By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - While the United States are preparing for their ice hockey showdown against Canada with the precision of a military exercise, the Games hosts were viewing the grudge match as being purely about local bragging rights.
American defenseman Jack Johnson said even his Los Angeles Kings team mates would be the enemy once the puck is dropped for Sunday's preliminary round clash which will decide top spot in Group A with an automatic quarter-final place on the line.
"Once we throw on our country's jersey they aren't our team mates at all, not one bit," said Johnson, who chartered his own plane to fly from Los Angeles just to march in the February 12 opening ceremonies. "They (Canada) are the enemy.
"We realize our soldiers always have to go over on to foreign soil, fight and get the job done and that's sort of our theme."
As part of their preparations for the Winter Games mission, U.S. team manager Brian Burke had his young players spend time with wounded Army veterans, who explained the importance of teamwork and perseverance in battle.
For the Games every U.S. player has been adopted by a wounded warrior from their home town or NHL city and received packages containing pictures, a note of encouragement and other personal items, including bullets removed from the wounded men.
"That's kind of the approach we've been taking to this whole tournament," said U.S. forward Patrick Kane. "Those guys do so much for us fighting for our country and we have a chance to bring a little hope and joy by doing some special things here.
"You get adopted by a wounded warrior and you keep the letter in your locker for extra motivation."
Canada were taking a more diplomatic approach to Sunday's skirmish, despite the crushing pressure on the team to claim the hockey gold on home ice.
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock pointed out that a win might make the path to the gold medal final easier but victory over the United States would earn little more than local bragging rights.
The top four teams after preliminary round play receive direct passage to the quarter-finals while the remaining eight playoff for the four other berths.
"If we win we get bragging rights for a couple of days," said Babcock. "Obviously the path to where we both want to go is a lot easier if we win tomorrow."
(Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)