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Sochi hockey notebook: Most Penguins foggy after long flight

| Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, 1:10 p.m.
REUTERS
Team USA's men's ice hockey head coach Dan Bylsma outlines a drill during their first practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 10, 2014.

SOCHI, Russia — Travel complaints were sparse among the NHL players and coaches arriving to the Winter Olympics en masse Monday. Most flew on league-leased charter planes, and most caught at least a little sleep on the way.

Even so, the day wasn't exactly a ton of fun. The Finnish team, for example, arrived early in the Sochi morning, had a team meal around lunchtime, then went straight to the rink. No nap, no dozing off until later.

Asked after the Finns' practice how he felt, Olli Maatta playfully rolled his eyes: “Oh, I'm flying out there. Didn't you see?”

Several other Penguins players showed eyes that look like fried eggs, but not Chris Kunitz.

“I've got kids,” he explained with a grin. “I can sleep through anything.”

Shero is acting U.S. GM

It's largely a formality, but Ray Shero, the Penguins' general manager and assistant GM for the United States, will function as the Americans' acting GM, the team announced upon arrival here.

David Poile, the GM for both Nashville and the U.S., was struck by a puck in the face last week at a Predators practice and couldn't make the trip.

Bylsma's goalie decision

Dan Bylsma's first big decision as U.S. coach will be picking a goaltender between Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller.

He said Monday he isn't prepared to announce that, but he made clear that any choices would be made for the opener Thursday against Slovakia.

“If you find out on the way home that a lineup didn't work out,” Bylsma said, “then you're about 15 days too late.”

Orpik with 4th pairing

Brooks Orpik, who mostly has struggled for the Penguins this season, practiced on the fourth pairing, meaning he'd be out of a game.

His usual partner with the Penguins, Paul Martin, was on the third pairing with St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk.

Skating with Crosby, Kunitz

Jeff Carter, a perennial 30-goal scorer in Los Angeles, was Canada's initial choice to skate with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on Canada's top line.

The three had no time to talk before practice, but Carter said his plan will be simple: “Honestly, Sid and Chris have played together so long, I'm just looking to follow their lead.”

Not passing the puck

Mike Babcock, Canada's coach, said Carter, a shooter first and foremost, had better wise up and not pass to Crosby as much as he did in practice.

“If he's giving it back, he can't play with him.” Babcock's demeanor made clear he wasn't kidding.

Maatta in awe

Last Finn off the ice: Maatta, of course, deferring to elders.

“I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I'm playing this year in the Olympics,” Maatta said. “I'm really happy Pittsburgh gave me the chance they did.”

Ovechkin says he's ready

Russia's Alex Ovechkin was in rare form. Asked if he's in the best shape of his career: “No. But will be in three days.”

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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