Masters: Maple Leafs torn over Canada-USA showdown

Mark Masters

2/20/2014 11:18:44 PM

TORONTO – Dave Bolland did not hesitate when asked who would win on Friday.

"Canada," Bolland said with a smile. "Is that a question?"

One day earlier, though, fellow Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri wasn't so sure his home and native land could pull off the win against the United States in the semi-finals of the Olympic hockey tournament.

"I want to say Canada, but to be honest with you, the U.S. looks better," Kadri, a native of London, Ont., said.

"We don't know if Naz is Canadian or American," Bolland, from Mimico, Ont., said with a chuckle. "We don't know what he is or who he's cheering for. He could be cheering for the Belarusians."

Roommate Turmoil

The North American rivalry has many fault lines throughout the Leafs dressing room even though a vast majority of the players – 20 in total – are Canadian. The issue: two of the key players on Team USA are also two-thirds of Toronto's top line: Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. The man who centres that line in the NHL, Regina's Tyler Bozak, may be the Leaf who is most torn. After all, Bozak is close friends with Kessel and actually lives with the Leafs leading scorer. 

"That's a tough question for me to answer," Bozak admitted when asked where his loyalties lie. "I've got my two wingers on the U.S. and I'm Canadian so I guess I'm cheering for both. I just hope Phil and JVR play really well and maybe Canada wins. I don't know.

"It's going to be an exciting game to watch, for sure. I really can't make any predictions. I don't know. The U.S. has been playing great. Canada's kind of snuck by with a few wins, but every game's different and it should be a fun one to watch."

Another set of roommates are also at odds over the game and are actually putting their money where their mouthes are. Defencemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, from Vancouver and Minnetonka, MN respectively, have placed a friendly wager on the game.

"I can't tell you what it is," Rielly said. "He's overconfident. I think Team Canada will be fine."

Most Leafs, however, were trying to take the diplomatic approach with head coach and Sudbury, Ont. native Randy Carlyle, acknowledging the semi-final showdown "was pulling your heart strings in different directions."

The Diplomatic Approach

"We hope and wish our players all the luck in the world as far as an organization," said Carlyle, "but I am Canadian."

"I hope that Phil and JVR do well," said captain Dion Phaneuf, who hails from Edmonton and was invited to Hockey Canada's orientation camp in the summer, "so I'm in the middle, that's for sure. Any time you have teammates competing, you want them to do well, but I'm Canadian and I have lots of respect for Hockey Canada."

What everyone can agree on is that Kessel and van Riemsdyk are having a much better Sochi experience than Nikolai Kulemin, who was the other Leaf taking part in the Winter Games.

"Nobody asks questions about how you're going to feel about Nikolai Kulemin coming back and that's a tough one," said Carlyle. "Host country and the way their tournament unravelled, he's part of our hockey club and we've got to find a way to build him back up and get him going again."