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Russia After Olympic Hockey Loss: 'Like A Massive Death In The Family'


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Closing ceremonies for the Olympics are this weekend, but there's still plenty of action left in Sochi. So we're joined once again by William Douglas. He is a reporter for McClatchy, the news organization, and he's the founder and editor of "The Color of Hockey" blog. And he's with us once again from Sochi. Bill, welcome back.

WILLIAM DOUGLAS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So I have to ask, what was the mood like over there when the Russian men lost in the quarterfinals yesterday?

DOUGLAS: Like a massive death in the family. I mean, the arena started. The day was rocking. It was like a Super Bowl Sunday on Saturday, and everybody was just so excited. And then Russia scored first. The arena is loud. Everyone's happy. Finland comes back with a goal. Everybody's sort of like, OK, this is OK. Finland scores the go-ahead goal and then scores a third goal. Then everything just gets quiet, and the city has just been in mourning ever since.

MARTIN: There's this quote from the coach of the Russian team about getting eaten alive after the game. I mean, he was asked the question - it says, you know your predecessor was eaten alive after the Olympics? And he says, well, then eat me alive right now. I feel like something was lost in the translation, but could you tell us what is he saying?

DOUGLAS: Well, basically, I think what he was saying - and, no, nothing was lost in the translation - that after the last Russian hockey fiasco, the coach was basically just hounded by the media and was eaten alive in the press. And the Russian coach yesterday just said, well, just start eating me now. And he said it a couple of times, and then one Russian reporter pointed out, well, we have the world championships in May. Then he said, well, then I guess I'll remain alive.

MARTIN: And so is he saying - what - I don't care, or is he saying - is he defensive or - what is he saying? Because part of what was interesting for me is that the commentators were saying that there was a passion gap, which is hard to imagine given that the Russians - it's an important sport in Russia. It's on their home ice. There was a feeling - there was so much excitement around this game, and part of what I thought the analysts were saying is that, for the players somehow, there was a passion gap. And so what is the coach saying about - and what does it mean? What does his reaction mean in the bigger scheme of things?

DOUGLAS: I think that was his version of being passionate and also his way of saying that he expects to stick around, though that's still a question that's up for debate. You know, he wouldn't go into specifics about, you know, who he was unhappy with or where he thinks things went wrong with Russia. I mean, the general belief is that Russia has very talented individual players. I mean, you have Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin who are two of the best individual one-on-one players on the planet. But when you assemble this team of very talented gunners, sometimes either they don't play well together, or there aren't enough, you know, lesser role players. I guess in basketball, the best equivalent would be, you know, a Michael Jordan and a Scottie Pippen. There's got to be a Batman. There's got to be a Robin.


DOUGLAS: There are no Robins on this team.

MARTIN: OK, makes sense. So let's talk about the U.S. team - the U.S. men - at least the U.S. men - against the Canadian men tomorrow in the semifinals - winner gets to play for the gold. It's a rematch of the gold-medal match in Vancouver four years ago. What are we looking for in that game?

DOUGLAS: A lot of passion, a lot of action, probably a lot of hitting. I mean, this is the game that the U.S. wanted, though they wanted it more in a gold-medal round. This game matters to both countries, probably more to Canada than the U.S. because of the year Canada had last year in hockey. They haven't done well in the past season on the international stage. But the U.S. also wants to get that taste of 2010 out of their mouths. So this game is just going to be full throttle.

MARTIN: You know, speaking of - I have to ask you about something you wrote about in your blog. You wrote a piece about T.J. Oshie who was the star of the U.S. team's win against Russia earlier. He has an interesting back story that people might not know about. Will you tell us about it?

DOUGLAS: Sure, T.J. is part Chippewa First Nations Native-American. A lot of people didn't realize that at the time. A lot of people don't realize it. He's talked about it, and he's a proud member of the nation. And this was a guy that was - and we didn't know it at the time of the shootout. We were sitting there watching the game figuring out, well, why is Dan Bylsma sending T.J. Oshie out over and over and over again for this shootout? Well, apparently T.J. one of the best shootout shooters in the National Hockey League. He has a career percentage of 54 percent, which is really good in hockey. You know, he's a sniper. He's a designated shooter, and that's what they put him on the team for. So, you know...

MARTIN: And he delivered.

DOUGLAS: And he delivered. I mean, this was a moment they had planned for, and it happened.

MARTIN: But he's not really a star in the NHL overall, right?

DOUGLAS: He's not a household name in the National Hockey League in part because he plays for the St. Louis Blues, a team that doesn't get on national television a lot. They're a very good team, a very talented team. But also, he's never scored more than 20 goals in a season. But he's a multidimensional player who can score. St. Louis also, their coach Ken Hitchcock places a premium on defense. So he doesn't get a lot of scoring chances.

MARTIN: Well, he's got his shine now. Good for him. And just a few days left of the Olympics. Bill, you know, I have to ask you about some of the other news. What are some of the other things that you've been writing about? I know that what's big news here - a couple of things is the arrest of the members of the band Pussy Riot who were imprisoned famously for their efforts to - where they're using their music as a protest against Vladimir Putin's, you know, policies. And they were attacked, you know, by Cossacks and horsewhipped in fact, which sounds like something out of a novel. Is this kind of news penetrating its way into the village, and are these the things you're writing about?

DOUGLAS: It's being talked about some. I mean, it's sort of interesting. They weren't arrested. They were detained. The Russians are making a very big distinction on this. I mean, the Pussy Riot ladies, there was a transgender former member of the Italian parliament who sort of staged her own protest on the anti-propaganda law here. She got her spectator credential yanked, which means she can't come back into the Olympic venues. The Russians are being very, very cautious. They're not arresting people. They will detain. They'll talk to them, and then they'll do a catch and release. They'll let them out.

But the Cossack thing, that was a different element yesterday. You know, they were trying to do a music video, an anti-Putin music video in Sochi. And this sort of a band of uniformed Cossacks came out, pepper sprayed them, whipped out the horsewhips, gave them a few lashes and left. You know, today, that was asked about in the IOC press briefing and, you know, the International Olympic Committee has been very, very, you know, plainspoken in saying that the Olympics is no place for a political protest. But then when something like this happens, they struggle to come up...

MARTIN: React.

DOUGLAS: ...With an answer. Correct.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. William Douglas is a reporter for McClatchy news organization. He also runs "The Color of Hockey" blog - with us once again from Sochi. Bill Douglas, thanks.

DOUGLAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.