SOCHI, Russia – On Saturday night in Carolina, Max Pacioretty flew through the air, collided with the metal post, rolled over and clutched his arm in pain. The Montreal Canadiens forward helplessly wondered: Was his Olympic dream over in an instant?
“It was a little bit of a scare,” said Pacioretty.
He left the ice for the trainers’ room. Speculation began on social media over who would replace him on the U.S. men’s hockey team roster. His Olympic coach, Dan Bylsma, was concerned.
“I heard the news before I saw it. I was a little more nervous after I saw how he went into the net,” he said. “That was a serious crash into the net.”
The fears of Pacioretty and Bylsma were eased when doctors evaluated the forward’s injury.
“As soon as I got diagnosed during the game I knew things were going to be OK. After I got the treatment I needed, had that been an important game, I probably would have able to come back if it was late in the game,” said Pacioretty. “They decided to hold me out, and I’m thankful they did it in my best interests.”
Pacioretty, 25, arrived in Sochi on Monday with the rest of the NHL players on Team USA for their first practice. The first-time Olympian and New Canaan, Conn., native was sufficiently humbled.
“It’s definitely overwhelming,” he said. “If I went back 15 years ago and said I would sit next to Jaromir Jagr on the way to the Olympics in Sochi, everyone would have thought I was crazy.”
Wait … Jagr? On a Transatlantic flight? What did they talk about?
“He said a couple of words here and there,” he said. “I was a Rangers fan growing up. He was one of my idols.”
From Jagr to his own Team USA teammates, Pacioretty immediately had to transition from star-struck to feeling like a peer.
“Obviously I’m like a deer in headlights when I see guys like that and I’m put on the same stage as them. But at the same time, I gotta play my game. You check your egos at the door. Everything you do right now is for the team. You have to play with more pride than every before,” he said.
Pacioretty has plenty of pride for his American roots, but he also has some for his quasi-adopted nation: Russia.
His wife, Katia, is a Moscow native and the sister of Maxim Afinogenov, former NHL and Russian National Team member.
“I think it’s neat, because I think I know more about Russia than the average American,” said Pacioretty, who has visited Russia on a dozen occasions.
He said his knowledge of Russia made him skeptical about the media reports about Sochi’s problems, chronicled by reporters in the early days of the Games.
“When I heard all that stuff about the accommodations over here, it seemed a little blown out of proportion. I’ve seen nothing but amazing facilities so far,” he said.
As for his in-laws, Pacioretty believes he knows where their loyalties will be for the Olympic tournament.
“Her brother used to play for the Olympic team, now that he isn’t playing anymore her family has a reason to cheer for the Americans,” he said.
“I made her dad promise that he’s cheering for me.”