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Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Bolts players enjoy honor of playing for country

When Nate Thompson walked into the locker room for the first time, the hair on the back of his neck stood up. As Teddy Purcell entered the locker room across the hall, all he wanted to do was take a picture. The reaction from the Tampa Bay Lightning forwards occurred this month as they saw for the first time their national team jerseys with their names on the back — Thompson for the United States, and Purcell for Canada — at the World Hockey Championship. It was the first time either was asked to represent his country in an international tournament. Thompson and Purcell relished the opportunity, the meaning of which sunk in when they walked into their respective locker rooms for the first time. "Just how they decorated the locker room in all USA stuff and my jersey is hanging there … it gives me chills now just thinking about it, knowing that I was playing for Team USA," Thompson said. "I just made sure I took it all in and enjoyed the experience, seeing all the jerseys and then seeing mine and my name plate and seeing 'Team USA' next to 'Nate Thompson.' "
Purcell felt a similar overwhelming sense in Team Canada's locker room. "I wanted to pull my phone out and snap a picture with me in front of it, but I didn't think that would be the appropriate thing to do," Purcell said, jokingly. "But I just kind of stared around for a little bit. "They obviously had the dressing room done up in the Maple Leaf and in Team Canada stuff. Then, to be in that room with so many top guys from around the league, I just tried to take all kinds of mental pictures and mental images that I hopefully will never forget." In addition to the memories, both walked away with valuable experience playing in the two-week tournament. Canada and the United States finished first and second, respectively, playing in the same eight-team group. Both were upset in the single-elimination quarterfinal round. Though the tournament ending was bittersweet — and swift — for both, they took away plenty from the experience. Thompson was an alternate captain and played in his familiar role as the third-line center and key penalty killer. He also contributed on offense by chipping in a pair of goals, including a late go-ahead goal against Canada in the preliminary round. Purcell, who had a familiar face behind the bench as Lightning coach Guy Boucher was an assistant for Canada, finished with a goal and two points while averaging just more than 10 minutes per game. He said he hopes the experience boosts his play moving forward. "Just getting to play with those guys, I guess it just shows that I had a pretty good year this past year and put myself on the map a little bit," said Purcell, 26. "This just makes you a little extra hungry and makes you realize that you are that close and you have to keep your foot on the gas." Thompson has thought about the possibility of representing his country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, assuming the NHL takes a break in its season to allow players to participate. "I think I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it," said Thompson, 27. "I think anytime you have the opportunity to play in a setting like that, and there are so many advisors from around the NHL that are there watching you and critiquing you and seeing how you play, I think that means the sky is the limit. "You want to have a good season coming up here and really make it hard on them to make their decisions on the roster spots and have a chance to play in the Olympics. It's something you think about growing up. "Winning an Olympic medal or being an Olympian is right up there with winning a Stanley Cup."

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835

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