Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

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


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.


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.

Matthew Centrowitz tweets about being on Dreamworld ride before people killed

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16:  Matthew Centrowitz of the United States and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Canada compete in the Men's 1500m Round 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz got off a water rapids ride at an Australian theme park 15 minutes before it malfunctioned and killed four people, according to his Twitter account.

The tweet was published at 2:43 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

Dreamworld’s River Rapids ride in Queensland malfunctioned at 2:20 p.m. local time, according to reports.

From NBC News:

A “malfunction” ejected two victims from their raft and caused two others to become “trapped” on the Thunder River Rapids at Dreamworld, according to ambulance service official Gavin Fuller.

Shannon Szabados cut from men’s pro team after 2 games

Shannon Szabados
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Canadian Olympic goalie Shannon Szabados was cut from her men’s pro team two games into the season on Monday.

Szabados, playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League for a third year but in her first with the Peoria (Ill.) Rivermen, was cut along with the team’s other goalie, Storm Phaneuf, after they combined for 6-1 and 5-1 losses in the first two games last week.

“After our first two games, I thought our goaltending wasn’t good enough to compete, and changes had to be made,” Peoria coach Jean-Guy Trudel said in a press release. “We’re going to continue adjusting our roster as needed until we find a group on and off the ice that I feel can accomplish our primary goal here in Peoria, which is to build a winning team here in Peoria and bring our fans a championship.”

Szabados, a 30-year-old who won the last two Olympic finals against the U.S., recorded a goals-against average of 6.10 and a .792 save percentage while playing parts of both losses last week.

“I came off the ice after those games knowing it wasn’t going to work,” Trudel said, according to the Peoria Journal Star. “We had no preseason games, so essentially those acted as that test, and we found out some things that just weren’t going to be the way we needed.

“I thought our goaltending wasn’t good enough to compete, took the morale out of our team a bit and changes had to be made.”

Szabados had signed a tryout contract with Peoria a month earlier and was one of two goalies out of five to make the opening-night roster.

Szabados played for the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths of the same league the previous two full seasons, ranking in the bottom half of the SPHL in goalie stats. She ranked second on the team in goalie games played each season.

2014-15: 3.12 GAA, .907 SV%
2015-16: 3.63 GAA, .910 SV%

If Szabados doesn’t sign with another pro team, she could now be available for a U.S.-Canada series in December. Szabados hasn’t played for the Canadian national team since the Sochi Olympics and reportedly said in August that she was unsure if she would make a 2018 Olympic run.

Szabados was not on the roster named Oct. 14 for next week’s Four Nations Cup in Finland, a tournament that includes the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden.

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set