The nightmare in Nagano is still disturbing their sleep, but there is good news in Denver: A week after returning to the U.S., none of the Avalanche Olympians had run a skate blade across their wrists. No one in the Colorado locker room was suffering cruel and unusual ribbing from teammates, because no one dared fire the first barb. Ten members of the Avalanche organization returned from the Olympic competition in Japan, and only three brought home medals.
"It's still hard to believe, isn't it?" says center Peter Forsberg, who played for Sweden. "It's been kind of quiet around here because no one can jab anyone. What are you going to say, 'We finished fifth and you only finished sixth?' "
Nine Colorado players and coach Marc Crawford traveled about 6,000 miles to the Winter Games, where they defied all odds: They represented six teams in the tournament, including the three favorites—Canada, the U.S. and Sweden—and returned without a single gold medal. Do you believe in debacles? Compared to this performance, the U.S. victory at Lake Placid in 1980 was about as stunning as seeing William Ginsburg on a Sunday-morning TV show.
You think you're tired of hearing about the Winter Olympics? You ought to spend time with the Avalanche. Colorado, one of the most talented clubs in the NHL, was supposed to hold a joyous team reunion on the medal stand in Nagano; instead, the Av Nots staggered home with just two silvers and a bronze. "It's hard to say who is the most disappointed," says Forsberg. "Most of us feel pretty bad."
They have good reason. The Canadian team, including three Colorado players and Crawford, lost to the Czech Republic in a semifinal shootout and then mailed in the bronze medal game against Finland. Adam Deadmarsh was the lone Avalanche representative on a U.S. team that made Grammy crasher O.D.B. look like a gracious runner-up. Deadmarsh, at least, was smart enough to sneak off to a hotel with his girlfriend on the night some unnamed U.S. players trashed rooms in the Olympic Village and embarrassed their country.
The Russian team, which included Colorado wing Valeri Kamensky and defenseman Alexei Gusarov, took silver, but it had been the favorite in the gold medal game against the Czechs, who had just 11 NHL players. (The U.S. and the Canadian teams were exclusively NHL players.) Forsberg and the Swedes were surprised by Finland in the quarterfinals. Defenseman Uwe Krupp, the Avalanche's lone representative on the German team, flew halfway around the world and arrived in Japan just in time to get eliminated from the tournament.
Of the Colorado players who competed in Nagano, only forward Jari Kurri wasn't forced to eat a side of crow with his sushi. The well-traveled veteran and his Finnish teammates unexpectedly won the bronze, though Kurri has refrained from telling any of his Colorado teammates just how great the view was from the medal stand. "We're not ribbing each other too much," says Kurri. "I know how the guys from Canada and the U.S. feel. The expectations were so high, and everyone is really disappointed. I'm not giving anyone a hard time. These are my teammates, and I don't want to stir the pot."
"I'm not over it yet," says Crawford. "But it hasn't ruined my life. I'm moving on. We knew that whatever happened over there we had to put behind us as soon as we got back." Indeed, Crawford's club was quick to shake off its Nagano hangover. Last week, before any of the Olympians had returned to a normal sleep schedule—"At first I was waking up at 3 a.m.; now I can't get to sleep till 3 a.m.," says Forsberg—the Avalanche beat the Phoenix Coyotes twice in two nights, extending its winning streak to five games. (The run was snapped last Saturday by a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.) The Avalanche, which led the Pacific Division by 14 points at week's end, is one of five teams with a reasonable shot at winning the Stanley Cup. It may turn out that the Olympics won't put Colorado at a disadvantage physically and, in the long run, might even help the club psychologically.
Obviously, the players who stayed home and watched the Games on TV were well rested after the 17-day break, but even those who participated in the Olympics will bring more energy to the ice in the next few weeks than they did at the same time last year. The depth of the Olympic squads, and the early elimination of some, meant far less ice time for NHL stars than they normally get in February.
"This is usually when a team shows signs of wear," says Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson, who guided the U.S. team. "But this year teams have had a chance to lick their wounds and revitalize. And the players who were over there will be fine with a little sleep."