SOCHI, Russia — The defending Olympic gold medalists arrived Monday in Sochi, and they came in waves.
In a matter of a couple of hours, Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman held a solo press conference, the players hit the ice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome for a practice, the players walked the media gauntlet they call the mixed zone, and the coaching staff, led by Mike Babcock, held a press conference too.
And after hundreds of questions and hundreds of answers, well, frankly, we didn’t learn a whole lot we didn’t already suspect.
Yes, there’s pressure, and that pressure will need to be managed. The players are more than capable of doing that.
Yes, the ice is bigger, and the players will need to make adjustments. They’re more than capable of that, too.
The facilities are just beautiful, the food is great, and everyone’s excited to be here. It won’t be easy to win gold again though. There are a lot of good teams in this tournament.
You get the picture.
We still don’t know who will start in goal for Team Canada, or who the healthy scratches will be. We got a glimpse at some possible line combinations — Jeff Carter on Sidney Crosby’s wing was pretty interesting — but those could all change.
Not that anyone should be surprised by today’s lack of real hard news or buzzworthy quotes. The real hard news will come soon enough, and nobody wants to say anything controversial, especially not on the first day. In 2010, American forward Ryan Kesler said “I hate them” when asked about Team Canada. He still hears about that one.
And it’s not like the coaching staff is about to openly discuss its plans. Why give up any secrets? Did we mention it won’t be easy to win gold?
If there was one comment with some teeth, it may have been Yzerman’s on whether it was worthwhile to keep bringing NHLers to the Olympics.
“You’re asking my opinion, my opinion is: absolutely,” he said. “I think this is fantastic for our league. We go back to the last year, and even beyond that, look how much attention this draws, how much conversation this draws, not only in Canada, but around the world. It promotes our league, it promotes our players. I believe it’s good for our game, I believe it’s good for the NHL.”
The NHL and NHLPA have yet to commit to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and there are good reasons to believe they ultimately won’t, despite pleas like Yzerman’s.
“It’s once every four years, I’m hopeful that we can continue,” he said. “I understand there are challenges for our league, and things that we’d like to improve upon with the NHL’s relationship with the IIHF, the IOC, but I think it’s good for our league, and I’m hopeful that we’ll stay.”
That’s a bigger discussion for another day though. Canada will practice again Tuesday and Wednesday before opening its Olympic tournament Thursday versus Norway.
“We’re getting settled, and it will be nice to get a bit of a routine started tomorrow,” said Crosby.