SAN JOSE -- When Canada and Team USA collide Friday morning in Sochi, the rivalry between the North American hockey powers easily trumps whatever NHL loyalties may exist the rest of the year.

That's the word from two past Olympians who have been through what Team USA's Joe Pavelski and Canada's Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are about to experience in the men's semifinal showdown.

So nobody lets up on anybody going into a corner?

"In big, important games like this," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said, "you really don't know who you're hitting. You just go as hard as you can and change and then just do it all over again."

Four years ago, Thornton and defenseman Dan Boyle were on the Canadian team that faced Pavelski in the gold-medal game in Vancouver. The teams had met earlier in the Olympiad as well, and Boyle does remember a couple of encounters he had with Pavelski, whose Sharks locker room stall is within 15 feet of his own.

"I remember I hit him pretty good the first time around and then he got a decent hit on me in the second game," Boyle said. "We were 1-1. I knocked him down once and he knocked me down once."

But what about a little friendly chirping? Surely that's likely to occur Friday morning.

"No, no," Boyle said, "The medal game was all business."

Thornton did say it was fun "competing with a guy you know really well, and you hope you win the game" for, at the very least, bragging rights.

Neither Thornton nor Boyle complained when he was left off Team Canada's roster this time around, but neither said he had watched much of this year's competition, each citing time spent on vacation with his family during the break.

"The kids don't let you sit around for three hours to watch anything," Thornton noted.

The Sharks were able to watch bits and pieces -- but only from a distance -- of Thursday's dramatic women's gold-medal game that saw Canada overcome a two-goal deficit to the USA in the final 3:26 of the third period, then win 3-2 in overtime. Players were on the ice for Canada's comeback but could sneak a peek at a media room TV.

"It's rewarding to see winners and it's somewhat humbling to see the losers, the passion that goes into the game, the tears," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who later pushed Friday's practice time back to 11:45 a.m. so players could watch the men's game.

McLellan also was asked his assessment of the USA-Canada men's matchup and responded that he'd likely be cheering more for individuals than the country. But the Saskatchewan native stopped short of saying he wasn't taking sides.

"I hope this is home for us for a long, long time," he said of the United States, "and I would love to become a citizen. But right now I only own one passport, and my heart's going to be pulling a little bit there."

  • Raffi Torres is still a week away from what should be his first game of the season, but the Sharks forward is already looking back on his five-month rehab period as "a little speed bump in the road" after undergoing knee surgery.

    "I didn't think I'd be able to get back this fast because my last time it took over a year to feel really good," Torres said Thursday, crediting San Jose's medical and training staff. "We're only at five months, and I feel great."

    Torres tore the ACL in his left knee in an awkward collision with Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem during a Sept. 20 exhibition game. Torres suffered the same injury during his 2007-08 season with the Edmonton Oilers.

    thursday's game
    Sharks (37-16-6) at Philadelphia (30-23-6), 4 p.m. CSNCA