WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Olympic hockey turns NHL teammates into rivals for two weeks, longtime friends into can't-be-trusted opponents who potentially stand in the way of a gold medal.
Sometimes, it even divides a family.
When preliminary round play begins Saturday, Martin Reichel will be one of Germany's forwards. Should the Germans advance to the final round, they could oppose the defending champion Czech Republic - and Reichel's older brother, forward Robert Reichel.
According to the NHL, it would be only the second time brothers have played on opposing sides in Olympic hockey. At Squaw Valley in 1960, Frantisek Pikal from Czechoslovakia played against brother Zdenek Pikal of Australia.
Robert Reichel understands the unwritten rules of hockey would force him to deliver a hard check to his brother, if necessary, or to take out his skates on a breakaway. While he knows what he must do, he also understands how hard it would be.
Martin Reichel has lived in Germany since the late 1980s but obviously has considerable respect for his older brother and all he has accomplished. Robert Reichel wears No. 21, so younger brother naturally chose the number that follows, 22.
"It's very tough," Robert Reichel said Friday. "It's not the first time I've played against him. I played at the world championships in 1996 against him, and 1997. Usually, we just talk after the game. Otherwise, I'm concentrating on my game and, hopefully, my team is winning."
That's usually the case. The Czech Republic won at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, with Robert Reichel beating Canadian goalie Patrick Roy for the only goal by 10 skaters - five a side - in a semifinal shootout. Germany, by contrast, is not a world hockey power, and reaching the final eight would be an accomplishment for Martin Reichel and his teammates.
Still, that makes it no easier for the brothers Reichel, even though they grew comfortable with their divided allegiances years ago. Even now they play a continent apart, Robert Reichel for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Martin for Nurnberg in Germany's pro league.
"He never played for the Czech Republic at any world championships or European Cups or championship games," Robert Reichel said. "They (the Germans) offered him a chance to play for the country, and he said he would do that. He's German now, with a German passport."
Robert Reichel knows that defending the gold medal in the United States, far from the neutral ice of Nagano, will be difficult enough even without the potential distraction of playing against his brother.
The crowds in suburban Salt Lake City will be decidedly against the Czech Republic against the United States or Canada, not pulling for them as the underdog as the Japanese fans did.
"We're under pressure, but I'm very positive," Robert Reichel said. "Our team is very strong. We have good goaltenders, and we have chance to win a medal. There are six teams that could win the gold medal, and we are one of them.
"I'm very, very strong and positive going to the tournament because we have lots of players who play on winning teams, and they just want to win one more time."
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