Why did Russia’s hockey team fall flat in Sochi?

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For hockey (and really sports) fans in Sochi, the reaction to Russia bowing out of the Olympic tournament following a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland can be summarized as such:

source: AP
Credit: AP

The rest of us can at least ask questions like “How?” and “Why?” Here are the potential roots of Russia’s demise, with copious amounts of help from Pro Hockey Talk.

The pressure

Playing in your host country can be a big advantage … unless it creates enough pressure that players start thinking too much. Alex Ovechkin acknowledged the anxiety but ultimately shrugged it off to NBC’s Joe Posnanski before the Olympics started.

“Of course there’s pressure,” Ovechkin said. “It’s your whole country.”

VIDEO: Mike Milbury says “a loss like this lasts a lifetime”

When Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to calm people down about a controversial goal, you know a country takes a sport seriously.

The roster

source: AP
Credit: AP

Everyone has their own view of what “the best team possible” is, but some countries must satisfy more “political” issues. Like, say, acknowledging the Russian-centric KHL (widely considered the second most prominent hockey league to the NHL).

While some of these players have appeared in the NHL before, it’s still notable how many players were plucked from an inferior league (let’s exclude Ilya Kovalchuk for obvious talent-related reasons):

Alexander Yeryomenko, Ilya Nikulin, Yevgeni Medvedev, Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Svitov, Alexander Popov, Alexei Tereshenko and Alexander Radulov.

Radulov is talented – if wildly polarizing – in his own right, but maybe Russia put too much pressure on top players? Let’s not forget that depth players can make a big difference; a certain fellow named T.J. Oshie wasn’t a lock to make the U.S. roster by any means.

Goalie flip-flopping

If the Olympic tournament wasn’t such a speedy blur, one could almost imagine people taking sides with goalies Semyon Varlamov (#TeamVarly?) and Sergei Bobrovsky (#TeamBob). Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov waffled between the two, including starting Varlamov in today’s elimination game after going with Bobrovsky in Tuesday’s do-or-die contest.

Naturally, Varlamov was pulled for Bobrovsky during Wednesday’s game.

The power play

With names like Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk available, you’d think that the Russian power play would be a nightmare. It was … but usually for the Russian team itself.

Their struggling power play unit was a storyline for much of the playoffs, even after an easy qualification playoff game against Norway.

Star failures

Fair or not, Russian players frequently get blamed in NHL playoff losses. Aside from the Malkin – Datsyuk – Radulov line and Kovalchuk, many Russian scorers would probably admit that they are disappointed with their tournament play. Others will … likely use harsher words.

(The word “choke” will almost undoubtedly be trotted out.)

Their opponents

It’s easy to beat up on Russia, but it’s not like they lost to bad teams. The U.S. is the defending silver medal winners from 2010 and Finland is a steady international threat (especially on larger ice surfaces). Some believe that Tuukka Rask is the best goalie in the world; he was in net for a Boston Bruins team that kept Malkin and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins from recording a single point in a 2013 playoff series, after all.

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Whatever way you slice it, it’s difficult to overstate how much this failure hurts the Russian team and their country as a whole. It’s likely those involved will be soul-searching for many years following this resounding finish.

World Wrestling Championships broadcast schedule

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Olympic champions Kyle SnyderHelen Maroulis and Jordan Burroughs headline the U.S. team for the world wrestling championships, with daily live coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA all next week.

Olympic Channel coverage of medal rounds will go from 1-3:30 p.m. ET from Monday through Saturday. NBCSN will air additional recap broadcasts.

Snyder and Burroughs will wrestle in their respective weight classes on Saturday. Maroulis goes on Wednesday. J’den Cox, a Rio bronze medalist, is scheduled Friday.

Snyder could have the most salivating matchup of all if he and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev meet in the 97kg bracket. Snyder, 21, owned 97kg the last two years, becoming the youngest American wrestler to win a world title in 2015 and an Olympic title in 2016.

Sadulayev, also 21, is undefeated at the senior international level since November 2013. He won the 2014 and 2015 World titles and 2016 Olympic gold at 86kg. This year, he moved up to 97kg to potentially meet Snyder for the first time.

Maroulis won the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling gold medal in Rio, upsetting three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan at 53kg. Yoshida isn’t entered at worlds, not that it matters for Maroulis, who moved up to 58kg.

Then there’s Burroughs, who is looking to make up for a medal-less effort in Rio. The 2012 Olympic champion will go for a fourth world title in a 74kg bracket that lacks the Rio gold and silver medalists.

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Day Time (ET) Network Finals
Monday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Greco-Roman 71, 75, 85, 98
Tuesday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Greco-Roman 59, 66, 80, 130
Wednesday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Women 55, 58, 63, 75
Wednesday 3:30-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Thursday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Women 48, 53, 60, 69
Thursday 4-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Friday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Men Freestyle 57, 61, 86, 125
Friday 7-9 p.m.* NBCSN Recap
Saturday 1-3:30 p.m. Olympic Channel | STREAM Men Freestyle 65, 70, 74, 97
Sunday 3-5 p.m.* NBCSN Recap

*Tape delay

Marcel Hirscher set to miss start of Alpine skiing season

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Marcel Hirscher, the world’s best Alpine skier, likely will not race until December, missing the start of the World Cup schedule in the Olympic season.

The Austrian is likely out 12 to 15 weeks after breaking his left ankle Thursday, according to the Austria Press Agency, which quoted Hirscher’s doctor.

Hirscher, the winner of a record six straight World Cup overall titles, is set to miss the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 29. He’s likely out of the following race, a Nov. 12 slalom in Levi, Finland, if the reported timetable holds up.

The next set of technical races — Hirscher’s favored events — are Dec. 9-10.

Hirscher still would have easily won the World Cup overall title the last two years if excluding his points from Soelden and Levi.

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time for a break 🙈

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