Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith. Oh, and coaches Mike Babcock and Lindy Ruff, too. The list of Team Canada members electing not to bring any family and friends to Sochi because of security concerns around the Olympics is already significant and it could grow longer still as more information becomes available closer to the Feb. 8 departure date.
Hockey Canada was hoping to distribute a detailed email to players at some point on Friday outlining the security measures in place and current level of threat around the Games, president Bob Nicholson told Sportsnet, and the organization is still finalizing the precise number of guests who will be part of its entourage in Russia. Needless to say, the support group is going to be significantly smaller than the one in Vancouver four years ago—but it might also fall short of the previous three Olympics involving NHLers as well. “It’s a long way to go,” Nicholson says. “Hey, we’re not saying that you should or you shouldn’t bring families, but we certainly aren’t recommending it like other years.”
Security concerns have grown with the Games drawing near. A pair of suicide bombers killed 34 people in the Russian city of Volgograd in December, and a hunt is currently on for three more potential attackers—one of whom is believed to already be in Sochi. The suspects are linked to an Islamic militant group which is based about 500 kilometres from the Olympic host city.
On Friday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. State Department has been warning American athletes not to wear anything patriotic outside of the Sochi venues because of intelligence that it would put them at a “greater risk.” Nicholson acknowledged that Hockey Canada would have to largely rely on advice from the Canadian Olympic Committee and federal government regarding security. The NHL will also have its own security team on the ground for the 12-day tournament.
The threat of terrorism and the distance from Canada should combine to make this a different type of Olympic experience, especially for first-timers like Benn and Smith who won’t get the chance to share it with loved ones. However, some are forging on despite the uncertainty and logistical challenges. Matt Duchene, another Olympic rookie, believes it is important that his parents and girlfriend join him in Russia. “We’ve got them situated nicely in hotels and stuff,” he told me this week. “It should be a great experience hopefully for everybody. Obviously, my parents have been with me since Day 1 and spent thousands of dollars on me to make this league. It’s good to give back to them.”
It should also be noted that members of the host Russian team have been reassured about the level of security inside the Olympic bubble. Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, who grew up in Magnitogorsk, will have his parents, wife and young son in Sochi. “I don’t see any problems with it,” says Kulemin, while adding that the decision would be tougher for those less familiar with Russia.
One thing that isn’t new is the concern about safety around the Olympics. Back in 2002, Team Canada barely even held a practice on its way to winning gold because it was such an onerous process to get from the athletes village to the rink and back because of heightened security. The conditions in Sochi could be similar. “I look back to Salt Lake City after ‘9/11’ and we had the same type of thing,” says Nicholson. “We’ve got to make sure that we ask the right questions to the COC and the federal government, so that the players feel as comfortable as they can. But we don’t like the type of things that we’re reading.”
DOAN DODGES DEATH
Eighteen seasons in the National Hockey League and Shane Doan had never run into an opponent like this one. The tough-as-nails captain of the Phoenix Coyotes was moved to tears during a road trip from Calgary to Vancouver back in December and there was no easy explanation for the debilitating headache he was experiencing. Had the Coyotes been scheduled to play anyone other the Canucks at that point in the schedule, the outcome could have been disastrous. Fatal even.
But in Vancouver the 37-year-old was treated by Dr. Mike Wilkinson, who grew up in South Africa and was well-versed in infectious diseases. Wilkinson looked at the rashes that had broken out on Doan’s hands and feet, coupled with his other symptoms, and determined that he was suffering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever—a tick-borne bacterial disease known to be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. It may have saved his life. “Thank goodness that the doctor in Vancouver thought that’s what it was and put me on the right antibiotics because you read about it and it’s something that could scare you,” says Doan.
There are only about 800 reported cases of Rocky Mountain fever per year in the United States and the chances of death grow if it goes untreated for more than a week. Doan still isn’t entirely sure when he contracted it, but believes it probably happened at home while playing with his dog.
Even after being diagnosed, the recovery was rough. Doan was taken straight to the hospital when the Coyotes returned home from Vancouver and placed on morphine to relieve the pain caused by the headaches and muscle pain. It took almost a week for the headaches to subside. “It was an interesting time,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “The players were genuinely worried about this because they just didn’t know enough about it.”
Doan ended up missing 12 games and a month of action—the longest any injury has kept him out during a pro career that has spanned more than 1,300 games. He returned to the Coyotes lineup Jan. 4 and just now feels like he’s getting back up to full speed. The veteran winger will play in Vancouver on Sunday night and finds himself in a much better place than his last visit to the city. “I’m totally sure I’m going to be OK now,” says Doan. “It’s just getting my legs and energy and everything back to where you want it to be.”
A FEW MORE THINGS
It hasn’t taken Paul Maurice very long to get the Winnipeg Jets winning and he’s putting a lot of faith in rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba while doing it. The 19-year-old played more than 23 minutes each of the past four games and has three goals since Maurice was hired to replace Claude Noel on Jan. 12. The biggest message Maurice has delivered to Trouba is the importance of not jumping into the rush too often.
After just 49 games with the Dallas Stars, Tyler Seguin is ready to say that he’s found the place he belongs. Looking back, it was tough for the No. 2 overall pick to jump straight onto a contending team with as many veterans as the Boston Bruins had. Since being traded to Dallas last summer, he’s felt more comfortable as part of a younger group building towards that goal. “I feel like this is where I kind of should have gone (originally),” says Seguin, who turns 22 next week. The skilled centre is in the midst of a career season with 21 goals and 47 points so far.
It can be argued that no player did more than Matt Duchene to actively push for a spot on Team Canada. Two summers ago he started to train with Sidney Crosby while adopting a gluten-free diet to drop weight and increase his speed. The 23-year-old also attended three IIHF World Hockey Championships his first four years in the NHL, plus a Spengler Cup. But it was the decision to spend three months in Europe during last season’s lockout that the Colorado Avalanche forward believes pushed him over the top because of the experience it gave him on the larger international ice. “I think that was a big turning point in my career,” Duchene says. Soon he’ll be an Olympian.
Controversy is still swirling in the Czech Republic, where the Olympic team selections were more hotly debated than in Canada and the U.S.—combined. Centre David Krejci told me that coach Alois Hadamczik is currently under “big heat” after the likes of Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata and Jan Hejda were left off the roster, while 42-year-old forward Petr Nedved and defenceman Michal Barinka (Hadamczik’s son-in-law) were included. Krejci is disappointed by the reaction from some at home. “I don’t think it’s right,” he says. “It’s unnecessary I think a month before the Olympics to already criticize the team or the coach.” The Czechs are seeking their first Olympic medal since winning bronze in 2006.
Kudos to the St. Louis Blues for supporting teammate Jaden Schwartz by attending a benefit at Yale University on Friday that was held in honour of his late sister, Mandi, who played hockey at the school before dying of leukemia in 2011. She was just 23. The Blues also held an open practice in New Haven, Conn., as part of a fundraiser for The Mandi Schwartz Foundation—showing they are an organization that understands the true meaning of family.