While Ozolinsh's misfortune is rooted in the breakup of the Soviet Union, which created the need for a Baltic tournament, other NHL players missed the trip to Nagano because they were victims of petty politics. The Canucks' Mark Messier deserved to be on the Canadian team, but his country's selection committee believed he would not easily accept a more limited role than he was accustomed to. Also, several Russians, including Red Wings center Igor Larionov, declined invitations to the Olympics because of displeasure with that country's hockey federation. "I regret that decision," says Larionov, a two-time Olympian. "I know the excitement of the Olympics."
Prospecting for Canadian Gold
Nine Olympic teams include NHL players on their rosters, but that doesn't mean the competition for the gold medal is wide open. When we asked the league's 26 general managers which team they thought would win in Nagano, 17 picked Canada, five chose the U.S. and four refused to answer. Only one other team, the Czech Republic, received even passing mention, and that was because, said one G.M. who selected Canada, goal-tender " Dominik Hasek is capable of winning it by himself."
Superior goaltending accounted for Canada's landslide. Several respondents pointed out that the top Canadian goalies, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, are having better seasons than their U.S. counterparts, Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck. Canada was also chosen because of its incentive to overcome a past failure—its runner-up finish to the U.S. in the 1996 World Cup, the last time NHL players competed in national colors. Many respondents felt the Canadians would be highly motivated because they want to "prove that hockey is their game and they're the best at it." Said one G.M., " Canada will win because it has to. Second place doesn't count."