Swedes, NHLPA blast IOC over Backstrom ban from gold medal match with Canada

Swedes, NHLPA blast IOC over Backstrom ban from gold medal match with Canada

23 Feb 2014 | Davide Tuniz

An hour after the final horn sounded to end the gold medal game, members of the Sweden men's ice hockey team administration accused the International Olympic Committee of purposely destroying one of the greatest days in Swedish hockey history.

 
 
 
 

The cause for their anger was not the 3-0 loss to Canadabut the late decision by the IOC to prohibit forward Nicklas Backstrom from playing in the game. Backstrom had tested positive for prohibited levels of pseudoephedrine, which entered his system from taking a daily tablet of the allergy medication Zyrtec-D.

"I talk for the players, and for the coaches, and for all staff, and we are all very upset today," began Tommy Boustedt, the general manager of the team. "Our opinion is that the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Swedish history." Boustedt believed the decision had damaged not just the game in Sochi, but the state of hockey in his native country. "I'm also responsible for anything with hockey in Sweden, like recruitment, player development, coach education and everything. Sunday, one o'clock in Sweden, with an Olympic gold medal game between Canada and Sweden, that's one of the high points in Swedish hockey history."

Boustedt had received a phone call at 13:30 pm in Sochi from the Swedish Olympic Committee to attend a hearing about Backstrom at 14:00. To reach Backstrom, who was away from his phone while warming up at the rink, Boustedt bicycled down to the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and the two rode together to the Olympic Village near where the hearing was taking place. "We cried both of us. I don’t cry easily, but we were both very sad. It was meant to be the most important game of Nicklas’s life. Then I come cycling like a fucking idiot, telling him he can’t play."

After they were informed that Backstrom could not play, Boustedt and Backstrom watched the game together on a television at the Olympic Village. "That was one of the worst games we've ever seen. Not because of the outcome, and the way the team played, but because Nicklas couldn't be in the game. This is one of the toughest days for me in Swedish hockey, and all because of the IOC. They destroyed this hockey day for all Swedish fans, and for lots of fans all over the world."

Backstrom opens up

Backstrom, normally one of the more reluctant players to give even mildly revealing answers, answered the question with candor rarely seen in his career. "I'm going to speak from my heart now," he said. "I was watching the game at the village. I've been here for two weeks now, and it's probably the most fun two weeks I have ever had. It was a great group of guys, and I was ready to play probably the biggest game of my career. Two and a half hours before the game I got pulled aside." Backstrom then struggled with his emotions. "It's sad," he finally mustered. "I was very sad, and honestly I felt bad for the guys. Lots of the guys were in the locker room when they called me out. I mean, I don't know really what to say, to be honest with you."
After Backstrom left the podium, Boustedt again took aim at the IOC, especially at the lag between the test, which Backstrom had taken after the quarterfinal against Slovenia on Wednesday, and the notification they received on Sunday, just hours before the game's 16:00 start time. "I think the timing is awful," said Boustedt. "They made the test Wednesday, and normally you get results in 48 hours. That would have been Friday. Imagine coaches and players getting the decision not two hours before the game. I called down to the dressing room just before the warm-up skate, and that's [15:25], and told them Nick is out, he's not going to play. And then they had to rearrange the lines, and explain to the players, and lots of stuff with the power play and the penalty killing, they had to try to build it another way."

Timing of the announcement

Boustedt said he believed the announcement of the result was intentionally delayed to draw the maximum possible attention to the positive test. "The timing is awful, and my suspicion is that this is political," said Boustedt. "If we got the decision two days ago, I don't think so many people would be sitting here right now in this conference. I think it was a political decision. They waited until it would make a real good impact with you journalists. That is one hour before the game; that's perfect. I think they had the results earlier. But if they held on to the results a couple more days, the closer to the game you get, you get more people to be interested in this. And politically, in that way, they need examples to show the whole sport world that we don't accept doping. And as Mark (IIHF chief medical officer, Canadian Mark Aubry) said, this is not doping, this is something else. They did examples to scare cheaters with. Nick is not one of them, so therefore I think it's awful, this whole story."

Boustedt said that while it was impossible to say that Canada would not have won with how well they played, the absence of Backstrom wrought havoc with his team on this pressure-packed occasion. "Before I answer I want to say, as our coach did, that Canada played a fantastic game today," said Boustedt. "So I don't know if it would have made any difference on the result. But on the way we played, it had meaning, because Backstrom was our first centreman. When we loost Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, he moved up in the rankings, and he was our first centreman. And then when we lost him, then we were without our first three centremen. Of course our coaches didn't have as much to work with as when we landed here in Sochi. It was tough to lose him that close to the game, because it affected the players. He's a good friend, he's a teammate, and everything. So they were really upset before the game, the players. When you talk about elite sports, you need that last percent of concentration on the task you should fulfill. It's very, very important, and some of the players probably lost that. That was very important for how we played the game tonight. Maybe not the result, but how we played."

It was not only those invested in the Swedish cause who spoke out angrily about the decision. Matthew Schneider special assistant to the executive director for the NHLPA, also blasted the ruling. "There's a problem with the process, it's flawed," said Schneider. "It is clear he wasn't doping. At some point common sense should prevail and it didn't in this case. We will have a lot of questions. We were not part of the process. It's our players. This is a big issue for us, the damage is done. One of the biggest days of his life was taken away."


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