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Fifth-graders support Canadian team at Spokane hockey exhibition

Nobody was more excited about Friday’s ice hockey match between Canada and the United States than the students from Redfish Elementary School in Nelson, B.C.

The school purchased tickets to the women’s exhibition game a year ago, and before the 50-plus fifth-graders could cross the border for the game Friday each had to create a biography of a player from the Canadian women’s team.

“They got to know them pretty well,” which only intensified the excitement, said teacher Les Chirico.

The rowdy brood got a meet-and-greet with the team before Friday’s faceoff, and by game time the students could barely stay in their seats, waving inflated hockey sticks bearing the signature red maple leaf.

“With the Olympics in Vancouver (in February), we wanted to get involved,” Chirico said.

Friday’s game in Spokane is part of the 10-game Qwest Tour featuring the women from USA Hockey and the Canadian rival team. The tour includes matches in nine cities from Sept. 25 until the start of the Olympic Winter Games in 2010 in Vancouver.

There was no shortage of fans from both countries in the Spokane Arena on Friday night, including some who drove hundreds of miles to watch the game.

Katie Robbins, 20, a student at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, traveled with her father, Rick, and brother Garrett Robbins. “GO” was painted on one cheek and “USA” on the other in red, white and blue.

Katie Robbins professed to be a “huge” hockey fan and a player at one time on a youth league.

“I’m their friend on Facebook,” she said of the U.S. women’s team. She also came to Spokane in 2002, when the women’s team faced off against China here.

She said women’s hockey is a testament to women in sports, having only been an Olympic event since 1998.

The first Olympic games to include women’s hockey took place in Nagano, Japan. Six countries competed: the host, the U.S., China, Finland, Sweden and Canada.

“This is a really big deal, and right before the Olympics,” Katie Robbins said.

While American fans were aplenty, Canadian maple leaves still seemed to outnumber the stars and stripes. Kelly Peters and her friends drove from Creston, B.C., on Friday afternoon.

The troop wore red-and-white “tuques” – Canadian for a knit cap. Peters also had Canadian flags bobbing from the top of her head.

“Canada is hockey,” she said.


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