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Olympians Return to Coyotes

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – All present and accounted for.

That was the scenario on Tuesday morning as the final three of the Coyotes’ five Olympians reported back to the team for a lengthy practice at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.

Like center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek did before them on Monday, goalie Mike Smith, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Lauri Korpikoski rejoined the team on Tuesday.

All five Coyotes Olympians raved about the Olympics upon returning to Arizona, and they all praised the IOC, Russia, organizers and the NHLPA for pulling the Games off brilliantly.

“It was unbelievable,” said Smith, who won a gold medal as Canada’s third-string goalie. “They did a fantastic job. Never once from the time I stepped off the plane until the time I left did I feel unsafe… It was just a beautiful venue.”

Smith was in a great mood upon his arrival in Arizona and with good reason: his gold medal, which he said his son Aksel has been playing with since he got home.

Smith did not get into a game for Canada but he was OK with that.

“I knew going over there that there’d be a good possibility that I wouldn’t get into a game,” Smith said. “I was just doing everything I could to be a part of the team and kind of keep the dressing room light and get to know a lot of the guys I play against (in the NHL)."

He added, “I never once felt separated from the team even though I didn’t play a game. The guys did a great job of coming together quickly as a group and I felt just as privileged to put that gold medal around my neck than the guys that were playing in that game."

And what about having the gold medal placed around his neck?

"That was everything and more than I expected and an experience that I’ll never forget," Smith said.

Smith said he watched Canada play its games primarily from the locker room or the NHLPA box at the rink.

Photo by Getty Images.

“It was hard to watch games,” Smith said. “I’m not going to lie. I was sweating through my suit coat on most occasions.”

Smith said the highlights of his trip were getting his gold medal and taking part in the closing ceremony. At one point, he lifted teammate Martin St. Louis onto his shoulders as they walked for their country at the ceremony.

Ekman-Larsson won a sliver medal with Sweden, but his experience was soured a little by his lack of playing time in the final two games. He did not play in the semifinals vs. Finland and he played only 7:19 in the gold medal game vs. Canada – all in the third period.

“I just tried to play my best on the ice and do my thing but it wasn’t enough,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I think when I played, I played pretty good. I can only do my best when I’m on the ice and then it’s up to the coach to put me in there. If he don’t want me to be on the ice then I just sit there and be positive.”

He added, "I had a great time over there even if I didn't play. I'm just excited to be back here and hopefully I (will) play more than what I did (at the Olympics)."

He will.

Korpikoski returned to the Coyotes with his bronze medal in hand.

He said he was thrilled that he and his Finnish teammates rallied after losing to rival Sweden in the semifinals to beat the United States in the bronze medal game.

"It's not every day you play for an Olympic medal," Korpikoski said. "We had some veterans playing their last game with the national team and it was special for them to end with that medal. After the game (vs. Sweden), guys were pretty down about losing that game, but I think we regrouped pretty well.”

Hanzal and Michalek played for Czech Republic, which reached the quarterfinals and placed sixth out of 12 teams.

“Any time you get a chance to go play for your country, especially in the Olympics, it’s a special feeling,” Michalek said. “I’m very proud of that, and I’m a big fan of international play. It’s a proud moment of my career, definitely.”

Hanzal agreed.

“It was a great experience for me,” Hanzal said. “It was my first Olympics, and I was very happy I could be there. It was a little disappointing we didn’t bring a medal back, but we have another three Coyotes that did.”

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