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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Feb. 20, 2014

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Dosvidanya ‘n at! Four more days of Games, including U.S.-Canada women right now, U.S.-Canada men tomorrow and a whole lot of Olli Maatta along the way.

All Olympics again this week, please. You can't imagine how far out of touch I am with anything in North America after two weeks here.

DNY: Does Tavares' injury signal the end of NHL participation in the Olympics?

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny, was just having this debate at the U.S. practice with a couple hockey people. Their feeling — and I agreed — was that John Tavares' knee could have been blown out anywhere. And, without having seen his medicals, it's also possible that one or both of the damaged ligaments had damage before he got here.

That won't do it, no. And the truth is, if the NHL's players want to go to Korea in 2018 — and they most definitely do — it'll get done. The league will use it as a carrot and play coy, but it'll get done.

Melissa: Hi Dejan- It's been fun watching your reports and reading your insights during the Olympic games. You have a new fan here in the ‘Burgh as a result of your great work. I'm wondering if you have seen anything to give us reason to believe that the Canadian Men's Hockey team can finally come together as a team in time to beat the US. I've watched both teams play, and Canada looks like it is still struggling with forward chemistry. Drew Doughty, a D, has been a star though.

Dejan Kovacevic: The biggest burden in assembling a Canadian team is the raging temptation to go the all-star route. Which they almost always do. There's usually an exception here or there, but even that raises such a stink north of the border that — coincidence or not — it's rare.

This is an all-star team that's going out and trying to play an all-star game. It's got no identity, no real roadmap.

As for Doughty and Shea Weber, agreed. The blue lines being closer to the net is a factor, too.

Jason81: Bigger surprise thus far in the hockey tournament...Russia's lack of offense, Canada's constant line juggling, how quickly Team USA gelled, or something else?

Dejan Kovacevic: Team Slovenia. And there isn't a close second.

What Anze Kopitar did here alone was remarkable. Wasn't on the ice for a single goal against in the tournament, raised his entire country. But Slovenia's got roughly the population of Allegheny County and, incredibly, only five covered rinks. They're pushing for more funding as the result of this showing, and here's hoping they get it.

Adam: Did all Russian NHL players ignore the North American media, or was that something Malkin did on his own? If so, any guesses as to why?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, the KHL guys — except Ilya Kovalchuk — weren't even stopped. So toss them out of this. The usual guys talked daily. Pavel Datsyuk (reluctantly), Alexander Ovechkin (delightedly), Sergei Bobrovsky (super-delightedly), and most of the rest were there if needed. Out of the guys who were actually sought, Malkin was alone in the category you describe.

Oh, and to clear something up, though I've mentioned this before in other contexts: I just so very much don't care. When an athlete declines to speak to me or any other reporter, it affects absolutely nothing. It's one less tape to transcribe.

The only one who loses out in the process is the fan who might be interested in what he has to say.

TheHockeyStickGuy: Quick ducking my questions - The Pens have seen how a hot goalie can steal a playoff series. Can Tuukka Rask steal a gold medal?

Dejan Kovacevic: Been watching him and the Finns?

Would you be surprised at this point?

Rask's been sensational. And I'll man up right here and acknowledge that he's opened my eyes over the past few months. The Penguins should and could have done more to beat him in the last playoffs, but he's earned all his credibility.

LuckyNKentucky: Now that it's almost over, are you looking forward to a real bed in a real house or have you gotten used to a dorm room and sausage and brocoli?

Dejan Kovacevic: I haven't complained since I got here, and I'm not about to start now. For many, many, many reasons, I'll be very happy to land in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next week.

Maddamma: There seem to be many impressive venues in Sochi. Has there been any discussion about what the plans are for the area after the Olympics (and ParaOlympics)?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, there is, and I'm glad you mentioned the Paralympics, because they're an important — and growing — event that don't get the pub they should. (And yeah, I'm leaving before they start, too. I know.)

After that, Fisht Stadium that's used for the ceremonies will become a soccer stadium for the 2018 World Cup. Shayba Arena, the smaller of the two hockey venues, actually will be broken down and transported to another city. (Haven't said which one.) There are plans for some of the rest, too, but not all. They've said they don't want to turn it into another Beijing or Athens, where the facilities just grow weeds for a generation.

jriggi87: Alright the Sid question. I know a lot of players dont have points. I know he's matching up against top lines, and blah blah blah...

Dejan Kovacevic: Answered in yesterday's column.

Ray Haluska: In retrospect, we should have made a trip to Russia? Sounds like it's been great. Haven't heard about any trouble in or out of the village.

Dejan Kovacevic: There's been zero trouble in Sochi, Adler, Krasnaya Polyana or anywhere around the entire region that anyone's heard. Not even small stuff. I think there was one gay-rights activist taken away from a venue, and there were a couple cossacks chasing that Pussy Riot band with whips along the beach. (That's a real thing. No one this tired could concoct a sentence like that.)

But no, no issues. None. Best organized Games I've covered out of my four. And it's funny how I'm not the only one saying that anymore, once the narrative gave in to reality.

Rob: Piggybacking off of your all star comment. I give a lot of credit to Bylsma and others for putting together a team. How big is the earthquake in Russia after the hockey loss?

Dejan Kovacevic: Never overestimate the importance of sports around the rest of the world. We see them as larger than life in America. I'm no exception. Everywhere else, they pretty much make for a bad day.

When you ask people here their favorite sports, they'll answer with a straight face biathlon (!), figure skating, tennis, in addition to the staples such as hockey and soccer and hoops. But my point here is, if biathlon is really high on your list, you aren't ready to jump off a bridge over losses.

The Capital of Greenland: Is Malkin still around the Olympic village, or is he out of there ASAP?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's here. He and three other Russian players stayed to participate in the Closing Ceremony.

Rob: Experienced borscht yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: Never seen it.

irishjim: I didnt feel bad rooting against Malkin when we played Russia, but I will feel bad rooting against Sid when we play Canada. Why is this?

Dejan Kovacevic: No idea. It's the Olympics. Greatest, biggest sporting event in the world.

Always find it sad when people try to knock them or diminish them. It's myopic to a tragic fault. It's a big world out here. Learn a little about it.

Rob: Have you been to any of the bobsledding events and can you describe the perspective of seeing someone travel down an ice chute at 80 mph?

Dejan Kovacevic: I see a trend forming.

As for your specific question, you can't see a blessed thing in person from where they put the media, other than the finish. It's not a spectactor sport, to say the least. The track is spread all the way up the mountain.

hankpsu: Starbucks cup still intact?

Dejan Kovacevic: It is, thanks. Four more days. These things rinse better than you might think for paper.

BuccoAficionado: Здравствуйте Даун. USA Curling's reputation has been rocked, as the Men's and Women's teams have been swept aside by the competition to the tune of a 7-29 combined record in Vancouver and Sochi. If you think the Canada has been tough on Sid, U.S. skips Erica Brown and John Shuster have received universal criticism from the 38 people who watched their Olympic meltdown. Should future US Curling teams be constructed around the best 4 American players instead of the best club team?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's insanity — and laziness — to not take the best overall participants, then have them form a team, as they do in just about every other sport. Even in Canada, that's how it's done, where their club teams are outstanding.

But there's more to it. Peculiarly, curling's become pretty big in England and the Scandinavian countries. Earlier today here, the Brits were positively glued to the screen as their team won bronze. (No small thing. The Brits stink at Winter Olympics.) It's not just Canada and the U.S. is my point.

Sarah: DK - any insight on the poor driving by Meyers those last 2 bobsled runs? She's normally amongst the best yes? A voodoo doll on poor Lauren maybe? Shocking result!

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, Sarah, that was a shock to everyone up on the mountain. Elana Meyers is, if not the best driver in the world, then neck and neck with Kaillie Humphries of Canada. But Humphries rode rings around her these past two nights.

That also underscores, though, on a positive note, how strong Lauryn Williams' starts were. Fact is, if Meyers didn't have those starts, she absolutely wouldn't have medaled with how she handled USA-1.

Ray Haluska: I worry about USA women's goalie swallowing apple the way Czech goalie did yesterday. The have had some tough losses to Canada in past.

Dejan Kovacevic: They have, Ray. But they also had that run of three exhibition wins in a row over the winter that had their confidence about as high as it's been. And beyond that, there's a general feel that it's just a matter of time for the U.S. overtakes Canada in women's hockey.

The reason: There are more Canadian women coming to American colleges to play than vice versa. That means our NCAA programs and our feeder systems are getting built up, not theirs.

Guest 23: Just wanted to say I've loved your coverage. It's the only non NBC stuff I have followed regularly throughout the Olympics. You should have spent more time at figure skating. The wife and I have been completely mesmerized. Few things in sport more beautiful than watching Russians skate to their very own “Swan Lake” in front of partisan, knowledgeable crowds. And, Johnny Weir has been fantastic-both for his commentary and his middle fingeresque wardrobe to Putin!

Dejan Kovacevic: First, thanks. Second, you're right. And I can cite for you four or five other places I should have spent more time doing the job. But that's the nature of the Olympics, and it can drive you nuts if you let it.

I must say that the figure skating didn't quite end up being what most here had hoped. Yuna Kim was supposed to get a challenge and never really did. She's still miles above the field. Having Julia Lipnitskaia, the amazing Russian 15-year-old, fall last night in the short program was a big thud for the whole event. Gracie Gold did fine, but the Queen needed more than one challenger to break into a sweat.

Newtang: In the US-Russia game, the announcer off-handedly mentioned that Putin had input on who would coach Team Russia (which to me is incredible). Have you heard anything about this?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a different world, man.

Maddamma: This seems to be the first US Hockey team assembled for a specific identity since 1980. Agreed or overstating?

Dejan Kovacevic: Overstating. Brian Burke's not my favorite NHL figure, but he had a good vision to make the Vancouver team young and fast. That benefited the program then and now.

pghgolfgirl: Olli Maatta has played way beyond his years in his first NHL season, and is showing the same composure and defensive prowness in the Olympics. Given that he is getting more media coverage now, is he gaining any ground for Calder consideration? He's putting up some points too, but he's just not an offensive defenseman and that shouldn't be held against him (IMHO!)

Dejan Kovacevic: It's funny, but I've raised that very topic with some in the large pool of Canadian hockey beat guys who are here, and the best answer I can get is that it's unlikely because nobody will vote for him if all they do is look at points and plus-minus.

But ... aren't they the ones voting?

Hey, you tricked me into non-Olympics!

A. Lane: Is having the Olympics better organized than Vancouver really something to praise? With the accolades going to the organization of these Olympics I cannot help but think of this quote by FFIA president on World Cup: “I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup... When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe [President Vladimir] Putin can do in 2018... that is easier for us organisers than a country such as Germany, where you have to negotiate at different levels.”

Dejan Kovacevic: No. Saying the organization was better than Vancouver is the faintest of praise. But that's not what I said. I said it was the best of any of the four Games I've covered. That includes Athens and even London, which was very good in a difficult circumstance.

Bringing politics into it is inevitable. I get that. But understand when I'm saying something like that, I'm speaking only about the actual organization/plan/execution at hand. That's it.

It's been exceptional.

Sarah: Hi DK - with Bylsma's well known aversion to line matching in NHL , what significance do you put on his apparent willingness to break that mold as an Olympics coach? Case in point the likelihood Crosby may have Backes in his face all day tomorrow?

Dejan Kovacevic: Brought it up again with him earlier today. He'll do it to an extent vs. Canada, especially as it relates to David Backes getting another chance to torment Crosby. (He's really good at that.) Backes will face Crosby most of the time, but if he's out there against the Perry-Getzlaf-Non-Mallard line, that won't be a loss, either. As Bylsma put it, “There are nine forwards we could focus on, not just one.”

Ray Haluska: Are you looking ahead to Korea? Might take my neice, who knows Korean and has visited there before.

Dejan Kovacevic: Actually just picked up my literature from the Brazil and Korean delegations yesterday. Looked at the Korean one. Impressive. But man, so, so far away. A lot farther than this.

Harrisburg Hal: Have you had a chance to talk with Peter Laviolette? I think he's a heck of a coach - excepting his unfortunate team affiliation his last time coaching in the NHL.

Dejan Kovacevic: More on Laviolette in today's column. Something I can promise you didn't know about him as it relates to Team USA.

Dejan Kovacevic: What do you call Tampa Bay Lightning time over here?

Guest: have you had a chance to talk to Petr Nedved?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean just chatting?

That wasn't about to happen. We weren't exactly on best terms when he was in Pittsburgh, then pulled that yearlong holdout. Wacky agent and all that, for those of you with long memories.

Dave: TB Lightning time - how about the Sochi Spring?

Dejan Kovacevic: Eh. Let's just do it anyway.

MarkV: If Team USA makes life miserable for Crosby/Kunitz all game, does if effect the relationship with Bylsma after the games are over?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's the Olympics, man. Stop looking at these things through a city-vs.-city prism that is so much smaller than this. Trust me when I tell you that's how the participants are looking at it. They're here. They get it. This is history.

Matt: will this be Jagr's last olympics? If he plays until he is 50 like he has stated, he might get two more in!

Dejan Kovacevic: He joked with me a little while back he's going to Korea. Or he wasn't joking. Couldn't tell.

A. Lane: Have you seen any in-depth takes on what went wrong for the Russian's that you agree with?

Dejan Kovacevic: I shared a couple of my own observations in a notebook the other day. Malkin and Ovechkin apparently disagreed with the coach passionately about a number of things. Some guys didn't think the KHLers should play as much. That sort of thing.

They were Russians. That's the analysis.

Mike Muscato: Thank you for an amazing look at Sochi in each of your reports. I think both teams (US Can) will feel a bit more comfortable a few shifts into game as this seems to me to be more of a NHL game setting than the previous ones. Any truth ,IYO to my thinking? Could be tied 4-4 late in game

Dejan Kovacevic: People on both sides today kept using the term “North American game” to describe what they expect. That sounds about right, and not just because of the obvious. Both the U.S. and Canada have struggled to dump and cycle here. It's taken too long to get to pucks on the bigger rink. But the Americans in particular have gotten a lot better at it, and judging from the fact that Canada did everything against Latvia but score much, for them, too.

Harrisburg Hal: If you were a coach tomorrow, would you feel better writing in the name Rask or Lundquist into the lineup?

Maddamma: Is there an event you wanted to cover, but didn't get to?

Dejan Kovacevic: World Cup.

Guest 23: Besides family and Starbucks what other thing American are you Jonesing for ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wife, children. Been too long. Makes me respect all the more the men and women who are away from home and family for much, much longer to do much, much more important jobs than mine.

The Capital of Greenland: How well represented have the US and Canada been fan-wise? I didn't think before hand many North Americans would fly over for these Olympics with all the fears.

Dejan Kovacevic: Very few. If you've seen a couple of my WPXI reports, I've found a handful. But not many. When you see them in crowds, those are generally family or other athletes.

jhoffman95: Do you feel that a lot of Pittsburghers just assumed that the Canadians men's team would win gold in Sochi and now after watching all the teams play, think that they have changed their minds and that USA could very well beat Canada tomorrow? Because I have changed my perspective. I think Canada has very much underachieved with their play and the USA looks very good. I say go USA! Great job with the coverage over there, I very

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks on that last count. You'd have a far better feel for what Pittsburghers are thinking right now than I would.

Dejan Kovacevic: Couple more. Have to take off.

BuccoAficionado: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl round.

Dejan Kovacevic: Guessing you wouldn't joke about a plane crash that killed an entire American hockey team.

Dit Clapper: Will Babcock ever stop rolling lines to get his top lines going?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd better. Best way to get big scorers are going is big ice time. Hasn't done it yet. I'll say it again: It isn't an all-star game.

Matt: Will Malkin get back to the US easier than when he was drafted?

Dejan Kovacevic: Question from 1972?

Jandy: Go get some sleep. We'll be looking for the column in a bit :)

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks, Jandy. Appreciate (almost) all of the entries here, but especially that I can now cross off the bucket list a real discussion about what's wrong with the selection process for U.S. curling teams.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be home at some point next week, but I'll be shutting down for a spell after that. Much puckage to behold before that.

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