Search

THE BEST, FOR LAST?

March 03, 2014
March 03, 2014

Table of Contents
March 3, 2014

SI.com
THE MAIL
2014 OLYMPICS
MOTOR SPORTS
BASEBALL
  • THE MONEYBALL ERA MOCKED SMALL BALL, BUT DIDN'T TOTALLY DISCREDIT IT. WITH THE GAME IN THE MIDST OF A SCORING DROUGHT, TAKING CARE OF THE LITTLE THINGS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

THE BIRTH OF SHOWTIME
  • In the early '80s, Pat Riley and Magic Johnson began a transformation that put the Lakers on the leading edge of sports culture. But it took a really, really strange series of events—and some Magicavellian maneuvering—to set the stage

Brazil
  • AS THE WORLD TURNS ITS EYES TOWARD THE NEXT OLYMPIC GAMES, IN RIO, AND ON THE EVE OF A WORLD CUP IN THE SPIRITUAL HOME OF SOCCER, A QUESTION HANGS IN THE AIR LIKE A LINGERING CLOUD OF TEAR GAS: HOW DO YOU RECONCILE

Departments

THE BEST, FOR LAST?

NEVER BEFORE HAS SUCH AN ARRAY OF TALENT BEEN SEEN IN THE OLYMPICS LIKE THAT OF CANADA'S. AND WITH THE NHL MULLING A PULLOUT FROM FUTURE GAMES, LIKELY NEVER AGAIN

THE GOLD MEDAL celebration was as matter-of-fact as the hockey. Surgeons don't get emotional after performing open-heart surgery, do they?

This is an article from the March 3, 2014 issue Original Layout

The final scores were like a fun-house mirror, distorting reality. The Canadians routed Team USA 1--0 in the semifinal. They toyed with Sweden 3--0 in the Olympic final on Sunday in an arena so quiet it could have been used for lending books. Russia bore silent witness to Canada's great red-and-white machine, which never trailed in any of its six games and outscored opponents 17--3. Now the undisputed champion of the NHL era of Olympic hockey—consecutive gold medals, three of the past four—Canada should retire the trophy.

Sometimes you get so wrapped up in the minutiae—Q: When will Sidney Crosby score? A: In the final, on a breakaway—the big picture is lost. This is the legacy of Sochi: Although it did not fill the net, Canada's 2014 Olympic hockey team was among the most impressive ever assembled.

"That," fourth-line center Matt Duchene said after the final, "is an example of a ton of amazing players and amazing character coming together and absolutely putting on a show for Canada and for the world."

So while Canada was controlling the puck and owning the tournament, you had to look elsewhere for meaning. In 12 occasionally electrifying and sometimes stultifying days of hockey, Russia epically failed, the U.S. was humiliatingly derailed and an anonymous Latvian goalie was hailed. There were Teemu Selanne and the fabulous Finns, which crushed the dispirited Americans for bronze, and there were the steaming Swedes, apoplectic that No. 1 center Nicklas B√§ckstr√∂m was yanked from the lineup just before the final after he failed a doping test because of pseudoephedrine in the allergy medicine he says he has been taking for seven years. There was a punch line from Gary Bettman and René Fasel and a puck-possession line centered by Canada's Jonathan Toews, which neutered Team USA's top line when American coach Dan Bylsma, with last change, made no effort to get the puck away from Toews. There was even a nod to cannibalism, and, as it often happens, Canada ate everybody's lunch.

THERE WAS an extraordinary sight last Wednesday. Even though the Olympic cauldron was still roaring, the de facto closing ceremony had occurred hours earlier with Russia's 3--1 quarterfinal loss to Finland. But it would have been rude for the hosts to start emptying ashtrays and doing the dishes in hopes that the guests would take the hint and leave. Russia tried. Television monitors in the media lounge at the figure skating arena had been wall-to-wall hockey, but with Russia out, journalists were treated to a replay of that morning's biathlon.

As the clock ticked down, Russian players were wildly icing pucks and the linesmen were toting them back to the Team Russia zone for face-offs, a Sisyphean symbol of their failure. In postgame interviews captain Pavel Datsyuk said, "We have tried to be a team. We discussed this in training, in the locker room.... But when out on the ice, emotions gush, every player is trying to take over the game, holding on to the puck. We all tried, but...."

Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was tried. And convicted. He was guilty of failing to correct the fatal Russian flaw: five skaters, one puck. After the press conference, in which he voluntarily singled out Alex Ovechkin for his inability to score—a goal on Ovechkin's first shift and then 308:43 of nothing—Coach Bil engaged in the following exchange with Russian reporters, as interpreted by The Wall Street Journal:

Q: ... Your predecessor was eaten alive after the [2010] Olympics.

A: Well then, eat me alive right now.

Q: No, I mean....

A: Eat me, and I won't be here anymore.

To steal from Tolstoy, each unhappy hockey family is unhappy in its own way.

Two nights later, with Ovechkin in the stands watching Team USA defer to a faster and bolder Canadian team, Ivan Urgant, Russia's Jimmy Fallon, who hosts Evening Urgant on Channel 1, quipped, "I want to thank our nation's figure skaters for their display of world-class figure skating. And I also want to thank our hockey players ... for their display of world-class figure skating."

THERE WAS shame in losing, but there was also fame in losing. Fleetingly, at least.

Kristers Gudlevskis, 21, tends goal for the AHL Syracuse Crunch, a step up for someone who once played for HK Ogre in his native Latvia. He is the only goalie in the world who should travel with pads, a mask, a trapper and a cornerman. Gudlevskis stopped an astonishing 55 of 57 shots in the quarterfinal, a 2--1 win for Canada, and Crosby later wondered what, short of throwing the puck into the net, Team Canada could have done differently. (Crosby earns about double in one game what Gudlevskis makes in a season, $55,000.) During the third-period bombardment, Gudlevskis kneeled in a pose of either supplication or exhaustion as the trainer applied a compress to his neck.

"I was O.K.," he said. "I was just trying to give [our] players a little bit [of] rest."

Gudlevskis was speaking by phone last Friday from Orlando. The Lightning, which drafted him in the fifth round last year, was running a minicamp before the resumption of the season. There is the Olympic hockey bubble, and then there is life. In 48 hours he had gone from national hero to Tampa Bay fourth-stringer. He says he heard "Good game" from Russian goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov on an NHL charter back to the U.S., "but," he noted, "they have same agent as me."

So will your life ever be the same after Sochi?

"This did not change something. In a week everybody forgets about it. I am not concentrated on this. This game is now in the past, and I move forward."

ONE FINAL question remains: Does the NHL move forward and, unlike the guests after the Russian hockey debacle, know when to say good night? NHL commissioner Bettman and International Ice Hockey Federation president Fasel, the Laurel and Hardy of the hockey set, addressed the issue with their inimitable press conference stylings.

Fasel: "There's nothing like a gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing."

Bettman: "Except for the Stanley Cup."

Nothing in Sochi swung the pendulum—bad (injuries to Canada's John Tavares and others) or good (Sochi's efficiency, the NBC numbers on the USA-Canada semifinal). The return of a hockey World Cup is in the works, which the NHL and the NHLPA can monetize, unlike their Olympic participation. Within six months Bettman hopes to resolve the issue of NHL players participating in the Pyeongchang Games.

But is the allure of Olympic hockey the game itself, featuring the greatest players in the world? Or is it the Olympics, with its interlocking rings and interlocking disciplines, where all elite winter athletes convene?

You can ponder that while the NHL makes up its mind. But if the IOC really wants a best-on-best tournament, Canada should be allowed to enter two teams.

Follow @SInow

BOBSLED

ELANA MEYERS AND LAURYN WILLIAMS

Meyers, 29, who won bronze as a brakewoman in 2010, drove the USA 1 sled to the silver medal; her brakewoman, Williams, 30, a gold medalist in the 4...100-meter relay at the London Olympics, is the fifth athlete to win medals at Summer and Winter Games.

SNOWBOARDING

ALEX DEIBOLD

After his better-known U.S. teammates were knocked out of the competition, the 27-year-old (in blue bib) from Manchester, Vt.—who at the 2010 Games worked as a wax technician for other riders—won the bronze medal in snowboard cross.

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MEYERS AND WILLIAMS)PHOTOROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOCKEY)BACKBREAKER Crosby beat Henrik Lundqvist one-on-one late in the second period to put Canada up 2--0.PHOTOROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOCKEY)DA, DA CANADA With its ninth finals win Canada moved ahead of the Soviet Union (and Unified Team) in the men's hockey gold-medal count.PHOTOERICK W. RASCO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DEIBOLD)TWO PHOTOSTWO ILLUSTRATIONS