Four Hurricanes’ Olympians face challenge of post-Sochi adjustment

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 23, 2014 

Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

Teemu Selanne of Finland (8) and Tuomo Ruutu of Finland (15) celebrate during the medal ceremony after the men's bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Finland defeated Team USA 5-0 to capture the bronze medal.


— Eric Staal came back from the 2010 Olympics with a gold medal, riding a high.

In 2006, John-Michael Liles came back from the Olympics with little more than disappointment and a tired body.

If the Olympic experience is different for each athlete, so is the post-Olympic adjustment. That will be the challenge for the four Carolina Hurricanes players who competed in the Sochi Olympics.

Alexander Semin hoped to win a gold medal for Russia on home soil. To be ousted in the quarterfinals had to be a huge letdown for the forward.

Forward Tuomo Ruutu is returning with a bronze medal after Finland routed the U.S. 5-0 on Saturday. Team USA included Canes defenseman Justin Faulk, who made his first Olympic appearance and went to Sochi believing the U.S. could win gold.

Semin and defenseman Andrej Sekera, who competed for Slovakia, were at the Canes’ practice Sunday at Raleigh Center Ice. Ruutu will be back Monday, Canes coach Kirk Muller said, and Faulk will join the team in Buffalo as Carolina resumes its season Tuesday against the Sabres.

Muller said Sekera and Semin looked fresh Sunday in practice and didn’t anticipate any problems with fatigue or motivation.

“I think it’s going to be a carryover of such good hockey over there,” Muller said. “Because of the way you have to skate so much, I can see all four guys coming back and having a good tempo to their game as far as speed.”

In 2010, Staal rejoined the Canes in Toronto after Canada claimed the gold with an epic overtime win against the U.S. He had the medal handy, letting teammates and others handle it, but didn’t miss a beat when the Canes took the ice against the Maple Leafs.

“As soon as you walk through the doors to go to the arena, your total focus is on the group here,” Staal said. “That’s what it was like for me.”

Sekera said he enjoyed the trip, even though the Slovaks lost all four hockey games, and didn’t have any concerns about readjusting to the smaller NHL rinks after games on the “big ice” surfaces in Sochi.

“I’ll do my best,” Sekera said. “I will try to focus on every game, set myself back on the right work basis – food, sleep, practice, stuff like that. I don’t think that will be a problem.”

Liles was 25 and playing for the Colorado Avalanche in 2006 when the defenseman went to Turin, Italy, with Team USA for the Winter Games. The Americans were knocked out by Finland in the quarterfinals, leaving him feeling empty, and the trip also proved to be physically taxing.

“It’s such a condensed schedule and with the jet lag, it’s never easy,” Liles said. “Being a little bit younger then and maybe not as smart with how to take care of your body, it probably affected me more than it could have.

“It’s an amazing experience but it’s tough. Whenever you’re traveling that much and (there’s) not a lot of time off, and with the intensity of the games, it can definitely wear on you.”

Faulk, 21, was a healthy extra for Team USA until the semifinal game against Canada, when he went into the lineup for an injured Paul Martin and was part of a tough 1-0 loss. He also played against Finland.

“Emotionally, it’s disappointing,” Liles said. “You go over there, you’re hoping to medal, you think you have a chance and then all of sudden everything comes crashing down on you. It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.”

Ruutu won a bronze medal with Finland in 2010 and now has another. Muller said it could be a good springboard for the winger as the Canes fight for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“He played really well, played a lot,” Muller said. “I think he’s probably looking forward to building on that (and) it’s probably a confidence-building thing for him.”

As for Semin, who can tell? Muller said he realizes Semin, like the other Russians, was deflated by falling short and disappointing so many in his home country.

“But I suspect the thing now will be that it’s all about us pushing to get in the playoffs,” Muller said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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