Both arguments hold merit. Saying the Games “should return to amateurs competing on the world stage” is a nice one and of course the folks who stand by that always point to the Americans' 1980 Miracle on Ice to uphold their stance.
It is nostalgic and was most certainly needed at a time when America needed someone, anyone, to be a hero so that the country would feel good about itself again. That American hockey team served that purpose but in reality those Games were not purely amateur. Most of the Russian and European opponents the USA faced off against were playing for professional teams that shut down in order for their best players to compete in the Olympics.
Therefore, shutting down professional hockey leagues every four years is nothing new to the hockey world.
It is understandable why North American fans do not like the two week hiatus. They want to cheer for their favorite teams throughout the season and not see that interrupted.
Many Boston fans, and some media, have voiced their disapproval of Bruins players going to Russia this year.
There are the customary concerns with the chief one being, “what if someone gets hurt?” Followed by “the players will get tired from the travel” and “the Bruins will play poorly upon returning.”
A commenter on a local sports radio show was recently heard saying that the Bruins “may go into a slump” after the Games. That statement begs the question, why?
There should be no reason for a Boston slump after Sochi. No reason at all.
Five Bruins players (Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and David Krejci) are in Russia representing their countries. Of course, they needed to travel halfway around the world to arrive at the venue, but the games are played within minimal distance from the Olympic Village. In essence, each game will be a home game because there is no other extended travel for the athletes.
Some are concerned about the schedule. Yes, it is condensed in Sochi, but the players are used to that. As for the amount of games, each player is guaranteed three and may play a maximum of six, and since only two teams can play six, chances are only one or two of the five Bruins will play in every game over the two week period. This means that the majority of the players will participate in fewer games than they normally do in a two week period in the NHL.
A third concern is the Bruins “were on a roll and this may cool them off.” The B’s were 9-1-2 in the 12 league games leading up to the Winter Games. Not playing or practicing together could result in a small amount of rust to gather on the players who are on vacation but these are professionals. They are continuing their off ice workout programs and most, if not all, will have no trouble finding ice time in one form or another.
The things most people do not think of is that all of the NHL’s teams are on a two week break and almost all of the players, who did not go to Russia, are traveling somewhere, even if it is to go home to be with friends and family.
Will the Bruins momentum be stymied? Perhaps, but all NHL teams are affected by the Olympics. In fact, it is more likely that Chicago, which has ten players overseas, is in for a slow start once the NHL season resumes.
Krejci, who is representing his native Czech Republic in Sochi, is one who is not worried about a post-Games slump.
“I feel like the last ten or twelve games, we’ve (Boston) played really well so I think we can come back after the break and pick up where we left off” said Krejci.
Eriksson agrees with his Bruins teammate.
“Everyone knew the Olympics were coming and we had a really good stretch in our last ten games or so and we are playing really well so we’ll just have to bring everything that we’re doing now and bring it back after the break and keep going,” the native of Sweden said.
It also no secret that the Bruins need the time off more than any team in the NHL.
Since the beginning of the 2010-11, the team has played a total of 302 games. Obviously, not every player on the club has played in every contest but as one of the most successful squads in the NHL since that season, players such as Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, and Johnny Boychuk have logged plenty of ice time and can use the rest.
For the players selected to represent their countries, it is an absolute honor and win or lose, Patrice Bergeron knows first hand that it is also a learning experience that will only enhance his talent.
“The whole experience is very special,” said Bergeron, a gold medalist in 2010 with Team Canada. “It’s something (where) you can learn for yourself but also for your teammates and it’s a big stage and learning how to (play on) that. So, there’s lots of things that I carried on from Vancouver (2010 Winter Olympic Games) and hopefully I can do the same with Sochi.”
For a player who has endured a difficult first half because of injuries, Loui Eriksson is looking at Sochi as a fresh start to his season.
“It will definitely be fun,” Eriksson said. “I’m excited to go. It’s been a lot (of injuries) during the last couple of months. I’m looking forward to going to the Olympics then come back here and start playing well and be healthy. It’s (Olympics) a good experience. Those are tough games to play and you can take that experience and apply it when you come home.”
Bruins Coach Claude Julien ended all doubts after his squad’s final game before the break, a 7-2 win over Ottawa.
“I think it’s a well-deserved break for everybody, especially after this last stretch of games we’ve played and how well we’ve played, said Julien, who is an assistant coach with Team Canada. “I know that the game of hockey will benefit from it a lot upon everybody’s return. Every team, you’re going to see what two weeks can do to an athlete who’s been going hard for these last few months with the compressed schedule. Even though there’s some people going to the Olympics, it’ll make for some pretty interesting hockey from here on in. I think the whole game of hockey and the NHL will benefit from this whole bit of a break here. Our guys can certainly go in and get that rest. They’ve earned it in my mind, and I know the group we have here, they’ll be ready to come back and get back to action here. I’m sure they’re going to be in great shape when it’s time to start again.”
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.