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Emotions Run High For Olympic U.S.-Russia Hockey Game


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The big event today at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi is the U.S.A.-Russia men's hockey game. It is already underway in the Bolshoi Ice Dome. The U.S.A. or Russia can lose and still make the finals but the emotional stakes of these two old rivals meeting today in Russia is huge. NPR's Robert Smith is at the game. He sent us a list of how he prepared for the big event.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: You need five things to properly gird yourself for a U.S.A.-Russia hockey match. Number one, earplugs.


SMITH: It is thunderous inside the ice dome.

ANNOUNCER: Russia plays very nice and very good. Russia winner, winner.

SMITH: And before the game, total strangers came up to me to ask if I had an extra ticket for the U.S.A.-Russia match. You cannot buy one anywhere. So that means almost every seat is filled with people shouting...


SMITH: ...Shayba, which means puck. Did I say that right?


SMITH: Shayba. Clearly the must-have item number two is a translator. Andrea Toreken(ph) helped me out. The stick...

ANDREA TOREKEN: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: We also have a phrase says you put the biscuit in the basket.

TOREKEN: (Speaking a foreign language) right in the goal, like this.

SMITH: She shoots, he scores.

TOREKEN: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: The Russians are amped, so how does an American get excited (foreign language spoken)? Item number three, a DVD of Disney's 2004 "Miracle."


SMITH: This is, of course, the tearjerker about the game that everyone thinks about when you say U.S.A.-Russia, the 1980 match between the Soviet team and a bunch of American amateurs at the Lake Placid Olympics, the miracle on ice.


KURT RUSSELL: (as Herb Brooks) I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw them. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.

SMITH: Oh, they took it. Beat the Soviets. And journalists love this story so much that here in Sochi at the press conferences for hockey there is one question after another about the 1980 match. Most of the very, very young hockey players just shrug it off. There is no Soviet team anymore. There is a Russian team, a team whose lead player, Alexander Ovechkin, plays in Washington, D.C. It is history.

Vladislav Tretiak was one of the goalies for that epic game. Now he heads the Russian Hockey Federation.

VLADISLAV TRETIAK: (Through Translator) In 1980, it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us. You have to respect your competitors and only after the game you can tell what you think about them. We did not have the respect for the competitors at that time, but we don't have that during this Olympics.

SMITH: It seems that everyone has moved on. A better inspiration for the USA team might be another video, one from the last Olympics. Let's call that Item No. 4: A replay of the Olympic final four years ago. There was not a Russian in sight, but there was plenty of heartbreak. Canada snatched the gold away from the U.S.A. in overtime.

And that's the game that TeamUSA talked about before the Olympics, not 1980. Many of the same players are back and they do not want it to happen again. Not with Canada, not with Russia or anyone else. Which brings us to the last thing. Any American going into a Russian hockey game needs, No. 5, a back door to sneak out of in case the Russian's lose.

Sergey Krabu is hockey commentator here and he says that for the Russians, everything is riding on this hockey team.

SERGEY KRABU: If our team wins, the country would say that the Olympic was successful. If it loses, no matter what happens in other sports, they Olympics would be not very successful.

SMITH: Fifty billion dollars. The reputation of Vladimir Putin all riding on a little black shayba. Robert Smith, NPR News, Sochi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
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