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Coyotes Olympians Eager to Play for Their Countries

by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – Head Coach Dave Tippett has advice for the five Coyotes who will compete for their countries over the next few weeks at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia:

“Just make sure you enjoy it all.”

Coyotes players Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden), Martin Hanzal and Zbynek Michalek (Czech Republic), Lauri Korpikoski (Finland), and Mike Smith (Canada) are in Sochi and eager for the hockey tournament to start on Wednesday.

NOTE: Click here for complete Olympic men's ice hockey schedule

Tippett knows plenty about the Olympic experience. He twice played for Canada – in 1984 and 1992. He and his teammates won a silver medal in ’92 but did not medal in ’84.

“The Olympic experience is something special,” Tippett said. “My advice to those guys would be to enjoy the Games but focus on the task at hand because, speaking from personal experience, to go to the Olympics and not get a medal is very frustrating. That was the main motivating factor for me to get back at it again because we lost in the bronze medal game in ‘84 and came away from there very disappointed. When you go to the Olympics, your goal is to win gold and if not gold to get a medal. So you’ve got to take care of the task at hand as well as enjoy the situation.”

The five Coyotes are thrilled to be playing in Sochi. All of them, except for Michalek who played in 2010, are Olympic rookies.

"I never thought I'd be in this position," Smith said. "I look back four years ago and I'm in the minors not knowing if I'd ever play in the NHL again and here I am (playing in the Olympics). I can’t even describe the feeling.”

Ekman-Larsson is eager to play on Olympic ice for the first time.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun to go over there and play and meet some guys that I never met before or played with, so I’m excited for that,” he said before departing on one of the NHLPA charter flights on Sunday. “I’ve felt really good since I got back from being injured and I have a lot of energy and power. My body feels great so I’m excited to go there.“

Hanzal and Michalek will be teammates playing for Czech Republic.

“This is a really a big honor for me because I would call the Olympics the best tournament because the NHL stops and you have all these superstars playing and competing for a gold medal,” Hanzal said. “I’m really proud.”

Michalek played for Czech Republic at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. His team placed fifth. Now he can’t wait to see how he and his teammates measure up against the other countries this time around.

Photo by Norm Hall.

“It’s the best tournament in the world and all the best players are there so it’s a dream come true for me,” Michalek said. “Before the season started it was a big goal of mine to make the team again and I’m really excited I did that.”

Korpikoski is hoping he and his Finnish teammates can surprise people and advance deep into the tournament.

“Coming from a smaller country, it’s that all-hands-on-deck mentality and every time you go to these tournaments, it’s fun,” said Korpikoski, who has played for Finland in other international tournaments. “Hockey is huge back home. It’s the main sport there. As a kid it’s a dream to play for your country and I’m lucky enough to do that a few times.”

Twenty-seven other players in Coyotes/Jets history have played in the Olympics but only five have won gold medals: Dave Christian with USA in 1980, and Nikolai Khabibulin, Sergei Bautin, Evgeny Davydov and Alexei Zhamnov playing for the Unified Team – which beat Tippett’s Canadian team in the gold medal game – in 1992.

Tippett encourages the Olympians to stop and smell the roses off the ice while in Sochi before returning to North America and the grind of the NHL season that awaits them.

“I talk about the Olympic spirit all the time and there is something to that,” Tippett said. “Just being at the athlete’s village with all the other athletes from around the world and getting to compete on that stage was very special.”


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