Canes' Sekera, Ruutu headed to Olympics; Staal, Semin snubbed

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

  • Canes Olympians

    United States

    JUSTIN FAULK

    Defenseman

    Age: 21. Born: South St. Paul, Minn.

    Olympic experience: First selection. Played for U.S. in 2012, 2013 World Championships.

    Finland

    TUOMO RUUTU

    Forward

    Age: 30. Born: Vantaa, Finland.

    Olympic experience: Played for Finland in 2010 Vancouver Games. Helped Finland win bronze medal.

    Slovakia

    ANDREJ SEKERA

    Defenseman

    Age: 27. Born: Bojnice, Slovakia.

    Olympic experience: Played for Slovakia in 2010 Vancouver Games, scoring one goal in seven games.

It was a day of congratulations and celebration for defenseman Andrej Sekera and forward Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes, who learned Tuesday they’re headed to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But for Canes captain Eric Staal and forward Alexander Semin, it was a day of deep disappointment.

Sekera was named to Slovakia’s Olympic team for the Sochi Games, and Ruutu was chosen to play for Finland. Both competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games, Ruutu returning with a bronze medal.

Staal won a gold medal with Team Canada in Vancouver and wanted to help win another in Sochi, but he was left off the Canadian team announced Tuesday in Toronto. Semin was not picked for the Russian team and will not get the chance to play in an Olympics on home soil.

Staal, sidelined with a lower-body injury, did not make the trip to Buffalo, where the Canes’ game Tuesday against the Sabres was postponed because of hazardous weather.

“I really felt I’d get an opportunity to defend the gold medal, but unfortunately it was not to be,” Staal said by phone from Raleigh. “They went with other choices.

“Does it feel good to get left off the team? No. Am I good enough to be on the team? Yes. I feel I’ve proven that. Do I think they made a mistake in not taking me? I hope to prove that.”

Staal played for Canada in the 2013 World Championship and served as team captain in Sweden. He suffered a serious knee injury that required extensive rehabilitation in the summer, but he was ready by the start of the Canes’ training camp and is the team’s top scorer.

“Like our team, it’s been a bit of an up-and-down year for myself,” Staal said. “Coming off (the injury), I did not have the start I wanted, and it took a little while to get back to my style of game and play like I normally do.

“Some of the players chosen, in my opinion, I’m a better player than, but I needed to do a better job in the first half of the season. They went a different way. That’s life. We’ll move forward, with all our focus on us getting back in the playoffs.”

Some believed Canes forward Jeff Skinner might be a last-second selection for Team Canada, given the torrid goal-scoring pace he has been on – 16 goals in the past 16 games, and 20 for the season. Skinner said he received a call from a Canadian Olympic official an hour before the selections were announced.

“They said, ‘We won’t be naming you to the team, thanks for your hard work and keep up the good work,’ ” Skinner said. “That’s a pretty classy move, I think.

“Obviously, they have a great team with the guys they picked. Obviously there’s a ton of guys off it that would have made a great team.”

Semin has represented Russia in nine major international competitions and was on the Russian Olympic team in Vancouver. He missed 12 games this season with a concussion, which could have factored into the decision to leave him off the team going to Sochi.

“This is a tough day and an exciting day for players around the league (as) a lot of countries named their teams and rosters today,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “As disappointing as it is from the Hurricanes’ point of view as an organization, we feel all of them are world-class players. I’d have them on my team any day if I was part of the Olympics. It’s a tough decision day for a few of these countries because there are so many good hockey players.”

Injuries derailed the chances of Canes goalie Cam Ward (Canada), forward Jiri Tlusty (Czech Republic) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (Finland), who is sitting out this season with a broken heel bone.

Jordan Staal was invited to the Canadian Olympic orientation camp last summer, but said: “I knew I’d have to have a great start to this season to be in the running, and obviously my season hasn’t been unbelievable, so I wasn’t waiting for the call. I was hoping Eric would make it, but unfortunately he didn’t.”

Sekera, Ruutu and defenseman Justin Faulk, who was named to the U.S. team last week, will represent the Canes in Sochi.

“I’m lucky to be on the team, I’m very happy and I hopefully I can make them proud,” Sekera said.

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