The men’s hockey at the Vancouver Olympics start tomorrow, and the Minnesota Wild boasts five players representing their countries at the games. And while the two-week break the NHL is taking during the games will mean time to rest and heal for most players, Finns Antti Miettinen, Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, and Czechs Marek Zidlicky and Martin Havlat will be competing for gold on the home ice of one of Minnesota’s fiercest rivals.
The quick turnaround between Sunday’s game against Vancouver at Xcel Energy Center and the first Olympic games (the Czech Republic faces-off against Slovakia and Finland takes on Belarus on the 17th) means a hectic schedule beginning on Sunday evening, immediately after the Wild’s 6-2 victory over the Canucks.
Prior to departing, Havlat said he and his fellow Olympians would all be hopping the same flight from the Twin Cities to Vancouver late Sunday night, and hit the ground running with one or two practice sessions scheduled between Monday and Wednesday.
With a first round games scheduled every other day, Havlat says there probably won’t be much time for players to relax.
“We’ll see. We’re going there to play hockey, not to socialize,” he says. “But [fun] will come with playing good hockey. If it goes well, it will be a good time.”
Although the players are not in the same group (both were fairly lucky to avoid Group A which includes both Canada and the USA), the Finns and Czechs have strong squads that will likely make it out of the preliminary round. That means that teammates could become opponents vying for Olympic glory in the later rounds. Goaltender Backstrom isn’t resting on his experience taking practice shots from Havlat and Zidlicky.
“Everything happens pretty quick out there, so it’s going to be tough to see who’s shooting.” Backstrom, who picked up a silver medal with the Finnish team in the 2006 Turin games, says.
Havlat played it coy when thinking about having the chance to score on his net-minder.
“We’ll see,” he says smiling. “It will be a little different.”
Both Havlat and Backstrom agree that the city and the venue, Canada Hockey Place (the temporarily renamed General Motors Place to placate Olympic demands that arenas are free of corporate naming), will add to their overall experience representing their homelands.
“It’s always fun to go there and play in that arena and the city, too. It’s a beautiful city,” Havlat says. “It’s a nice city, and to be part of the Olympics [there] will be something really different and something I’ll remember for a long time,” Backstrom adds.
All five Olympic players will return —as teammates— to NHL action when the Wild visit Calgary on March 3.