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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Feb. 14, 2014

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 1:13 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: SOCHI, Russia — All this time I've been here, and I don't know how to say hello in Russian. Ugly American.

Anyway, Canada and Austria just dropped the puck, I spend the afternoon with Team USA, and I'm ready to talk all Olympics today, if you don't mind. Just way too far out of touch with other stuff at this point.

Alan Gifford: Does the larger ice in the Olympics help Crosby and other good puck handlers

Dejan Kovacevic: Sid's kind of hesitant on that topic. After the Norway game last night, he described it as being especially a challenge in deciding when to shoot, which I found interesting. To paraphrase, shots he might take in the NHL he wouldn't here because he's that much farther from the net.

More room will always help skill. The one thing you'll notice most is that there aren't many dump-ins. There's always an entry point.

E: The crowds appear to be smaller at this year's Olympics. Is that your observation?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everything will be smaller than London, which not only sold out the Olympics but also the Paralympics, an incredible and unprecedented achievement. Sochi organizers swear they've sold around 80 percent of tickets. Problem the IOC has tried — and failed — to address is that a lot of seats are committed to sponsors who don't show up. And they're good seats, so it looks bad on TV.

The Russians have been planting some volunteers in those seats, which actually is a nice idea. Too bad they won't admit it and insist on lying that Russians are simply late arrivals.

Frank the Tank: It's only been one game, but how impressed are you with the construction of Team USA's lineup versus those of the other powers? To paraphrase Herb Brooks' character in “Miracle”, it seems that Canada and Russia are built entirely upon the sum of their talent, whereas the US team is taking that talent and using it's players to play specific roles within a system.

Dejan Kovacevic: I love the concept that the team that wins the Olympic hockey tournament is the one that comes together fastest. Sounds about right. And I'll say this now: Not just in the Slovakia game but also in practices: I love the chemistry of this team.

And at the risk of starting yet another man crush, I think David Backes is just a great player and person. What a find for the Blues.

pghgolfgirl: Hi Dejan: Loved the Olli Maatta column (and your maattamaancrush is still evident!) 2 quick questions: Does Zetterberg's injury effectively end Sweden's metal hopes? Who wins USA v. Russia tomorrow and predict the score?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks re Maatta.

(Oh, and Canada just scored. Looks like Doughty.)

Zetterberg, Franzen and Sedin are big losses. Very hard to overcome. I sure wouldn't be looking at the Swedes for gold. On top of that, Lundqvist looked pretty normal in the opener.

I'm not big on game/score predictions. I like the U.S. better than Russia for the scope of the tournament. Mentioned that in my medal picks in the Trib yesterday.

Thepittsburgher: Dejan, outside Mens/Women's hockey, what is your favorite Olympic sport to watch?

Dejan Kovacevic: Easily speedskating. Brooks Orpik was just telling me he took his family last night and they loved it. The venue alone is just eye-popping. You never forget being in there.

Bill: While watching the speedskating, was wondering how often they cut/clean the ice for these races? Would think before each race so everyone has clean ice?

Dejan Kovacevic: Halfway through each two-man or two-woman heat. That's once every eight races. Funny, but you can barely tell the difference. Ice just looks immaculate, even up close.

Tom Brasher: Hey Dejan! What is the protocol for using the native/Americanized versions of participants' names? Yulia/Julia, or Yevgeni/Evgeni, for instance. Is it up to each outlet/person's preference? I'm not positive, but I feel like I've even seen you use the native on twitter, but the Americanized for the blog, columns, etc. I feel like the rule should be to use the native spelling, since it's not really our place to change their names, but obviously that isn't the case. What's the story?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure whose policy you're asking. Ours is simple as a paper. We follow Associated Press style. The night I filed my Yulia Lipnitskaia figure skating story, I asked my editors — because I was going to sleep — to keep an eye out for how AP spelled her name. That was going to be it for me.

I never waver from AP style. Not my place.

Malkin's first name is spelled here — and by the Olympics — as you cite above. If he wants it like that in North America, or through the AP, all he has to do is speak up.

Tom Brasher: For got to add, DON'T DODGE MY QUESTION!!!

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! I DIDN'T!

Sam: Why do you think Geno isn't talking to North American media?

Dejan Kovacevic: Just raised that very thing as part of a column I filed right before this chat started. They're actually supposed to be putting it online very soon, as they have with all my Olympics stuff. Think you'll find some of the stuff in there interesting.

jordan white: How is the ice surface (hockey)? Seems average on tv. Also, saw your original plan to catch 2 periods of 1 hockey game and the 3rd of another, how close are those rinks? For that matter, how long would it take to walk the entire olympic village? Get to the mountain courses? They keep showing bird's eye views, but it's difficult to discern the scale of the place. Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Dude, you just sneaked a whole lot of questions through customs.

The surface is above-average. They have doors that close on the concourses, which all NHL arenas should have. Keeps humidity out.

Rinks are less than 250 feet apart. I didn't have to go far.

Reporters rarely see the Olympic Village. Can't answer that one.

The bus/train to the mountain venues for all the snow sports is only 45 minutes each way. Yet another gem in the organizational process here. I'll say it again: Best organized Olympics I've seen, and no other is close.

(Oh, hey, Shea Weber just scored. And Austria's goalie is lucky he did. High shot. If that hits him, he's an ex-Austrian.)

Guest: Dejan - You said on your blog today: “...meat, potatoes and broccoli...” I assume lots of vodka, too?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't drink, so I haven't asked. I know there's no borscht. I heard all my life about borscht in Russia. Haven't seen it. Still don't even know what it is.

yinzer in va: Dejan, Do you know the translation (I assume it's a Russian word) that I see at all the venues. The best I can write in English is Cohn 2014. The h is actually upside down and the N is backwards. (The Trib had a picture earlier this week with Crosby practicing in front of this sign.)

Dejan Kovacevic: The language is Cyrillic. Nothing's upside down. That's the alphabet. I actually can read Cyrillic going back to very early childhood, but the Russian version is slightly different than the Serbian, so it's not perfect. That's been one thing that's made this trip easier, because there are very few signs in the Latin alphabet anywhere.

You don't speak Russian. Russia speaks you.

Or something. I'm tired.

George Contis: DK: What have been your favorite: (i) sports and (ii) non-sports moments in Sochi thus far?

Dejan Kovacevic: Already mentioned speedskating. Best non-sports moment? When the hotel found my laundry after it had gone missing for three days. Could have happened anywhere. I'm not piling on the Sochi myth. But yeah, that was a scare.

Scott: DK, really enjoying the Olympics coverage. I'm curious what you've seen of the US hockey players' attitudes towards Dan Bylsma. Does he get the instant respect I'd imagine Mike Babcock gets from team Canada? Or is there more of a “let's see what you've got” attitude?

Dejan Kovacevic: Had a good talk alone with Ryan Suter the other day on that very topic, and it was easy to see that the players are impressed in general with the preparation and organization of the entire management team and coaching staff. As Suter put it, it feels to them like there's a plan for every little thing and all they have to do is come in and fulfill their one small part.

DNY: Isn't it awkward for Bylsma to have to reveal secrets on how to play against Geno, Sid, Kunitz, Maatta to potential future playoff foes? How does he do that?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yep. All in the column I already plugged. For all I know, they've already put it online. If they do, I'll link here, too.

Detroit Chris: Is it fair to question Sid's greatness, if finding him a wing amongst NHL all-stars is such a difficult task? He is the constant in this equation.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sid's not an easy read. I once described him and Chris Kunitz as molecules bouncing in the same chaotic way. That's probably how Jeff Carter felt the other night. I think Marty St. Louis will be a better fit if only because Marty's the same type of player. Very hard to read or predict.

Bernard: What is the name of the hockey movie re the Russian legend you cited in an earlier blog posting and was it subtitled? I would like to buy the movie if possible given your glowing review.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's called ‘Legend #17,' but I don't know if it has subtitles. I was just doing that airplane thing and watching a movie with no sound. Was able to mostly follow the story. Great visuals. Really well done.

A vital hockey story, too, if there ever was one.

Bernard: Love the coverage from Sochi! What is more important to Malkin, Ovechkin and Crosby, a gold medal or a Stanley Cup championship? And, how does that compare to the attitudes of the top Americans?

Dejan Kovacevic: No players answer that question. If they ever have, I've never heard it.

Smurfetterocks: Do the athletes have to pay for food in the athletes village

Dejan Kovacevic: They don't have to pay for anything. Everything is handled by the organizers. Except the Finnish bikes that Olli Maatta described in yesterday's column. The Finns brought those themselves.

Steve S.: I've read where some say the US picked too much grit and not enough speed/skill to win the gold in hockey. You buying that?

Dejan Kovacevic: Because they left Bobby Ryan off? Well, no.

A. Lane: Just saw an article that the US Speed Skating Under Armor suits, are slowing them down,vent at the back is creating drag, had you heard anything about this?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not buying it, sorry. If anything, US Speedskating has no one to blame by itself with a badly bungled preparation. These people not only picked the Under Armour suits after national qualifiers, but then went and trained at a high altitude in Turin, Italy. You know, because Sochi is at exactly sea level.

I think these people run the Browns in their spare time.

Stu: I'm usually bored with NHL hockey. However, I find Olympic hockey is very exciting, due to the open play and higher skill level. If you were NHL commish, would you implement any Olympic rules, if so which ones?

Dejan Kovacevic: If I were Gary Bettman, my first act would be to fire myself. We could work things out from there.

jefft: Other than curling, are there any sports that you really don't want to see or cover?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't mind covering curling. Just haven't had cause to do that yet. The U.S. isn't very good at it, you might have heard.

Actually, the U.S. really hasn't been very good at anything that's not X Games-related, where our country has a built-in advantage for at least another decade or so since we invented all those sports.

Maybe that answers your question. The best competition is always worth watching. Not an American sweep of a brand new discipline in a brand new sport.

Patrick(ri)): Do you think there are too many “junk” sports and are the Winter Olympics, on balance worth it?

Dejan Kovacevic: There are incredible events at the Winter Olympics. The real skiing — meaning against a clock, not judges — is some of the most legendary Games material. Ski jumping has to be seen to be believed. I love the long-track speedskating, as mentioned, and can even appreciate some of the weirdness of the short track. When figure skating is at its peak, I'll enjoy it.

PENSFan: What's with Canada's ugly black jerseys today?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Slovenia Seahawks resent that remark.

david d: I think Georgia & the Carolinas were colder and had more snow than Sochi this week. Maybe Atlanta or Charlotte should bid on the next winter games!

Dejan Kovacevic: It was 61 degrees with blaring sun today. Didn't even bring my hoodie into the Olympic Park for the first time. Heard it could go up to 67.

As long as they've got snow at the mountain peaks — and they do — the Games will go on.

Atlanta and Charlotte have mountains?

Brian: Pree-vee-yet - hello

Dejan Kovacevic: Spasibo! (See, I learned that one.)

Brandimal: DK. Best Olympic moment so far tor you?

Dejan Kovacevic: Overall, nothing tops Lipnitskaia's short program to win team figure skating gold. If you haven't seen it, find it. It's viral, and it's viral for a reason. Unreal athleticism.

Devin: How does practice time work for Olypic hockey teams? Do they each get an assigned slot everyday to practice? Or do they assign practices based on when you play?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everything's assigned here, yes. Hockey practices, too. Bolshoy Ice Dome has a built-in separate rink. Looks a little like Southpointe-ov.

jriggi87: Is Orpik being kinda the odd D man out so far for the US, a sign that Bylsma may finally be ready to part ways with him in a few weeks. Seems like a team needing D may give up a pretty good forward for Orpik and Despres.

Dejan Kovacevic: No, they won't. But you tricked me into a non-Olympics question there rather deftly with that intro!

R.D. the Machine: Do you get the sense most american fans in Pittsburgh want Sid to win gold? If so, what do you attribute that to?

Dejan Kovacevic: You'd have a far better feel for that then me. What say you?

Brian: Do you even want to lend your opinion to the AJB saga?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be candid here, Brian. When I formulate an opinion, I like to put some effort into it. That means talking to people, finding out stuff — even off the record — on background, and considering everything.

All I know about A.J. is that he signed with Philly for $16.1 million. That's it. Nothing else.

When at the Olympics, there's plenty to do. When in Bradenton, I'll put the same effort into the Pirates.

JamesinNYC: Are you pulling for Matta, Jussi and the Fins? I like Jussi Jokinen more and more, from the honest feelings about not being in the last Olympics to helping Matta out. Is he as good a guy as he seems?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you think Olli Maatta is an exceptionally bright, poised young defenseman, you can apply all that to the person. Great kid.

Wondering...: If Malkin has a chance to bury Sid into next year, will he do so?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. See column.

AAA: Do athletes go to downtown Sochi to nightlife establishments?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's roughly 35 miles away. I haven't heard from many people here who have gone all the way up to the real Sochi at all. I went right off the plane to write about that Pittsburgh bar/restaurant, but there's no chance I'll be back. Not close.

Guest 23: I thought Gracie Gold got seriously overlooked in the team skate. Her performance was technically and artistically more impressive than the young Russian. Yulia was great but no way was she 13-14 points better than the American. The politics in that sport's judging dirives me nuts. From Baiul to Lipinski to Hughes, the best skaters are often beaten by emotional response.

Dejan Kovacevic: You seriously thought Gold was better than Lipnitskaia? We watched the same event? Wow, I don't think I've ever seen a figure skater come in and just wipe up the floor with everyone like that little girl did.

Richy: Be wary of Bob Costa eye! IT's contagious.

Dejan Kovacevic: Keep hearing about this. Still haven't seen it. Or him. He's not very visible at these things. This is my fourth Olympics, and I'm pretty sure I only ever saw him at the Athens Opening Ceremony.

AME: Somewhere I remember you mentioning that being a columnist is about the story and not the sport. If true, why so much hockey coverage and nothing on the less popular sports with intriguing story lines?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've done more on the other sports than on hockey, as you can verify on our Olympics page. And it actually isn't close.

That said, the U.S. isn't exactly piling up great storylines. I've now covered three major events in anticipation of gold, only to have all three go big-time bust. There isn't much compelling about eighth place.

I hope that changes. I also hope you enjoy all my figure skating and bobsled coverage planned for next week, and thank you for reading.

Richy: Have you run into any professional atheltes who are there purely as fans/spectators?

Dejan Kovacevic: Just Chris Chelios today. That's it.

James: Impressed by the US domninance in slopestyle skiing? Also, any talk of the snowboardig halfpipes being “US proofed”?

Dejan Kovacevic: Just speaking for myself, I'm not impressed by any country dominating anything it creates until the rest of the world has a reasonable chance to catch up. The X Games were added for Salt Lake City, and it's a great thing. They're popular, they're fun. But we're only starting to see other countries get to the podium.

Brandimal: Sleeper team to watch for in men's hockey? Your thoughts.

Dejan Kovacevic: Finland is more solid than people think. And they've got three goalies better than most teams' starters.

Guest 23: Your criticism of the X game sports is off base. Been a skier my whole life. Kids around the world, not just the USA, waived good bye to alpine skiing in favour of snowboards, years ago. IOC introduced the sports due to world demand, not just to appease the Americans. The IOC does little to appease the Americans.

Dejan Kovacevic: That doesn't change my point in the slightest. The Americans created the sport through the X Games for ESPN. And again, I'm not debating their validity. Just how much in their infancy they are. The Americans have a built-in advantage. Nobody would dispute that.

Now, that said, it's encouraging to see ...

(Oh, Sid just set up Patrick Marleau for a tap-in, and it's 3-0. Finally one of Sid's passes pays off.)

... that a 15-year-old from Japan and a young Swiss could both top Shaun White, if only in that context. It's good for the sport.

Tim in Frozen Arlington VA: When do you return here to the States and resume your other duties? While the Olympics are great, nothing gets me started like the term “pitchers and catchers report”.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Trib has two fine baseball writers in Rob Biertempfel and Travis Sawchik. Rob's in Bradenton right now with photographer Chris Horner providing pics and video. Their coverage is second to none.

I come back after the Olympics, will take a break, then get back into Penguins and Pitt hoops before a week in Bradenton.

The Capital of Greenland: Kunitz is looking really rough out there for both Team Canada's games. He looks nervous - do you get that impression?

Dejan Kovacevic: I get it off the ice, yes. Very much so.

Clint: Does USA go with Miller Sunday to rest Quick, or are they going Quick no matter what?

Dejan Kovacevic: Do you mean Saturday vs. Russia? If so, it's Quick.

Guest: Your thoughts on Women's Hockey as an OLYMPIC sport. I get that it maximizes the use of a venue, but is there any greater disparity in talent than US/Canada vs. the world?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not since the Olympics booted softball for that very reason.

(Jeff Carter big wraparound. Just needed to get away from that Crosby stiff.)

That's the problem the X Games would face before long, except for a trickle starting to poke through.

Clint: I meant the game against Slovenia. Didn't know if Quick would get the rest after expected emotional game vs Russia, or if Dan would play Quick every game in your mind?

Dejan Kovacevic: Bylsma wasn't even hinting about Slovenia.

jriggi87: After the Olympics does Bylsma give the Olympians a few days off to rest up for the grueling March schedule? especially given the 20 point lead on the Metro.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's NHL-mandated. They get a built-in option to take a break even after their other teammates are back at practices. Most come back early because they're hockey players.

Couple more tonight ...

Clint: How deep is Russia's offense after you get past their top 2 lines in your mind? Seems USA could try and wear the big guys out with speed.

Dejan Kovacevic: Russia's defense stinks. If the U.S. forechecks effectively, they win. I asked Bylsma if he was worried the team would take the foot off the pedal after Slovakia, and he replied that they've only got one way to play.

Guest: I believe your article is up:

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, yeah, here it is.

Guest 23: I'll take Gracie Gold in the women's figure skating. Her sophistication, relative maturity, musicality and technical superiority will carry the day when the young Russian has the microscope on her. They don't take bets in Vegas on judged events, though.

Dejan Kovacevic: You know what? You enjoy your relative maturity, and I'll take the kid who blew away the entire planet. :)

Thanks to all for participating. Think I might go take some shots on this Austrian goalie.

The columns run every day. The hockey notebooks run every day. Everything happens every day here.

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