Olympic hockey starts in 57,600 minutes. That’s only 960 hours from right now. Guys, we only have to wait 40 days and 40 nights until we get to watch the American gladiators, Shattenkirk, Backes and Oshie, go head to head against the Great White North’s defensive duo of Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester, with Hitchcock behind the pine, and ‘Army’ leading the Canadian troops from the press box. Hometown boy, Vladimir Tarasenko, hopes to represent Russia and play host to fellow Blues’ teammates like the slick Swedes, Steen and Berglund, the pair of hard czech-ing veterans, Polak and Sobotka, playing for their Republic, and Jaro Halak between the pipes for Slovakia. The eleven Blues hopefuls may very well make them the most represented NHL team in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
When compared to the 2010 Winter Games, which saw three Blues players compete, it is quite astounding the depth of roster that Doug Armstrong (Army) and Al MacInnis have created over the last four years. And even more impressive, is the type of international attention that the young, unproven group of St Louisans have garnered. Fans of the St Louis Blues should not only be exceptionally proud while watching the Games, but also eagerly anticipating the puck drop on February 12th, as you will truly be able to judge the Blues best players’ compete level, desire to win, what ever you call it, as over half the team will be competing for the Gold medal.
Along with all of the pride and excitement that comes along with these Olympics, the first question to come to mind for many hockey fans (and team owners) is “How will these guys hold up during the NHL playoff race after playing in this emotionally grueling tournament?”
This will be an extremely important question for Blues faithful, seeing that the majority of their roster won’t get the nearly two-week break to rest and recover during the dog days of the NHL season.
But to ease your wary minds Blues fans, at least the Games will be taking place in the thriving metropolitan city, and conveniently located, Sochi, Russia. I mean there’s only a nine-hour time change from St Louis, and it’s less than an hour drive from Georgia (this Georgia is not the one known for its peaches). Sochi is nestled in between the cozy beach towns of Lazarevskiy and Khostinkiy Russia, set scenically amongst the shoreline of the Black Sea. And being located just across the bay from Turkey, even residents in Russia’s most populated city of Moscow should find the 21-hour drive south to Sochi quite breezy.
Leaving from St Louis, the Olympians will most likely take the hour flight to Chicago, then from there take the 10 and a half hour flight to Moscow (tack on the 9 hour time change here). Then hop on a Russian puddle jumper for a few hours down to Sochi. Easy, huh?
Jokes aside, there is going to be excessive travel, major jet-lag and an itinerary that would make even the most burly of Road Warriors second guess the commitment.
But the greatest part about the tournament is regardless of the travel, playing conditions, inherent risk of injury, these NHL players are gleaming, ecstatic even when their names are called during the selection process. The idea of draping the Gold medal around their necks as their country’s anthem plays in front of an internationally eclectic mix of hockey fans with their eyes full of tears, brings boyhood excitement to these millionaire, professional athletes. This is exactly why this tournament can be the most competitive, hard nose hockey you can find, anywhere. These guys have incredible pride in their heritage and upbringings, and are clearly willing to make any sacrifice to win the world’s best hockey tournament.
And specifically for Blue Blood Nation, I think the notion of sacrifice and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, is an undeniably important lesson for this young core of Blues players to learn, and learn quickly. Think of the Olympics as a collaboration retreat, where you get all of the top minds in the industry together, for an off site gathering full of bonding and comradery-building events while being in the midst of an ultra competitive environment.
If history has a tendency to repeat itself, then the Blues should be in great shape heading into the chase for the Stanley Cup. If you look back at the 2010 season, after the last Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, you saw the Stanley Cup finals feature two rosters littered with Olympians. The losers in Philadelphia, were led offensively and defensively by two Gold medal winners for Canada in Mike Richards and Chris Pronger. The Flyer’s other top-pair defenseman, Kimmo Timonen, won a Bronze medal with Finland. And 2010 Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, had Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith play critical roles in securing the Gold medal for Canada, while Toews’ line mate, Patrick Kane, did everything in his power to shut down his teammates in the final game for team USA. Chicago also lent a pair of wingers, Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, to Slovakia to compete in Vancouver. Altogether, 10 players competed both in the Olympics Games and Stanley Cup finals (I forgot to mention former Flyer Oskars Bartulis who played for an underwhelming Latvia team).
The knack to win crucial games, the intangibles that a champion, a winner brings to a locker room or a third period in May, can be learned through osmosis, by being surrounded by other winners. These intangibles and the understanding of the sacrifice it takes to win on the world’s biggest stage, will, I believe, prove to be immeasurably significant for guys like Alex Pietrangelo and TJ Oshie.
Thus rejoice Blues fans abroad. The Olympics in Sochi will be a rite of passage, of sorts, for the core group of St Louis Blues players, and an experience which will be on full display come mid-April.
So who’s down for a trip to route on the Blues? I’d definitely chip in for gas, and I have a buddy we could stay with in Kamennomostkiy, just north of Sochi. And once we cross the Bering Strait by ferry, it’s only 4,700 miles from there across Siberia to Sochi, or considering it’s winter, we could take the southern route through Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Road Trip!