Russian hockey team knows ‘whole country is behind us’



SOCHI, Russia — The entire Russian men’s hockey team held a press conference Tuesday at the Main Media Center. You’ll forgive the blurriness of the image, but I wanted you to see the set-up, because it was meant to be symbolic. This is a team, the Russians wanted to demonstrate. It wasn’t just a handful of superstars, and some other guys.

In the middle was legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak, now the president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia. Vice captain Alex Ovechkin sat to the right of coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who sat to the right of Tretiak. Captain Pavel Datsyuk, along with vice captains Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, were also front and center. The rest were up there for a show of solidarity. It was extremely unlikely they were ever going to talk.

“I think all of us here together decided to appear at this press conference as a team because we want to show we are one team,” said Tretiak via interpreter. “It is a team sport and it is up to the entire team to get the gold, and that is why we are here together to talk to you.”

As expected, the big names got the questions. Occasionally, the Russian press corps and volunteers broke into applause, which is something you don’t see in North America.

“We do believe that as now we are playing on the home turf we will have even more brothers,” Datsyuk said via interpreter. “The whole country is behind us.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point that if you had to pick the two most famous losses in Russian hockey history, you’d probably pick the 1972 Summit Series versus Canada and the 1980 Winter Olympics, where they were shocked by the United States.

Related: Are expectations too high for Russia?

That ’80 Miracle on Ice team has been celebrated as one of the greatest teams — in the truest sense of the word — ever. And Tretiak said today that the underdog Americans taught the Soviets an important lesson about respecting one’s opponent.

As for ’72 , here’s what Canadian hero Paul Henderson once said about the heavily favored Canadian squad that had to pull together and battle back versus the Soviets: “I would say that at the start of that [series], we really weren’t a team, we were a bunch of individuals. But as the series went on, we became a team. And even today, guys that never played a game feel every bit as much a part of the team as guys who played all eight games.”

That kind of bond is what the Russians are hoping to build here in Sochi. The other teams are hoping for that too, of course, but given the number of times the “Not a team player” label has been attached to the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and so many other star Russian players in the modern era, it will be especially interesting to see how this group comes together.

“When we lost to the Canadians [in 2010], it was a big blow to us, a big failure, a big blow to everyone in Russia,” Ovechkin said via interpreter.

On Thursday versus Slovenia, the quest for redemption moves from the dais to the ice.

Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan remembers slain Colorado officer, a childhood friend

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Former figure skating champion Nancy Kerrigan remembers the Colorado police officer who was killed in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic as loyal, caring and a true friend.

She told media outlets that Garrett Swasey was “one of my best friends” as they grew up together practicing figure skating in Melrose, Massachusetts. Before he became a police officer, Swasey was a junior national couples ice dancing champion.

An emotional Kerrigan says she wasn’t surprised he took a career path where he helped others first. She says he always had fun and did everything with a smile.

Swasey’s father has told the Boston Globe that his son moved to Colorado in the 1980s to pursue competitive figure skating and became an officer six years ago.

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Kobe Bryant announces retirement but remains in contention for Rio team

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Veteran basketball player and 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kobe Bryant has announced he will retire from professional basketball after the end of this season. However, ESPN reported that the chairman of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, said that Bryant “remains in contention for Team USA spot for Rio 2016.”

In the form of a poem titled “Dear Basketball” on the Player’s Tribune, Bryant wrote:

This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

Bryant played on the U.S. national team from 2007 to 2012. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics he scored 20 points in the gold medal game to win gold over Spain. He helped the U.S. men to gold again in 2012, then said that it would be his last Olympics.

But he’s changed his tune in recent months. Bryant told the Associated Press in November that he’d like a shot at another Olympics.

“I would like to play,” Bryant said. “I think it’d be awesome. A beautiful experience.”

If he were selected and won again, Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony would become the first U.S. male basketball players to win three gold Olympic medals.

In the AP interview Bryant spoke glowingly of his Olympic teammates. “It would mean the world to me to be around those guys,” he said. “I think to be able to have a chance to continue the relationship that I already have with most of those guys, talking and just kind of being around each other and understanding that this is it, it’s just us being together, that would be fun.”

He also said he believes he’d be an asset to the team, stating, “I feel like I can add value from a leadership perspective and a defensive perspective. I can still move extremely well defensively.”

Bryant’s age will likely be a concern, as his 38th birthday is just two days after the gold-medal game on August 21st, 2016.

Colangelo said that they will be looking at “all of our players” this season, and Bryant’s retirement announcement “doesn’t have any bearing” on whether he’d be selected for the 2016 Olympic team.

The 12 player team will be selected in June 2016.

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