SOCHI, Russia -- Just for a moment, Max Pacioretty thought it was bad. As in, miss the Olympics bad.
Pushed awkwardly into the goalpost during the Montreal Canadiens’ final pre-Olympic break game, Pacioretty left the ice wondering if he was also leaving behind his position with the U.S. Olympic hockey team.
"It was a little bit of a scare," said Pacioretty, whose collision with the post looked worse than it turned out to be.
"As soon as I got diagnosed during the game, I knew things were going to be OK. After I got the treatment I needed, had that been an important game, I probably would have able to come back if it was late in the game. They decided to hold me out, and I’m thankful they did it in my best interests."
Having flirted with disaster, Pacioretty is determined to embrace his moment in the Olympic sun. He sat next to Czech legend and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr on the NHL shuttle from the U.S. to Sochi.
"It’s definitely overwhelming. If I went back 15 years ago and said I would sit next to Jaromir Jagr on the way to the Olympics in Sochi, everyone would have thought I was crazy," Pacioretty said. "Obviously I’m like a deer in headlights when I see guys like that and I’m put on the same stage as them. But at the same time, I’ve got to play my game."
Did Jagr engage him during the flight?
"Said a couple of words here and there. I was a Rangers fan growing up. He was one of my idols," Pacioretty said.
The Montreal forward who emerged on the U.S. Olympic radar with a strong surge after some early-season injuries has more than a passing knowledge of the Russian dynamic of hosting the Olympics, having married former NHLer Max Afinogenov's sister, Katia.
"I think it’s neat, because I think I know more about Russia than the average American," he said.
"Her brother used to play for the Olympic team, now that he isn’t playing anymore her family has a reason to cheer for the Americans. I made her dad promise that he’s cheering for me."