Home Is Not Where Recchi's Heart Is
It never should have come to this. Montreal right wing Mark Recchi, who was a surprising omission when the Canadian Olympic team was announced in December, was at home in Pittsburgh on Sunday, on standby as the first man to go to Nagano should any of Canada's forwards be unable to play. The speedy wing was dejected. "It's disappointing, but it's done," says Recchi, who, with 25 goals, is the only one of the NHL's top 15 goal scorers not in Nagano. "There's nothing I want to do more than play."
Recchi is unaccustomed to having to sit and watch midwinter hockey games. Since missing a match on March 31, 1991, with an injured right knee, the 5'10", 185-pound Recchi has played in 517 straight regular-season NHL games. Flyers center Rod Brind'Amour (376) is the only other NHL player with a streak of more than 300 games. "The way [Recchi] plays it's amazing he's out there every night," says Islanders winger Mike Hough. "He finishes checks, he battles off the face-off, he goes into the corners. He does things you don't usually see star players do."
With an explosive snap shot that is particularly dangerous because he shoots lefthanded and plays the right side, Recchi has scored 310 goals in nine-plus seasons. He also plays a strong defensive game and throws his diminutive body into any fray he finds. Although his run almost ended this season because of bruised ribs that hurt every time he took a breath, Recchi has maintained his streak through an assortment of muscle tears and broken bones. Before the Oct. 15 game against the Penguins, Recchi got laser treatment and iced his side, all so he could spend the evening on a checking line opposite Jaromir Jagr.
Recchi's craving for ice time hasn't waned since he was Jagr's teammate in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. In those days Recchi was sometimes on the bench during power plays, and coaches would hear him impatiently shuffling his skates. He was traded to Philadelphia in '91-92, and after a three-year stint with the Flyers that included a 53-goal season in '92-93, he was dealt to Montreal. With the Canadiens, Recchi gets plenty of ice time—he's on the first power-play unit and kills penalties too.
At 30, Recchi is playing the best hockey of his life, and as his linemate Shayne Corson, now in Nagano, says, "He competes as fiercely as anyone." If he doesn't end up going to Japan, the iron-man will be missed in Canada's push for gold.
The Name of the Game Is Politics
Plenty of other NHL stars failed to make the Olympic cut, including nine who lead their teams in scoring and one whose exclusion from Team Canada has irate countrymen wearing T-shirts that read: MY CANADA INCLUDES MESSIER. Besides Recchi, the best of the Naganots is Avalanche defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.
One of the top offensive defensemen in the world, Ozolinsh was named a first-team All-Star after last season. Of the 12 players who made either the first or second team, only Ozolinsh and the retired Mario Lemieux are not in Japan. "By the next Olympics I'll be almost 30," Ozolinsh said recently. "It sucks."
Ozolinsh's boyhood dream of playing in the Olympics was shattered last summer in the Latvian capital of Riga, where he was raised. In the Olympic qualifying tournament for Baltic nations, the Ozolinsh-led Latvians had won back-to-back games over Estonia and Lithuania by a combined score of 42-1 and were favored to beat Belarus to clinch a berth in Nagano. Instead, the visiting Belarussians won 4-1 and earned the Olympic berth.