SOCHI, Russia — Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and . . . Mike Eruzione?
When International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams was asked Tuesday about the importance of hockey in the Motherland, he recounted the recent words of Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi Olympics Organizing Committee.
“He said, as a child, there were three horror films he knew from the West,” said Adams. “One was ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ the second one was ‘Friday the 13th,’ and the third one was ‘Miracle on Ice.’ ’’
And with the Olympic hockey spotlight turned squarely on Saturday’s game between the US and Russia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, nobody has to remind Vladislav Tretiak that it’s been 34 years since a band of mostly American college kids humbled (slashed?) the mighty Soviet Union in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The US went on to clinch the gold with a victory over Finland.
Tretiak was the starting goaltender and the backbone of the Soviet dynasty, but he was pulled at the end of the first period in Lake Placid after conceding a pair of goals.
“In ’84, we managed to rectify our mistakes,” said Tretiak, now the general manager of the Russian team and president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, referring to his country reclaiming the gold in Sarajevo four years later. “But we have to give it to the US team. In 1980, it was a miracle and, in fact, it made it possible for ice hockey to develop so fast in the United States and gave it great impetus.”
Tretiak said his side had paid the price for underestimating the opposition and vowed it would never happen again.
“In 1980, it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us,’’ he said. “You have to respect your competitors and only after the game can you tell what you think about them. We did not have respect for the competitors at that time, but that won’t happen during this Olympics.’’
The defeat in 1980 was the only blot on a remarkable 24-year run of Soviet domination in Olympic ice hockey in which it won the gold six times between 1964 and 1988. But the program has fallen on hard times (especially as NHL participation grew beginning in 1998), and the pressure is mounting in Sochi for the home team to produce the first-ever gold medal in hockey for Russia.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the only hockey gold won by Russians was under the flag of the Unified Team in 1992.
In fact, they haven’t won a hockey medal of any hue since taking home a bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002. That year, the United States defeated Russia, 3-2, before losing the gold-medal game to Canada.
So Tretiak has adopted a win-or-go-home philosophy with his team.
“Every match is the finals for us,” he warned. “It doesn’t matter who plays against us, we are going to approach it as a final.’’
Canada felt a similar weight in Vancouver in 2010, where hockey gold is the only gold. The Canadians didn’t let their rabid fans down, beating the US in the deciding game after whacking the Russians, 7-3, in the quarterfinals.
‘In 1980, it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us. We did not have respect . . . but that won’t happen during this Olympics.’
Reflecting on those Games, Alexander Ovechkin, the face of Russian hockey, said, “The entire team was pressured. When we lost to the Canadians it was a big blow to us, a big failure, a big blow to everyone in Russia. We haven’t had a single match yet and I can’t tell you whether the pressure exists. But I can see there is a certain pressure.’’
One that will build after each game.
“Our team is going to try to show our best game and we will do our best,’’ said Tretiak. “Everyone on the team understands what they are expected to do.’’Scott Thurston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org