USA Russia Hockey Game, Around every corner, the face of Russia lurks. Not the stony visage of President Vladimir V. Putin, who delivered the Winter Games to his country, but the jack-o’-lantern grin of Alex Ovechkin, on whose stick the host nations success rests.
The ubiquitous Coca-Cola ads featuring Ovechkin are the surest sign that this is not his mothers Russia. The slogan, as translated by Ovechkin, is Join, which was not a popular sentiment in 1980 when Tatyana Ovechkina (nee Kabayeva) was the point guard on the womens basketball team that won the gold medal in the first Summer Olympics held in Russia.
Neither Canada nor the United States attended the Moscow Games, staying away along with more than 40 other countries to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Thirty-four years later, at the first Winter Olympics held on Russian soil, the United States and Canada are big-game prey that Ovechkin, 28, is expected to slay on his way to leading the hosts to victory in mens hockey.
It is a gold medal or bust for the Russians, for whom hockey is not just the national sport but a mirror reflecting the countrys collective soul. For the past 22 years, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, that mirror has been cracked by teams that looked strong on paper but could not make it to the top of the medals podium.
As the Russians prepared to face the United States on Saturday in a national pride rally masquerading as a preliminary-round hockey game, Ovechkin was not counting on any helpful motherly advice.