The Puck Drops For Men's Hockey In Sochi

Feb 13, 2014

The American and Russian teams played their first games in the men’s hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics today.

Russia beat Slovenia 5-2, and the U.S. men defeated Slovakia 7-1. The Russians and the Americans will meet on the ice for a highly anticipated game on Saturday.

NPR’s Robert Smith is in Sochi and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with details.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And Russians are in shock after watching on TV and in the Sochi arena as 31-year-old figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, the closest thing to Russian royalty now, skated out onto the ice only to withdraw, not just from the Olympic competition but later from the sport entirely. The only modern day skater to win four medals in four Olympics is retiring. Newscasters seen in disbelief of what they were witnessing. We will follow this breaking story.

But meanwhile elsewhere at Sochi, men's hockey is heating up, and we want to take a look at that. If you don't want to hear results, begin humming with your hands over your ears now. U.S. men clobbered Slovakia 7-1, Russia beats Slovenia, 5-2. NPR's Robert Smith joins us from Sochi. Robert, a solid win for the U.S.?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Yeah. I mean you want to see a win, obviously, and I think the thing that it did best was dispel nervousness. There's always nervousness in a hockey tournament in the Olympics because these stars have been thrown together. The U.S. team has had had barely any practice. And we know they're good players, but you always worry that the chemistry is wrong and they picked the wrong guys. And at the very beginning of the game, the USA-Slovakia game, they were a little unsure. And then came the second period and they scored six goals.

YOUNG: And then, of course, Russia beating Slovenia. It looked pretty decisive, 5-2.

SMITH: Yeah. It was a little bit closer. I mean one Russia journalist told us that the team was looking a little bit sloppy, but definitely the Russians won. And you know, I think the Russians would have like to have see an even bigger blow-out, but 5-2 is nothing to be ashamed of.

YOUNG: How much pressure is there on the Russians to win the gold on their home turf or ice?

SMITH: There is tremendous pressure. One Russian hockey commentator told me, basically, if the Russians win the hockey gold, then the Olympics will have considered worth it. If they do not win, it will be considered a disaster.

YOUNG: Oh, my gosh.

SMITH: So, hey, how's that for pressure?

YOUNG: Well, and there's $50 billion riding on that. That's, you know, in other words they're saying that it was...

SMITH: Yeah.

YOUNG: ...$50 billion was worth a Russian hockey gold.

SMITH: Well, that's exactly the quote from Alexander Ovechkin, you know, the famous Russian hockey player who plays for the Washington Capitals in the United States. He said gold only cost $50 billion. That was his joke.

YOUNG: Well, the U.S. and Russian teams face each other on Saturday. What's the thinking there?

SMITH: Well, we're going to have to see. You know, the USA team is really tough. They're really fast. But, you know, it all depends on how Russia responds to this pressure. And, you know, they're not the first to experience this. I mean, the Canadians felt tremendous pressure in Vancouver, and they ended up winning four years ago. Sometimes pressure makes you better, and sometimes pressure makes you fall apart. But it's going to be a totally exciting game.

YOUNG: Well, Robert, before we let you go, we have to ask about another one, the game between the U.S. and Canadian women yesterday. These are the teams that most people think will eventually play for the gold on February 20. Canada won but very controversial. The U.S. scored first, Canada tied it, and then scored a go-ahead goal, eventually winning 3-2. But that go-ahead goal was a little dribble across the goal line. The Americans said the whistle had sounded before the puck crossed the line. What's the feeling coming out of that?

SMITH: Well, this is just another notch in the rivalry between these two teams. And, you know, I was at the game yesterday, and it was far more exciting than the men's hockey games that I saw today. This rivalry between Canada and the USA is just incredible. If you haven't done it before, you should Google the fight between the U.S. and Canada teams.

YOUNG: Well, they fight, right.

SMITH: Yeah, yeah. They're really physical with each other. And, you know, everyone talks about rivalry in sports, but these teams really, really, really want to beat each other. So they will probably meet again because both teams are going into the semi-finals. It's going to be totally exciting because now we have this sort of disputed call, and that's just going to add to it. It's going to be very exciting.

YOUNG: NPR's Robert Smith, lacing up for the next games in men's hockey in Sochi. Robert, thanks so much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

YOUNG: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.