SOCHI, Russia – Steve Yzerman was stuck in an elevator while the maple leaf flag was raised to the Bolshoy Ice Dome rafters Sunday.
The architect of Canada’s dominant Olympic hockey team was disappointed to miss that magic moment after the team’s unbeaten run through the Sochi Games to its second straight gold medal.
And though he’s stepping down as Hockey Canada’s Olympic executive director, Yzerman hopes he didn’t miss his last chance to see the world’s best players rewarded with gold.
“It’s my opinion that this is great for hockey,” Yzerman said. “We’re trying to grow our sport. The Olympics is the biggest stage worldwide, for any sport. I’m hopeful that the NHL stays. I recognize there are a lot of issues, but I think this is tremendous for our game, and I believe it’s tremendous for the National Hockey League.”
The NHL is thinking seriously about abandoning the Olympics, which has hosted the world’s best since 1998. For all the excitement, attention and phenomenal hockey in Sochi, several owners still seethe at their multimillion-dollar investments playing for free – and sometimes getting injured – while their arenas sit empty for three weeks in February.
The league and players’ union are working to stage a hockey World Cup in 2015, possibly lessening the impact. But most players believe nothing can replace the Olympics, and Canada’s dominant performance was just the headline of an outstanding 12-day story in Sochi.
The Canadians were unshakably brilliant. The Russians flopped under enormous expectations. The U.S. team soared and crashed.
And while Canada skated away with gold in a 3-0 victory over Sweden on Sunday, nobody in a maple leaf was voted the tournament’s MVP. That honor went to Teemu Selanne, the 43-year-old Finn who scored four goals in his record-tying sixth Olympics, captaining Finland to a bronze medal with two goals against the Americans.
Here are five things to remember from the Olympic men’s hockey tournament in Sochi:
Sochi’s best day: The biggest games in this tournament were nearly devoid of drama as the best teams largely kept leads and held them. Canada never even trailed. But the United States’ shootout victory over Russia is likely to be the best-remembered game in Sochi because of T.J. Oshie, the St. Louis Blues forward who scored four times in six attempts against goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to crush the Russian crowd. The home team’s heartbreak was compounded by a disallowed goal with 4:40 left in regulation because Jonathan Quick’s net was dislodged. If Russia’s late goal had counted, or if Bobrovsky had stopped Oshie one more time, Russia likely would have earned an automatic berth to the quarterfinals, and the medal rounds could have been much different.
Teemu forever: After extending his own Olympic scoring record and winning his fourth medal, Selanne insists he’s done with hockey this summer when the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks’ season concludes. Trouble is, Selanne has been threatening retirement every year since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, and he thought he was done with Olympic hockey after each of the past four trips with Finland dating to 2002. “We’ll see,” teammate Jussi Jokinen said.
Live underdogs: While hockey’s traditional powers dominated, a first-time Olympic nation and a perennial underdog made memorable impacts earlier in the tournament. Slovenia arrived in Sochi simply hoping not to get embarrassed, but the team with just one NHL player – Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar – beat Slovakia and Austria on its way to the quarterfinals. Latvia also earned its first Olympic victory in 12 years before pushing mighty Canada in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss with a 55-save performance by Kristers Gudlevskis.
Injuries abound: Distance, time zones and lost revenue are obvious obstacles to the NHL’s participation on Pyeongchang in 2018, but the spate of significant injuries in Sochi won’t ease the owners’ minds, either. Islanders center John Tavares is out for the season with a leg injury. Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello hurt his hand playing for Norway. Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin will miss playing time with an injured ankle. And both of the lowly Florida Panthers’ representatives in Sochi – Finland’s Aleksander Barkov and the Czechs’ Tomas Kopecky – are coming home injured.
Good times: Every future Winter Olympics will have difficulty matching the spectacular setup for hockey in Sochi, where organizers built five sparkling NHL-caliber rinks within 500 yards of each other on the Black Sea shores. Players could make the seven-minute trip from the athletes’ village on bicycles. The centerpiece Bolshoy was a compact marvel of design and charm, leaving many players hoping a Kontinental Hockey League franchise will move in full time. For all the pre-Olympics worries about safety and distance, the Sochi tournament will be remembered fondly by almost everybody who laced up skates – and everybody lucky enough to be there.