SOCHI, Russia _ After suffering one of the most epic and unfortunate collapses in hockey history, the question is how will Team Russia players who are on National Hockey League teams respond when the NHL resumes activity.
Make no mistake, Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Finland was a dagger in their hearts and the hearts of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the rest of this hockey-crazed nation. Russian fans were expecting an exorcism of the ghosts of the American “Miracle on Ice” at 1980 the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Instead, they got was a “Nightmare at Bolshoy Ice Dome” as ageless Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne and his Finnish teammates shocked the hockey world.Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsuyk, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin all struggled for words after the game about how the defeat felt.
“It sucks,” Ovechkin told reporters afterwards. “What can I say?”
Ovechkin is the face of the team. His image adorns billboards and Coca Cola machines throughout this country. But the man who probably felt most of this nation’s weight on his shoulders was Russian Head Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. He was tasked with getting some of the world’s best individual one-on-one hockey talent to play as a cohesive team in a short, pressure-packed tournament.
When reminded by Russian reporters that the last Russian coach who lead an under-performing team was eaten alive by the press and fans, Bilyaletdinov replied “Well, eat me now. You’ll eat me and I’ll be gone.”
“Eat me, and I won’t be here anymore,” the coach continued.
When reminded that Russia still has to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Minsk, Belarus in May, Bilyaletdinov replied: “Yes, I will remain living.”
Still, Russian media couldn’t resist rhetorically picking at the bones of the Russian coach and his team.
“Burned in Finnish Sauna” read the headline in Kommersant, a privately-owned Russian newspaper.
“Failure in Bolshoy: Russian ice hockey players without Olympic medals for third time in a row” noted RIA Novosti, a government-owned sports news agency.
“Russian ice hockey players disappointed their fans,” Vzglyad, a privately-owned online Russian newspaper wrote.
“Finnish Curtin,” blared the headline in Gazeta.ru, a privately-owned online publication.