A month ago, participating countries (outside of Team USA) in the men's Olympic hockey tournament were preparing to announce their final rosters. Now, with just over a week until the games begin, the inevitable injury replacements are being announced.
Team Canada is waiting patiently to find out whether or not Steven Stamkos will be able to play for them. The Tampa Bay Lightning center has been skating with the team as his right leg continues to strengthen after breaking it in November.
After Monday's practice, Stamkos said that, should no complications arise in the next four days, he plans to return to the Tampa lineup Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, the final day before the NHL's Olympic break begins.
“I kind of told myself that if I didn't think I had a chance to play that I wouldn't go, so I'm still going to base it on that,'' Stamkos said. “If I am going over (to Russia) it's because I feel I can play at that level and if I don't it's because I feel that it's not ready. Again if I play Saturday and it doesn't feel great, that's going to be another conversation that we are going to have to have. At this point right now I can sit here and say that this is the best it has ever felt on the ice especially for the work load that I had on it today."
Stamkos also said that if he personally doesn't feel like he can play at his normal level, he'll withdraw and not take the spot of another player.
Johan Franzen of the Red Wings pulled himself out of the Team Sweden lineup after he said he was still feeling concussion-like symptoms. Swedish coach Per Marts didn't have to look to far to find his replacement. Franzen's teammate in Detroit, Gustav Nyquist, picked the right time to get hot, with eight goals in his last eight games, including a hat trick Sunday against the Capitals. He'll join five other Swedish Red Wings in Sochi.
Eyebrows were raised when the Czechs announced their roster on Jan. 7. One notable exclusion was Jiri Hudler, who is having a fine season with the Calgary Flames. Radim Vrbata was right behind Hudler on the list of players staying home.
So when St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka announced he would have to withdraw from the Czech roster due to a leg injury, one would figure Hudler or Vrbata would slide right in. But not so fast. On Tuesday, the Czech Ice Hockey Federation announced that Martin Erat of the Washington Capitals will take his place.
That's Martin Erat, he of more trade requests than goals scored this season.
Why Erat over the likes of Hudler or Vrbata? According to Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik, he was looking for a replacement who can help the team defensively.
For the Slovaks, they'll likely be without Marian Gaborik, who practiced with his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates for the first time since breaking his collarbone on Dec. 21. He played only four shifts in that game, his first after missing 17 games with a knee sprain.
On Monday, Gaborik's agent told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch that he believes his client is a "long shot" to go to Sochi. “He’s getting close,” Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said. “He’s shooting the puck now, which is progress. You can see his shot isn’t where it needs to be, but it’s improving every day."
With Gaborik likely out and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky probably staying home after recently returning from a concussion, the Slovaks will have some decisions to make before their first game against the U.S. on Feb. 13.
- - - - - - -