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.

Shaun White misses final at second Olympic qualifier

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Shaun White can’t qualify for the Olympics until mid-January.

The two-time halfpipe gold medalist missed the final at the second of four Olympic selection events in Breckenridge, Colo., on Thursday.

He was 14th in qualifying, where he needed to be top 12 to advance to Friday’s final. Full results are here. The third and fourth qualifiers are in January.

White is still in strong position to make the Olympic team after finishing second among Americans at the first qualifier last week.

The Olympic halfpipe team should include four men with the last spot available via discretionary selection by a U.S. Ski & Snowboard committee.

The Friday final in Breckenridge includes Ben Ferguson, who will wrap up the first Olympic men’s halfpipe berth if he is one of the top two Americans.

Also in the final are Sochi Olympians Danny Davis and Greg Bretz and Olympic gold and silver medalists Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland and Ayumu Hirano of Japan.

All of the top U.S. women qualified for the final, including 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter and the last two X Games champions, Elena Hight and Chloe Kim.

A full Breckenridge preview and broadcast schedule and qualifying standings are here.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympic team

Candace Parker not in 2017-2020 USA Basketball national team pool

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Candace Parker was not among 29 players named to the U.S. national basketball team player pool announced Thursday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s out of 2020 Olympic contention.

Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020.

USA Basketball director Carol Callan was asked Thursday if Parker, who was upset at being left off the Rio Olympic team, declined an invitation and what her situation is the next four years.

“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan responded. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”

For now, the pool is headlined by four-time Olympic champions Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who both recommitted to USA Basketball this year, one year after saying they believed Rio would be their Olympic farewells.

The pool includes every member of the Rio Olympic team except for the retired Tamika Catchings.

“The list of 29 [includes] players that were in the pool last quad from 2013-16 who want to continue,” Callan said, not mentioning Parker, who was in the pool in the last Olympic cycle.

It would not be a surprise if Parker never suits up for Team USA again after being left off the Rio roster.

The 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist said in May that she didn’t know if she wanted to go for the Tokyo 2020 team that will be coached by Dawn Staley, who succeeds Geno Auriemma.

Parker was also not among the 30 players who accepted invitations to a September/October national team camp. Five of her Los Angeles Sparks teammates did accept invites but none ended up attending because the team was playing in the WNBA Finals.

Staley will guide a 12-woman roster at the FIBA World Cup in September. Usually, the winner of the World Cup clinches the first Olympic basketball berth. The U.S. won the last two FIBA World Cups in 2010 and 2014.

Parker had said a primary motivation to play in Rio was that her daughter, Lailaa, then 7 years old, would have been able to watch her at the Olympics and remember it.

After missing the Rio team, Parker spoke of being caught off-guard, mad and upset. She would not commit to hypothetically being an injury replacement if one of the 12 named players had to bow out. That situation did not arise.

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U.S. women’s national basketball team player pool
Seimone Augustus
(Minnesota Lynx)
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
Tina Charles (New York Liberty)
Layshia Clarendon (Atlanta Dream)
Napheesa Collier (Connecticut)
Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings)
Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky)
Asia Durr (Louisville)
Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx)
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta Dream)
Jantel Lavender (Los Angeles Sparks)
Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm)
Kayla McBride (Las Vegas Aces)
Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream)
Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State)
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
Chiney Ogwumike (Connecticut Sun)
Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)
Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)
Katie Lou Samuelson (Connecticut)
Odyssey Sims (Los Angeles Sparks)
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun)
Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx)
Courtney Williams (Connecticut Sun)
A’ja Wilson (South Carolina)