Sports

Chesnokov: Ovechkin ‘Absolutely’ Not to Blame for Russia’s Failure to Medal

by Chris Lingebach
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Russia's Alexander Ovechkin reacts at the end of the Men's Ice Hockey Play-offs Quarterfinals match between Finland and Russia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014. Finland won 3-1. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin reacts at the end of the Men’s Ice Hockey Play-offs Quarterfinals match between Finland and Russia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014. Finland won 3-1. AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - There are a lot of different ways to parse why a highly rated team, such as the Russian hockey team heading into the Sochi Games, may fall far below expectations.

Some choose to embrace common narratives, like pinning Russia’s upsetting defeat to Finland on Alexander Ovechkin and his alleged lack of leadership.

Others choose to shy away from storylines and form opinions based on the numbers presented to them, and blame the coaching for not providing the proper structure or game planning a team full of superstars require to realize the path to success.

No matter on which side you fall, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Ovechkin — as the face of the Olympic Games for Russia — to lead his country to gold, and whether right or wrong, he’s taken the brunt of the blame for failing to do so, or even advance to the medal round for that matter.

How he responds upon his NHL return is up to him.

Sadly, the hits keep coming for Ovi, and he hasn’t yet returned stateside. Shortly after Russia was eliminated, Ovechkin learned his father had undergone heart surgery. Officials chose to hold off on informing him until after the game.

Rightly, Caps GM George McPhee told Ovechkin to “stay as long as necessary” in a show of compassion for his team captain.

However, it’s hard to fathom just how much responsibility for Russia being upset has been directed at Ovechkin, and how little has been aimed at the host country’s coaching staff, particularly the head coach who hurled Ovi under the bus.

So exactly how much blame should an individual receive for a team loss?

“I’m gonna be honest with you, apart from the head coach who threw him under the bus, absolutely none,” Russian-American hockey writer Dmitry Chesnokov told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Thursday.

“Yes, goals were expected from him, but there were players like Evgeni Malkin, who was the center for Ovechkin,” Chesnokov said. “Those two couldn’t connect all game long and the coaching staff didn’t do anything to correct that situation.”

“I think just tactically, players were lost. It seemed like they had no scheme, no game plan. You can have ten, twenty Alex Ovechkins on the team, but you still need the coach, you still need somebody to tell those players how to play, and that just wasn’t done. A lot of times it seemed like the players were just floating and trying to write their own game plan, and that’s not how it’s done, especially not at this level.”

Ovechkin — who’s been known to wear Russian tracksuits to the rink in Washington, D.C. — instantly felt the weight and devastation of having let his country down, which was none more evident than in his post-game interview.

“It’s tough,” Ovechkin told CBC’s Elliotte Friedman. “It’s the second Olympic Games that we lost in that kind of game, and it’s bad.”

“You see it in his eyes, when he didn’t know what to say,” Chesnokov said. “He actually didn’t know what to say. He was empty. He was done.

“He gave it his all, and again, it wasn’t just something, ‘Oh bad loss, so I don’t have anything to say.’ It was coming from a person, you could see in his eyes, just like you and me — another human being who’s very saddened by what happened.”

There’s no telling how he’ll respond.

He was sluggish upon his return from the Vancouver Games in 2010, scoring only 4 goals in 15 games, which perhaps, may not be a sign of an Olympic hangover for anyone not named Alex Ovechkin.

Time will tell.

Until then, Chesnokov predicts Team USA to take gold in men’s hockey. The U.S. plays Canada on Friday for a chance to play in the gold medal game.

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