Notes from the hockey world
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Teams have finally taken the ice, and the Winter Games are under way. As coaches and players gear up for the remainder of the tournament, ESPN.com talked to them about their upcoming games Wednesday. This file will be updated throughout the day.
LeBrun: Sweden (7:53 p.m. PT)The flashback was worth the price of admission Wednesday night.
The hands are still there, even if the legs aren't.
"It's definitely great to be back playing against the best players in the world," the 36-year-old Forsberg told the assembled media following Sweden's 2-0 win over Germany in the Olympic opener for both countries.
It's been well-documented that ankle/foot problems have derailed a brilliant career. He played 17 games in the Swedish League with hometown Modo this season as some sort of tuneup for the Olympics. His vision is still there, but not his explosiveness. It's clear he's not 100 percent.
"I feel OK," said Forsberg. "It's getting better and better every game. But I don't think I'll ever be real healthy ever again. So I'm just going to try and do my best."
Let's be honest, it's pretty darn amazing he's even at these Games.
"I don't know what I'm still doing here, but I'm still battling and it's great," he said.
I asked Forsberg whether an NHL comeback might be in the cards next season if things go well for him in these Olympics.
"Ah, I kind of doubt it. It's not what I'm thinking about right now," he responded.
Forsberg played the wing Wednesday on a line with center Henrik Zetterberg and winger Patric Hornqvist. Forsberg played 12:57 and didn't register a shot on goal, but he looked comfortable with Zetterberg especially.
"I think he moved his legs as good as anyone else," said Zetterberg. "I think for him it's a little bigger step to come and play in the national when he played in Sweden the whole year, it's a little higher pace here. He looked good. He still has his magic in his stick and he's got real good eyes. It's a pleasure playing with him, and me and Hornqvist had a lot of fun."
"Of course, you have great memories from them, especially the Olympics in '94 [when Sweden won gold]," said Zetterberg. "I was 14 and lived and died with hockey and watched everything. That's a great memory I have."
LeBrun: Canada (6:43 p.m. PT)Four years ago to the day after a stunning 2-0 loss to Switzerland at the 2006 Torino Olympics, Team Canada gets a shot at redemption Thursday. Or is it revenge?
For the five skaters left from that Canadian team that launched 49 shots at Swiss goalie Martin Gerber but came up with a donut, it might be a little personal heading into Friday's game against the Swiss. They want to beat the Swiss badly this time around.
"Yeah, no question," Dany Heatley said Wednesday after Team Canada's practice. "You don't forget things like that. It would be nice to beat 'em pretty good tomorrow."
An honest answer, and who can blame him? Heatley, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and Chris Pronger were stymied by Gerber, including a 24-1 shot barrage in the third period. Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo were also in Torino; Brodeur was in net that day, but he had no chance on either Swiss goal.
All seven players have had to hear about the loss that has embarrassed the nation ever since. "We'll be ready," said Iginla. "It's still pretty fresh in our mind. Four years sounds like a long time ago, but it doesn't feel like it."
Try being Thornton. Because he played in Davos, Switzerland, during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he had former Swiss teammates tease him ever since.
"I've been hearing it from my Swiss pals for four years," said Thornton. "We'll be going pretty hard tomorrow to say the least."
It gets worse. Big Joe also happened to marry a Swiss gal. Tabea has also enjoyed reminding him of the Feb. 18, 2006, loss in Torino. "Hopefully this is my payback, tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 p.m.," Thornton chuckled.
Thornton, Iginla, Heatley, Nash and Pronger combined for 22 of the 49 shots on Gerber that fateful day. Pronger led the group with seven.
"I did? Wow, that's probably not a good stat if I have seven shots on net," Pronger laughed Wednesday. "I think at some point we just tried to throw everything at the net. Gerber was playing very well that night."
Thornton still isn't sure how the heck Canada didn't score.
"Just goaltending. Gerber stood on his head that game," said the San Jose Sharks star. "I remember it pretty good. Nash had a couple of point-blankers that Gerber made incredible saves on. Anything can happen and we realize that."
At the time, every player tried to deny any kind of lasting impact from the upset loss. Today, they admit it was the game that derailed Canada's tournament. Canada followed up that game with a 2-0 loss to Finland, a 3-2 win over the Czechs and a 2-0 quarterfinal loss to Russia.
"I think it was tough on our confidence as far as scoring," said Iginla. "We ended up having a tough time after that scoring goals. We had like 50 shots that game, and if it would have gone a different way, everyone would have felt a lot better about their game going forward."
Just talking about it again Wednesday brought back painful memories.
"It was four years ago, but I can still remember how we felt afterwards," said Iginla. "So yeah, I want to beat them badly, too."
Pronger said it was overstating things to pinpoint the Swiss loss as the defining moment of the 2006 Games. He summed up the whole tournament instead.
"At the end of the day, for all intents and purposes, it was a [expletive]," said Pronger. "It was just disappointing, but hopefully we can learn from the mistakes and pitfalls of '06."
The village life
Thornton couldn't say enough about life in the athletes' village.
"The village is great. It's beautiful. It's shocking how nice it is," he said Wednesday.
When I asked him if his bed was big enough, the 6-foot-4 Thornton was excited to provide myself and Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox with a big scoop.
"Me and Pronger got an extender -- another 16 inches on our bed," said Thornton. "Prongs asked for it. So I'm happy now. I can sleep like a baby now."
Friend or foe?
Iginla will face off against a familiar face Thursday. Swiss forward Hnat Domenichelli, an Edmonton boy turned Swiss national team player, played junior hockey with Iginla in Kamloops and then four NHL seasons in Calgary.
"We still keep in touch," Iginla said. "I found out a while ago that he was possibly going to be playing for Switzerland. It's great to see. I'm happy for him."
Burnside: United States (6:25 p.m. PT): U.S. coach Ron Wilson, for one, is looking forward to Sunday's lineup of preliminary games that features the U.S. versus Canada, Czechs versus Russians and the Finns versus the Swedes, the latter a rematch of the 2006 gold-medal game.
"This is one of the greatest hockey days of all time. It's all natural rivals, border rivals," Wilson said. "It might be one of the greatest hockey days internationally of all time. They've set it up to be like this. It should be hockey day in Canada on Sunday. It's not Toronto playing Ottawa and Calgary playing, this takes on an entirely different meaning for all the people involved."
Burnside: United States (5:40 p.m. PT)U.S. forward David Backes is getting a taste of the Canadian Olympic experience, and that means enjoying the long lines at many of the events and festivities here.
Backes said his wife and his parents, who arrived in time for the Americans' 3-1 victory over Switzerland, went for a walk Tuesday night and hoped to buy some souvenirs at the Hudson Bay Company, but were "flabbergasted" by the line to get in.
It was suggested Backes wasn't making the proper use of his players' credential and there might be a back door.
"I hope there is because we need to use it, or come at 9 a.m. in the morning when the store opens, because at 7:30 last night after the Canada game was over was not the appropriate time to go to Hudson Bay Company," said Backes, who scored one of the prettiest goals of the tournament thus far in Team USA's 3-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday. "We've got to find that back door. Either we send a sacrificial lamb to the line or we use the credentials and find the back door."
Burnside: Belarus (4:50 p.m. PT)Want an illustration of just how much it means to players to be at the Olympics? We give you Belarus captain Ruslan Salei.
The veteran NHL defenseman has suffered through an injury-plagued NHL campaign with the Colorado Avalanche and has played in just two games this season. But there he was Wednesday, facing off against the talented Finns, the silver medalists from the 2006 Torino Games.
"[In the] Olympics, you represent your country; it's a big honor to be here," Salei told ESPN.com. "As far as my injury goes, it's not that easy, and competing on this level without a lot of games behind you this year, it's pretty tough. I can't lie to you, it's pretty tough, and it's not what I like to feel, but this is what I feel and I have to go through it. There's no other choices, unfortunately."
As for the mindset of a team like Belarus, which is missing (due to injury) its top two NHL forwards in Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski, Salei said you have to approach every game with a victory in mind, even if you do not have the skill level of other teams.
"You have to come here with a purpose, and the purpose is to obviously compete and win the games," he said. "You have to do as best as you possibly can against anybody that you play against."
And if anyone knows the value of that belief, it's Salei. He was part of the Belarus squad that shocked powerful Sweden in the quarterfinals eight years ago.
"Obviously, we're not one of the top teams in the world and we have to compete really, really powerful houses in hockey, but eight years ago can prove that anybody can beat anybody any given day, so there is always a possibility."
Burnside: Belarus (5:40 p.m. PT)The Kostitsyn quotient has been halved for the Belarus squad due to Andrei's absence, but his younger brother Sergei, who has split time between the Montreal Canadiens and the minors this season, did score the lone Belarus goal in his first Olympic game.
"It's nice to play here in this kind of tournament and it's nice to score goal, but we [lost]," he said. "I would be more happy if we win and I don't score. We take too [many] penalties."
As for his brother, Sergei said Andrei was disappointed. "I have to score for him too, a couple of goals," Sergei said. "He's very sad to not play here, but that's life."
Burnside: Belarus (5:07 p.m. PT)Longtime Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Dave Lewis figures a decade of coaching alongside the brilliant, if unpredictable, Scotty Bowman prepared him for what has been a tumultuous time in his new role as assistant coach of the Belarus Olympic team.
"I'm used to a lot of spontaneous things working with Scotty for 10 years, so there's nothing unusual there," Lewis told ESPN.com on Wednesday after the Belarusians lost to Finland 5-1 in their first game of the preliminary round.
That he's here at all is a rather remarkable tale.
A year ago, Lewis got a call at his Michigan home from Glen Hanlon, who had spent some time coaching in Belarus after he was fired as bench boss of the Washington Capitals. Hanlon was coaching in Finland at the time, but wondered if Lewis wanted to join his coaching staff with the Belarus national team at last year's World Championships.
"It didn't take long and I said, 'Yeah, sure, I'd like to do that.' I've never been to a World Championship before and of course never to an Olympics," Lewis said.
While at the World Championships, Hanlon asked if Lewis would join his staff in Minsk coaching in the KHL -- a squad that forms the backbone of the Belarus national team. Lewis agreed. Then, early in the season, Hanlon and Lewis were fired. The next day, Belarus Olympic officials asked if Hanlon and Lewis would still coach the team at the Vancouver Games. Lewis returned to Michigan, but by Sunday, he got word that Hanlon had stepped down as coach.
Shortly before Christmas, Lewis was asked if he would come to a tournament in Slovakia and watch the Belarus team and meet with new coach Mikhail Zakharov.
"And here I am," Lewis said. "I guess they felt it was the right fit or mix."
"I learned with Vladimir Konstantinov and Fedorov when they first came to Detroit that hockey can be taught on the board, on the screen and on the ice," Lewis said. "Things don't change much. But when you stand in front of a group and you have to have somebody interpret, you lose some of the emotion in that delivery. And that's one of the issues, but I think technically you can explain things, you can show things and go from there."
Lewis said he's embraced the Olympic experience, even though it's not necessarily with the country in which he grew up (Canada) or lives (the United States).
"You know what, I look at it a little bit differently. It's an unbelievable life experience," Lewis said. "When I'm 80 years old, if I ever make it there, it's not going to matter much about what country it was for, it's going to matter about the opportunity to be at the opening ceremonies, to be at the village, to compete at the highest level in the world with all the best athletes in the world."
LeBrun: Finland (3:23 p.m. PT)The season hasn't gone quite like they had envisioned it, what with the Anaheim Ducks' early struggles and both of them coping with various injuries.
But when they combined to set up Olli Jokinen for Finland's opening goal Wednesday, it was a reminder of why they love playing together so much. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are back together again wearing the Suomi colors.
"One last time. It's awesome," Selanne, grinning ear to ear, said after Wednesday's 5-1 win over Belarus in Finland's Olympic opener.
It's a fifth Olympics for Selanne, whose assist Wednesday tied him for the all-time lead in Olympic points at 36. It's a fourth Olympics for Koivu, who had to skip out on 2002 in Salt Lake because of his courageous battle with cancer.
But whenever they are together wearing the Suomi crest, one thing never changes: The sky is blue, it rains in Vancouver, and Selanne and Koivu are on the same forward line.
"We found the chemistry right away," Selanne said. "We have played a long time together so it helps a lot."
Koivu, 35, and Selanne, 39, know this is their last Olympic foray. More than ever before, they are trying to take the time to enjoy the sights and sounds.
"When I first got here to Vancouver, I was thinking about when I was 19 and starting in my first Olympics in Lillehammer," Koivu said Wednesday. "I remember how I felt and just how excited I was. Now it's a different excitement: You're excited, yes, but you're also proud; it's the fourth Olympics for me. I spoke to Teemu before we got here, 'We're going to push everything aside and we're just going to enjoy this and take everything in and really have fun.' There's not too many games left in our careers and we need to enjoy them."
"We love playing together, the three of us," said Koivu. "I remember playing with Jere in '94 in Lillehammer. We always have that chemistry. I've always said this, I can't really explain it but we get along so well off the ice that when we get on the ice, we just want to work together as a unit and it's paying off. There's just the right ingredients to make it work. It's a good feeling to be reunited one last time as a line and hopefully it's going to be a fun one."
The Finns were silver medalists in Turin four years ago and remain a terrific side. They've got a shot. The team has rallied around the graying Selanne, knowing it's definitely his swan song. There are few bigger names in Finnish hockey history.
"He's been one of the ambassadors after Jari [Kurri]," said defenseman Sami Salo. "He's worn the Finnish sweater every time he could have and he's put up great numbers every time he's played. It's been an honor for sure to play with him the tournaments I've been able to play.
"He's a great person on and off the ice."
Selanne is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this NHL season. It's long been assumed that he would be packing in his career after this year, but he hedged a little bit Wednesday when I asked him again. Is it your last NHL season, Teemu?
"I think it is," he said with a smile.
The only thing that's definite is that these are his last Olympics.
"I've always had a lot of good times and a great experience with this national team," said Selanne. "I know that this is the last time for many players in this team to play for our country. It's very special. It has been so much fun, this has been a happy place for me."
And just imagine how a gold medal would top it all off.
"We have a lot of good players," said Selanne. "Good chemistry and good roles and everybody is doing their job as good as they can. Great goaltending every night. Those things give us the chance to win every night, but obviously no one expects that we're going to challenge the big teams.
"You never know. We all come from the same league and drink the same beer."
Either way, the Finnish Flash will leave these Games with a smile on his face.
"All Olympics are just unbelievable," said Selanne. "I think this is going to be even the greatest experience with Canadian fans. Vancouver is the best city in the world. This is a dream come true for a hockey player."
The forward lines for Finland in Tuesday's 5-1 win over Belarus, an impressive collection of depth on all four units:
Jere Lehtinen-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Jarkko Immonen 13th forward
Kimmo Timonen-Sami Salo
Janne Niskala seventh defenseman
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.
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