February 27, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- David Backes(notes) was supposed to fly out of Vancouver on Sunday morning, but found himself with a bit of a scheduling conflict: the gold medal game for Olympic men's hockey.
"We're not going to be on that [flight]," said Backes, a forward for Team USA and the St. Louis Blues.
According to the U.S. players, the NHLPA booked some flights for players and families leaving the Winter Games for Sunday morning, with faceoff for the gold medal game set for 12:15 p.m. PST against arch rival Team Canada.
"It's funny, but the way they booked flights on the way home, they booked my parents and everyone's flight before the gold medal game. I called back and said, 'In case we make it, we're going to have to change this,'" said U.S. winger Zach Parise(notes) of the New Jersey Devils. "It's been kind of a circus."
The flights were booked using pre-Olympic International Ice Hockey Federation rankings as a predictor, which had Team USA fifth behind Russia, Canada, Sweden and Finland. The NHLPA said the flights were booked just to establish a time of departure that could then be changed depending on how the team fared; so don't read it as a lack of confidence in GM Brian Burke's team.
"We're a group of 22 guys who were expected to come here and maybe have an OK showing and go home early. But we're happy to rebook all of our flights out, make them a little later," Backes said.
"You look at the opportunity we have in front of us, to win a gold medal. If all goes haywire, and we have a little snafu, we have a silver medal around our necks. We'd obviously love to have the gold. But either way, what pressure can you be under? You go out there and lay it on the line."
Of course, even with the gold medal game on Sunday, it's still a quick turnaround for the Olympians. The NHL is already back practicing, and the games begin again on Monday with the Detroit Red Wings facing the Colorado Avalanche, featuring U.S. Olympians Brian Rafalski(notes) (Wings) and Paul Stastny(notes) (Avs).
"You just have to say thanks, Gary Bettman. I don't know," said winger Ryan Malone(notes) of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had his flight booked for Monday throughout the tournament. "You always want to book the late one. You can always change it if things go bad in the tournament."