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Canadian Open: Caitlin Lever leads Canada into border battle against Team USA (VIDEO)
Caitlin Lever is a secret weapon, or at least an insider.
The 29-year-old outfielder is from Buffalo, New York, where her father – Don Lever – closed out his 15-year NHL career with the Sabres. She lives there, works there, and says there are "a lot of familiar faces" on Team USA.
But Lever is a Canadian, through-and-through. She's a dual citizen who badly wants to beat the Americans, and she'll get her chance when Team Canada plays host to the stars and stripes on Friday night at Softball City.
It'll be the headline event of the 2014 Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship... so far.
"It's like anything else. My heart's with Canada, it's always been since day one," she said on Thursday night. "They're always one of our toughest, if not our toughest, competitors.
"I wanna beat my toughest competitor all the time. Doesn't matter what jersey they're in."
Last week, Team USA got the better of Lever's squad at the World Cup of Softball in California, but Canada still came away with a well-earned silver medal.
The Canucks are now 3-1 at this year's Canadian Open, with a win against Mexico and a loss against Japan on Thursday night.
Japan and the United States are Canada's toughest competition this year, as they always are.
"It was good experience," Lever says of the World Cup. "I think we came in this summer knowing we can play with any of them. They're beatable, they're both beatable teams... This is just another opportunity to see more for the big show at the end."
Canada will close out its round robin against the Open's host club, the White Rock Renegades, on Saturday night. The Renegades picked up their first win of this tournament on Thursday night, beating Basque Country (Spain) 7-1 on Diamond 1.
For Lever and her teammates, the Canadian Open is a chance to not only do some home cooking, but to be role models for a ton of girls who may dream of playing for their national team some day.
It's a hero's job, not unlike the one her father had 30 years ago.
"It's nice that... all the international teams are doing clinics (for young players) just to give back to the community.
"To be somebody that people wanna look up to, like I can look up to my dad, is a big deal.
Lever was drafted third overall into the NHL in 1972 by – guess who? – the Vancouver Canucks. He played eight seasons in B.C. before he was traded to the Atlanta Flames in 1980.
"It's pretty cool, and I love coming here because everybody knows him," Caitlin says. "Back home, we give him such a hard time for not being that big of a deal, and then I come here and everybody's bragging about him.
"Pretty proud of him. Pretty proud to be his daughter."
The Canadian Open – the Canada Cup, as it was once known – has become an annual tradition in South Surrey and White Rock . It's a summer pastime as automatic as the game itself.
The pride the community has for its tournament isn't lost on Lever or her Canadian team.
"This tournament, the people that put it on every year, this is home," she said. "I don't think the summers would be the same without this tournament. It means a lot."
Canada plays two games tomorrow in the Women's International bracket.
They'll play the Bloomington Lady Hearts first at Softball City, at 1:00 p.m. The game against Team USA starts at 6:30 p.m. on Diamond 1.