When Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and Tuukka Rask return to the Bruins, they will come back with medals, with an Olympic experience that ended with their teams among the three best in the world. For Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, players who saw their teams knocked out before the medal round, their Olympics were a bit different.
Participating in the Olympics?
“Amazing,” Chara called it.
Their finishes in the tournament? Less so.
Still, Chara was full of praise for Sochi — for the experience, the people, even the often-knocked accommodations, of which he said, “It didn’t feel at all like you were somewhere in Russia.
“Every Olympics are very special, but this Olympics were, I would say, amazing,” said Chara, who started by carrying the flag for Slovakia in the Opening Ceremony. “Really, everything about it I enjoyed. Just the whole environment, the way everything was set up was very convenient. Met a lot of amazing people and great personalities.
“It was just one of the greatest experiences in my life.”
And it’s one he knows he won’t necessarily have again. There’s a chance the NHL won’t participate in the 2018 Games in South Korea. There’s also his age, with Chara soon to turn 37.
“You have to take advantage of the experience,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to be able to either go or if Slovakia is going to be able to qualify so it could have been possibly the last one. So you want to make the best of it.”
Unfortunately for Chara and Krejci, their teams didn’t finish where they would have liked. Chara’s Slovakia team, which lost to Slovenia early, was defeated by Krejci’s Czech Republic team in the qualification round.
The Czech Republic then lost to the United States in the quarterfinals.
“The ending wasn’t the one I was hoping for, but that’s sports,” Krejci said. “There were so many good teams.”
There was also criticism of the Czech Republic coach, Alois Hadamczik, who resigned Monday, regarding team selection and use of his players. Krejci, for instance, wasn’t on either of the power-play units at the start of the Olympics, something that seemed to baffle the key power-play contributor for the Bruins.
“We were all over the place, so it was kind of hard for the other team to watch us and try to prepare themselves for us,” Krejci said. “Because we didn’t even know what we were doing at some points.”
There were different issues for Slovakia, which, Chara acknowledged, didn’t have the depth of other top teams and wasn’t able to put a full 60 minutes together.
“Maybe the focus or concentration on our part, it wasn’t our best tournament,” he said. “Everybody was very disappointed because even [though] we didn’t have the depth of other countries or maybe even the talent, but I thought we had a better team than 11th place.”
Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are dealing with aging stars and uncertainty about their place on hockey’s world stage in the wake of their finishes, with Chara calling Slovakia’s future “a big question mark.”
But with the tournament over, both players returned to the United States ready to place their attention back on the Bruins and the team’s playoff run.
As Chara said, “Back to business.”
The players landed in the US Friday, coming into Newark straight from Sochi, and admitted feeling the effects of jet lag.
“I’m sure we’re going to feel it for a few days,” Chara said. “There is no secret, you’re on anywhere from a nine- to 12-hour time difference, you felt it today.
“I mean, I felt it for sure today, a little bit of jet lag. It’s going to take probably a few days, but you’ve just got to get through it, take care of your body, be smart about all of your rest and nutrition.”
Added Krejci, “First day on the ice today, I was really tired. I’m not going to hide that.”
But they know that Buffalo beckons on Wednesday night, the start of a playoff push in which the Bruins will play 25 games — the most in the NHL — before the playoffs begin.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Krejci said. “March is around the corner and in April the playoffs start. Our team is going to be battling for the best position we can get for the playoffs.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a fun time, and I’m looking forward to it.”
When Eriksson was selected to the Swedish team for the Olympics, Bruins coach Claude Julien said he thought it would be good for the winger, who has missed 20 games because of two concussions this season.
Assistant coach Geoff Ward said Monday that he thought that prediction had been realized.
“I think it’ll help him a lot,” Ward said. “This game’s an awful lot about confidence, and you could see that the confidence in his game was getting better every game at the Olympics, so the fact that he’s come off a real good tournament I think is going to do well for him back here.
“Hopefully he can springboard that into a last real solid 25 games, and then playoffs.”
When Ward was asked about the improvement in the team’s power play — ranked eighth in the NHL this season after finishing 26th last year — the assistant coach quipped, “It certainly makes it easier to sleep at night.” . . . Ward said defenseman Adam McQuaid continues to look better, but the team does not want to push him to be ready before he’s 100 percent. It is unclear whether McQuaid will be ready to return on Wednesday . . . The Bruins called up two players from Providence to fill out their roster with three Olympians still not present, bringing up Matt Lindblad and Niklas Svedberg. Ward said Svedberg was brought up solely for the practice, and not the Sabres game . . . Ward said he did not expect Bergeron, Rask, or Eriksson to practice on Tuesday before the team travels to Buffalo. “We’re looking forward to getting them back,” Ward said. “I think the biggest thing for us is that the group of guys who stayed here, we don’t want to come back and kind of watch them play. It’s our responsibility to be ready to play. That’s the goal that’s lying in front of our team right now. I think if we stand around and try to watch those guys play based on the success they’ve been having, we might find ourselves in some trouble.”