Rivalry vs. Camaraderie in Olympic Hockey

By: Stacey Gerhart

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games are under way in Vancouver, which in turn means that all NHL games have been suspended until the beginning of March. Fortunately for us hockey fans, hockey is an Olympic winter sport and there is a multitude of battles to watch.

As an avid Colorado Avalanche fan I’ve made sure to tune into games that feature teams with Avs players on their roster – USA (Paul Stastny), Slovakia (Peter Budaj), and Belarus (Ruslan Salei). But there is one more team on my radar this year and there is only one reason why I take the time to watch – Foppa!

Peter Forsberg is once again competing with Team Sweden – a team that he already shares two Olympic Gold Medals with, the most recent of which was acquired during the last Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy in 2006.

Although Forsberg no longer plays for the Colorado Avalanche, I am forever a fan.

Forsberg began his NHL career in January of 1995 with the Quebec Nordiques. A few short months later the team was sold and relocated to Denver, Colorado and re-christened the Colorado Avalanche. Forsberg helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup Championships in 1996 and 2001.

As I was watching Sweden beat Germany (2-0) I found myself fighting the urge to dislike Team Sweden. I’ve admitted that the only reason why I’m watching them play is to see one of the greats of the game – but as I was watching and the announcers were highlighting the members of the team, I found it more and more difficult to support the team as a whole. Why? Well, if you yourself are an avid Avs fan, you might understand my distaste for the four players on the team that hail from the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs and the Red Wings have a rivalry that runs extremely deep. This is something Forsberg would certainly know about – especially since his one and only NHL fight was against a Red Wings player (Martin Lapointe) in 1997.

Which leads me to the question – how can Forsberg play on a team that includes some of his most bitter rivals from his time in the NHL? You start to wonder – what is their relationship like off of the ice? Do they speak to one another in the locker room? Or maybe country comes before an affiliation to an NHL team and therefore, there are no hard feelings, grudges, or rivalries between teammates. Perhaps Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom even go out to grab a beer together to celebrate a win.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall in the locker room or on the bench to get a first-hand view of what the relationships are like between once bitter rivals thrown together in the same uniforms for a few short weeks. And it’s not just the Red Wings and Avalanche I’m curious about. What is it like for Mike Richards (Captain of the Philadelphia Flyers) to play alongside NHL division rival Sidney Crosby (Captain of the Pittsburg Penguins) for Team Canada? Turn the tables and you might also wonder how NHL teammates can battle against one another during the Olympics. Take for example Ryan Whitney and Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks who are playing for Team USA, who faced Anaheim goalie, Jonas Hiller, during their first Olympic match-up against Team Switzerland.

So how does an NHL hockey player shut-down any affiliations and emotions he may have with his NHL team and develop a new camaraderie with his Olympic teammates – and then shift gears again when he returns to the NHL in less than one month to start a playoff push?

I obviously don’t have an answer but I find it intriguing to consider.

Imagine what it would be like if Forsberg was still on the Avalanche roster and Team Sweden made it to the Gold Medal match and then the very next day Foppa had to turn around and rekindle the rivalry against Lidstrom, Kronwall, Franzen, and Zetterberg in the Avs first NHL game following the Olympic break on March 1st.


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