family after a Washington Capitals practice.

And for every Team USA player who wears a patch or carries a physical token on the road, there are the motivational symbols these athletes connect with regardless of where that symbol might be.

Blue Jackets defenseman Johnson thinks of his silver medal experience in Sochi, and the pride associated with it. Oshie will think of the coin in his travel kit, and McDonagh and Backes will think of the flags sewn to their pads; win or lose, the perspective is there.

"When the going gets tough and you think you're down and out, you think of some of those experiences that (our servicemen and women) have had," Backes said. "The stuff they've been through makes you realize 'my legs aren't that tired, we can do this,' and that's the inspiration you need."

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