SAN JOSE, Calif. — It won’t be long before hockey players head to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Ten Chicago Blackhawks will be among them, with six (Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Johnny Oduya and Michal Handzus) having gone through this Olympics experience at least once previously.
With so many Blackhawks playing in the Games, the inevitable questions have been asked: will this be too much hockey for them? Will they be ready to pick up where they left off when they return? The players who have been there, done this say they’ll be fine; they did it in 2010, they can do it now.
Well, that’s true – and yet it’s not. While that Olympic trip certainly didn’t hurt the Blackhawks who played in the Games, there are some big differences between the 2010 Olympics and the 2014 installment.
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First, this is a long trip. Vancouver is a four-hour flight (and a two-hour time difference) from Chicago. Sochi is, well, it’s a few hours and a few times zones further away. Players will have to adjust quickly to both of those. The bigger adjustment, however, will be on the way back. For any of us who have flown from Europe back to the United States, it’s more tiring (in our opinion) than the trek there.
Then there are the more stressful surroundings. Every Olympics comes with its security concerns and potential logistical issues. But for NHL players going to Vancouver, there’s not a whole lot of fret involved. Hell, a bunch of them are from there. It’s Vancouver and it’s Canada, a city and country that everyone loves, and vice-versa. Sochi doesn’t have the same cuddly reputation right now. It’s frightening what’s going on over there, as violence and the threats of terrorism abound. The Blackhawks have said they’re not concerned about it, that they trust that all will be well. You pray it will be, but it has to be on the minds of those attending regardless. Things may calm down as the Olympics progress, but that stress could be high in the Games’ early days.
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We still agree with what Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said about NHL athletes playing in the Olympics. It’s not wearisome. “It’s an energizing event, a spectacular event,” he said. And as far as playing those games are concerned, he’s right. To play in the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; some have been fortunate to go several times. We still say players will get through the jetlag and the security stress to be ready for the stretch run.
But to say this is just like 2010, just like Vancouver? No, no it isn’t.