VANCOUVER — The Gary Bettman/Rene Fasel show played out exactly as expected.
Punch. Counter punch. Body blows. No knockouts.
At Thursday’s media conference at Canada Hockey House, Bettman, the National Hockey League commissioner, restated his position that his league is not ready to commit to the 2014 Olympics of Sochi, Russia.
Fasel, the International Ice Hockey Federation president, of course wants to continue the best-on-best Olympic format that began in Nagano in 1998.
Fasel baited Bettman, accusing him of having more interest in money than in growing the game.
“You play over 4,000 games over the four years and you play 31 games at the Olympics,” Fasel said.
Bettman responded that it has “nothing to do with money,” but about the long NHL season and the wear-and-tear on the players.
“For our fans, Gary, we need you, one hundred per cent,” Fasel said.
“It’s nice to be needed,” shot back Bettman.
It’s obvious Bettman would like to use the 2014 tournament as a bargaining chip to gain a player transfer agreement with Russia. We don’t have a bad relationship with Russia, Bettman said, “I think we have no relationship.”
Fasel and Bettman don’t even complete the picture. The NHL Players Association will have to weigh in with its views.
“It’s not as easy as to simply say: ‘Let’s go to the Olympics,’ “ Bettman said. “We shut down our season for two weeks to 17 days and there is a momentum to our season that is lost.
“No other league stops to go do this. In fact, baseball doesn’t do it and it’s no longer an Olympic sport.
“This is hard, it’s not always a good experience and the benefits we’ve sometimes seen were not always worth what we’ve had to sacrifice. I don’t think we get enough credit and I don’t think the IOC (International Olympic Committee) tends to recognize how difficult it is.”
Canada’s 2-0 loss to Switzerland in 2006 was stunning for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Canada’s history of domination over the Swiss.
Heading into Thursday’s game, Canada held a 78-7 scoring advantage on Switzerland and a 7-1 record, thanks to the infamous (though famous in Suisse) Martin Gerber shutout in Turin. The first time the nations met in an Olympic game, Canada won 33-0 in 1924, the most lopsided victory in the history of the tournament.
New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, fresh off the Saints Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis, was in the house to catch some puck action on Thursday.
He’s still Jagr
Just 24 hours after turning 38, Jaromir Jagr showed he is still a force to be reckoned with.
The former NHL superstar with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers played a key role in the Czech Republic’s 3-1 victory over Slovakia, a huge win because the two nations are in with the Russians in the toughest group of the three in the preliminary round.
Jagr scored the winning goal and then set up the insurance goal with two seconds remaining in the second period.
After beating Slovakia, Jagr, who plies his trade in the KHL, said it was “tough” getting used to the Olympic pace.
“Things were coming at me so fast from every direction,” he said. “It’s different hockey. I’ve got to get used to it again.”
Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa hit a goalpost just prior to the Jagr goal, tipping the game in favour of the Czechs.
Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens took the loss in goal for the Slovaks, while Tomas Vokoun got the win.
Vokoun said he was not surprised at Jagr’s performance.
“Once you learn to ride a bike, you don’t forget it,” Vokoun said.
Tough schedule for the Slovaks. They’re the only contending team that has back-to-back games in the preliminary round — the Czechs Wednesday and Russians Thursday. Brutal.
Swedes playing possum?
Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson continues to like Sweden’s position, sitting in the weeds while the focus is on Canada and Russia.
“Everybody looks at the Canadians blowout (of Norway) and the Russians winning by a wide margin (8-2) and says, ‘What’s wrong with the Swedes?’” Alfredsson said after Sweden’s tight 2-0 victory over Germany. “That’s perfect. I like that.”
Sweden’s Peter Forsberg, 36, and capable of breaking down at a moment’s notice, showed occasional flashes of his old self, but also had difficulty keeping up at times.
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