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Must-see Olympic events

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – It’s no surprise that hockey players are fans of other athletes that push themselves to the limits and risk bodily harm for the pursuit of competition and Olympic glory.

After all, hockey players are cut from a similar cloth.

So it stands to reason, that those Red Wings participating in the Winter Olympics over the next two weeks would like to have a fans’ experience at some of the many events going on in and around Vancouver.

“I would love to go to Whistler,” Wings and Team Sweden captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I would watch the downhill events; I’m a big fan of that. I like the speed skating, too, the short track. Even on TV, I enjoy watching that.

“I don’t know how much time we’re going to have when we’re playing every other day, but we’re probably going to try to get out to some events.”

All of the Wings’ European players mentioned a desire to watch the alpine sports, like ski jumping and downhill racing as some of the events that they would want to watch from the sidelines.

As a youngster growing up in Vasteras, Sweden, Lidstrom did his share of downhill and cross-country skiing. Though Lidstrom didn’t ski at the same level as those competing at Whistler this week, he still has a tremendous respect for those who do.

“It’s just the speed that they’re going and just how quick they have to react,” Lidstrom said. “You have to adjust to the track and just everything that they have to do to prepare themselves is fascinating.”

The Swedish contingent in Vancouver will have plenty of support from the four Red Wings’ representatives on their country’s hockey roster, especially defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who bleeds blue and yellow.

“I think we have people in most of the events, cross-country skiing and the sprints, and I’m sure that they are probably a lot of fun to watch live,” he said.”

Unfortunately for the players, most of their time in Vancouver will be regimented with games and team practices consuming much of their waking hours.

“Obviously the main focus is going to be the hockey for us,” Kronwall said. “But depending on how much time there will be, really I don’t know, other than short track speed skating I don’t know what else will be downtown. If we end up seeing anything it will probably be pretty close. I think it’s an hour, hour and a half up to the slopes. I hope we do get a chance to go there, but obviously we need to rest a lot.”

Wings and Finland forward Valtteri Filppula has an equal respect for speed skaters, namely because he worksout with a Finnish skater in the summer. Filppula indents to head to the Richmond Olympic Oval to watch his friend, Mika Poutala, in a speed skating event.

“I work-out with him during the summer,” Filppula said. “He’s trying to get tickets if we get the chance to go and hopefully the schedules work out like that.”

Poutala finished fifth in Monday’s 500-meter final. He has one event remaining – the men’s 1,000-meter (Feb. 17). 

“I’ve known him for a couple of years,” said Filppula of Poutala. “I think he’s a real good guy and obviously works real hard and he’s been doing well this year. It would be nice to see him and to see him perform, too.”

One player not performing at the Olympics is Wings forward Dan Cleary, who was invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp last summer, but did not make the final roster. If he were going to British Columbia, he said that he, “obviously would have to see men’s hockey and maybe some of those ski jumps where they come down and jump in the air. I think that would be pretty cool.”

For veteran enforcer Brad May, the idea of the Olympics in his hometown is beyond exciting.

“I’m hearing that it’s just crazy, but for the people that live there, there won’t be a ton of access,” said May before he was waiver by the Wings on Feb. 12.

When thinking about events that he would like to see in-person, May wondered whether or not some events, like those in the mountains, are better seen on TV.

“The ski racing is probably better on TV because you can watch the whole race as opposed to them zipping by,” May said. “But when you’re standing in the mountains, Whistler is an unbelievable place.”

Still there are a couple of events that May would like to be present at.

“Now granted, I don’t know what it’s like to watch it live, but I love the biathalon, the cross-country skiing and the shooting,” he said. “I just think its unbelievable, especially when they get into a race and they have to get their heart-rate down and be accurate. I’ve always liked the biathalon.

“Cross-country ski races are great when they get into a three-man race in the end and they kind of play a cat-and-mouse game. The speed skaters, I’ve never seen it, but it looks pretty awesome. Obviously, just pure speed, I’ve love to see that.”

Even before the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a practice run accident last week, May said luge is one Olympic sport that he wouldn’t try.

“That stuff scares the heck out of me,” May said. “But I bet that’s a better event to watch on TV, too. Mind you, being there, just seeing how fast they go would be cool. But you’re really not going to see much.”

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