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.

José Calderón retires from Spain national basketball team

Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon
AP
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Los Angeles Lakers point guard José Calderón retired from Spain’s national team after playing in his fourth Olympics in Rio.

Calderón, 34, earned silver medals in 2008 and 2012 and bronze in 2016 for Spain, which lost to the U.S. in the medal rounds at each of the last three Olympics.

Calderón is one of five Spaniards to play in the last four Olympic tournaments, along with Pau GasolJuan Carlos NavarroRudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes.

Calderón came off the bench in Rio and played 25 minutes total in five of the team’s eight games. He’s entering his 12th season in the NBA.

Gasol, who will be 40 years old come Tokyo 2020, has not determined when he will end his international career.

VIDEO: Top basketball moments from Rio Olympics

Helen Maroulis gives Baltimore Ravens pre-game locker-room speech (video)

Helen Maroulis
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Helen Maroulis nervously stood to the side of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh as he introduced the Olympic gold medalist to his players, in full pads and ready to take the field, in their locker room Saturday.

“When you beat a legend, you become a legend,” Harbaugh told the team and Maroulis. “You’re a legend, so our guys want to hear about it.”

Maroulis, who beat three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida to become the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion, then stepped up. Wearing a Ravens jersey — “No. 16 Maroulis” — she addressed the team.

“I was incredibly nervous,” Maroulis said later. “I just speak from the heart.”

Her full speech before the Ravens-Lions preseason game Saturday:

“A lot of people asked if I knew I was going to win before the finals. And, no, I don’t ever know if I’m going to win before a match. And I’ve always said, I’m not called to be a Magic 8-Ball. I’m called to be a wrestler. So my job isn’t to predict the future. My job is to step out there and give everything that I have. Just through studying opponents and studying people’s mindsets and trying to figure out what was going to work for me, I just realized that you have to give everything you have, and you have to sacrifice everything that needs to be sacrificed, but you can’t take anything with you into a match that’s going to guarantee you a win. Like all the hard work, everything, that doesn’t promise you a win. You still have to step out there as if you’re wrestling for your life, or you’re fighting for your life. Did I know I was going to beat her? No. But I always say, Christ is in me. I am enough. I didn’t need to be perfect that day. I didn’t need to be the fastest. I just needed to be enough. And on that day I was enough to win.”

VIDEO: Maroulis lifts Teddy Roosevelt at Nationals game