U.S. hockey team brings its best manners

Posted: February 13, 2014

SOCHI - Someone obviously told this U.S. men's hockey team the story of their 1998 predecessors, the Monsters Who Destroyed Japan.

That veteran-laden American team, the night of its elimination at Nagano, trashed some Olympic Village rooms. Unidentified players smashed chairs, spewed the foamy contents of two fire extinguishers over a few apartments and heaved a third from a fifth-floor window.

They left Japan in disgrace, their vandalism having embarrassed their country more thoroughly than their medal-less performance. The incident, if nothing else, provided a cautionary tale for future U.S. Olympians, especially the hockey players.

The 2014 U.S Olympic team that arrived in Sochi clearly had learned the lessons of '98.

During its first public appearance here, at an afternoon news conference Tuesday, the American players were strikingly polite, self-effacing, grateful and extremely complimentary to their Russian hosts.

The Ugly Americans had vanished. Here were the Cuddly Americans.

"Since we've been here, it's been nothing but the best," said forward Dustin Brown. "The facilities are great. The village is great. The people are great."

If he and the other Americans who voiced similarly glowing opinions weren't being sincere, they'd been very well-coached.

"The facilities are nice. They're really very nice in the village. They've been great. We're excited to be here," said captain Zach Parise.

"First and foremost, we just want to thank Sochi for all the accommodations," said Patrick Kane, the high-scoring Black Hawks star. "Everything has been very easy for us. So thank you for that."

Even Ray Shero, the team's general manager, joined in the lovefest.

"It's great to get here and experience Russian hospitality," said Shero.

They wouldn't even bite when a reporter tried to goad them into an uncomplimentary remark about the Russians, pointing out that earlier in the day one had said of the U.S. team, "1980 was your time and 2010 was Canada's. Now it is our time."

Coach Dan Bylsma replied as diplomatically as an ambassador to the Kremlin.

"I think the Olympics are a challenge for every team," Bylsma said. "This is a unique tournament and it presents a unique challenge. . . . Every team is comprised of good, skilled hockey players. The team that figures out how to come together the fastest is probably going to be the most successful."

The Americans share a group with the Russians and their strategy, if that's what it was, seemed to be to lay low and let the host team experience the pressure of its nation's lofty expectations.

Whether the U.S. will be thanking their hosts in two weeks depends on how the Olympic hockey competition, which begins with two games Wednesday, plays out.

The Americans debut on Thursday against Slovakia. The matchup with Russia comes on Saturday. Russia opens play Thursday against the group's fourth team, Slovenia.

The prospect of a U.S.-Russia game at a Russian Olympics has evoked comparisons to 1980's Miracle On Ice, when a team of American collegians famously upset the mighty Soviet Union on U.S. soil.

That game is recalled far differently here. If it's not seen as an outright disaster, it's at least a national disappointment from which they've never fully recovered.

Once dominant internationally, the Russians haven't won Olympic gold since 1992.

On the other hand, the miracle jump-started American hockey.

USA Hockey, which had six employees in 1980, now has close to 100. An NHL rarity at the time, Americans now are well-represented on every roster and every all-star team.

Ryan Suter's father, Gary, played on that 1980 U.S. team, though his son had to learn about the game's significance at school.

"My dad is a pretty quiet guy," explained Suter, the most experienced U.S. player internationally. "He didn't talk much about it when I was growing up.

"I wasn't around so I didn't know much about its impact. Most of what I know about it I learned through my friends and teachers telling me where they were when it happened."

No one asked him where he was in 1998.



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