Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

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.

Yuzuru Hanyu wins record fourth straight Grand Prix Final; Nathan Chen on podium

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu became the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals, while 17-year-old Nathan Chen is the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

The Olympic champion Hanyu held on to win despite scoring 10 points fewer than Chen in the free skate in Marseille, France, on Saturday.

Chen finished second, 11.05 points behind, rising from fifth of six skaters after Thursday’s short program.

“It’s kind of a shock,” said Chen, the U.S. bronze medalist who is in his first season as a senior skater. “I wasn’t really expecting to be able to come out with a medal here.”

Chen landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate with no falls after erring on both of his quads in the short program.

Hanyu fell once and singled a Lutz, scoring 32.11 points fewer than his record free skate last year.

“I feel total disappointment with my long program,” Hanyu said to open the post-event press conference. “But the result is good.”

Chen became the first U.S. men’s medalist at the Grand Prix Final since Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir earned gold and bronze in 2009.

Only Russian Yevgeny Plushenko won a men’s Grand Prix Final medal at a younger age, a bronze at 16 in the 1998-99 season.

U.S. champion Adam Rippon fell three times Saturday and finished last of six skaters.

Chen, the darling attraction of the 2010 U.S. Championships at age 10, is now the clear favorite for the U.S. Championships in January. Chen can become the youngest U.S. champion since Scott Allen in 1966.

“There’s always room to improve in terms of artistry and stuff like that,” said Chen, who has been working with noted ice dance coach and choreographer Marina Zoueva this fall. “I guess that will be the biggest goal for me next.”

NBCSN will air Grand Prix Final coverage Sunday from 8:30-11 p.m. ET.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Results
GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 293.90
SILVER: Nathan Chen (USA) — 282.85
BRONZE: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 282.51
4. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 268.77
5. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.75
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 233.10

Yevgenia Medvedeva repeats as Grand Prix Final winner, misses Yuna Kim record

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva extended one of the most dominant runs in recent history, repeating as Grand Prix Final champion on Saturday.

Medvedeva recovered from stepping out of her opening jump — a shocking error for her — to total 227.66 points, the second-highest score under an 11-year-old judging system. The 17-year-old just missed Yuna Kim‘s record 228.56 from the 2010 Olympics.

Medvedeva, who last lost in November 2015, won by 9.33 points over Japan’s Satoko Miyahara in Marseille, France. Russian Anna Pogorilaya was third, followed by Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

Miyahara, Pogorilaya and Osmond all tallied personal-best free skates.

Medvedeva made that early mistake skating to music from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. It’s a controversial program choice that includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

“I’m happy, but I’m so sad about my mistake on my first jump,” Medvedeva said.

Nobody has finished within five points of Medvedeva during this winning streak, which included the 2016 European and World Championships and this perfect Grand Prix season. She’s seeking the first perfect season, including Grand Prix Final and world titles, since countrywoman Irina Slutskaya in 2004-05.

No U.S. woman qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008.

NBCSN will air Grand Prix Final coverage Sunday from 8:30-11 p.m. ET.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Women’s Results
GOLD: Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 227.66
SILVER: Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 218.33
BRONZE: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 216.47
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 212.45
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 198.79
6. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 188.81