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Locker room rivalry

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

As the country prepares for what is likely to be one of the most thrilling Olympic hockey games in history, the Calgary Flames locker room is distinctively split. Most of the players are rooting for Canada but the few Americans in dressing room have been quite vocal about their support for their country.

"I play for the USA. I'm US through and through, bleed red, white, and blue," Syosset, NY native Eric Nystrom said. "I love the country. I'm pretty proud here."

Nystrom did admit that while he's rooting for Team USA, he has a hard time cheering against Canada due to Flames captain Jarome Iginla's presence on the team.

"It's hard to cheer so hard against them (the Canadians) because Jarome is playing so well for Canada. He's one of our good friends, our leader and I, as an American, want to see him do well but the USA is my country so I'm in tough spot."

Another New York product had the same feelings regarding Team Canada. Craig Conroy wants to see Iginla have a superb game against his countrymen.

"Iggy might get a hat trick but we're still going to win by one," he smiled, before adding in his prediction of a 4-3 USA win. "You want to make them feel good and let Canada have a couple. Something to cheer about."

Head coach Brent Sutter joked around with the small group of media at Saturday's skate, questioning why anyone would ever think he's cheering for anyone but Canada.

"Who do you think I'd like? Why wouldn't I? Are you not from Canada? That says it all," he laughed.

Sutter wouldn't give a prediction on the outcome of the game, saying that the only guarantee was that it was going to be an intense matchup.

"It's going to be a highly emotional game. You've got two teams, the US and Canada, playing on North American soil, Olympics. The last time they met, I believe, was 2002. So you've got to expect it to be a highly emotional game," Sutter said.

"It's exciting. The Canadian and US rivalry is the highest there is as far as Canadians are concerned. It's certainly changed - it used to be Canada and Russia and now it's Canada and the US. It's good to see both teams there. The US has played well and has done a lot of good things to get to where they're at. They play a real good solid team game. Canada has found their way here in the last couple of games, the last three games probably, to get to where they're at. It'll be a good game. It'll be a hard-fought game, it's going to be game that has a lot of emotion in it and there's going to be a lot of great plays tomorrow."

Nystrom agreed with that and hopes that the contest will draw more Americans into the sport on a more regular basis, not just for international tournaments.

"This is one of those times where hockey does come to the forefront. Americans seem to pay attention to the Olympic hockey for some reason, not so much NHL hockey, but I think there will be a lot of people tuned into it.

"I just hope it's a good game. That's all I care about. This is a big game for hockey. There's a lot of exposure, a lot of people are going to be watching. I hope it's just an exciting game and the fans and the people watching get to see why this sport is so great."

Canadian Robyn Regehr predicted a Finland blowout in the semifinals earlier in the week and expected the Americans to be playing for bronze tonight. When questioned about the prediction-gone-wrong, he could only laugh sheepishly.

"Don't ask me anything, I don't know anything about hockey," he stated as Nystrom laughed in the background.

Regehr stayed away from making any definitive predictions about which country will come out on top and shared Sutter's prediction: a tight, intense afternoon of hockey.

"It should be a great game and anyone that watched that game in the preliminary round saw a pretty good hockey game, one that probably just Ryan Miller ended up being the difference with a very good individual performance," he said. "In a short tournament like the Olympics, that kind of stuff can happen. That's why it's just so up in the air with about five or six teams and it's great for hockey. I think it's becoming a pretty good rivalry on all kinds of levels from the Olympic Games down to the Under-18 tournament where you saw a great final this year in Saskatoon and also before that in the Under-17 tournament."

He took a quick look at Nystrom before adding in a little jab at the USA.

"If the Americans win, they'll probably make another movie about it so we don't want to see that happen."

No matter the outcome, players said that they'll try to keep down the trash talking come Monday morning.

"Just maybe a little ribbing, that's about it," Nystrom said before adding that he probably wouldn't be bringing in any flags to work next week.

Conroy is prepared for a Canada win, saying that the best thing to do is just let the victors have their fun.

"I was there in 2002. I saw it and I was like 'Uh oh!' but you just have to be quiet and let them cheer and call it a day. It is fun. Canada is so passionate about it and the US is coming so hopefully we can do the same thing the World Junior team did."

As for locker room bets, no one would cop to any major ones but Nystrom did let there were a few wagers on the game.

"I've got some lunch bets going on but nothing serious."

Canada takes on the USA for the gold medal at 1:15 PM MST on CTV.

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