Commentary

Playing through pain a tough choice

Balancing health with obligations and pride is a tough dilemma for players

Updated: February 15, 2014, 8:49 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SOCHI, Russia -- Henrik Zetterberg is gone and Pavel Datsyuk is playing through pain. It's not easy being in those situations.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, Steve Yzerman was playing on one good leg and through a painful knee injury en route to helping Canada snap its 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought.

[+] EnlargeTeam Canada
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian WyldSteve Yzerman knows his Canadian players feel the kind of pressure he did when it comes to playing for your country.
The Team Canada GM understands what players such as Zetterberg and Datsyuk are going through and how hard it is to balance your NHL obligations with your country calling.

"Difficult question to answer, what is right or wrong," Yzerman said Saturday. "Myself, being a former player, actually in 2002 coming and playing [hurt], there was a decision to be made there. Ultimately, guys want to be here, they want to play. It's an opportunity for some of them [it's] once-in-a-lifetime to play in the Olympics. That's a big deal for the guys.

"I can understand it from their point of view. Really, the players and the organizations themselves, it's important that they have that relationship. The team understands the players' desire to go and play. A guy can get hurt walking across the street. We get guys who get hurt in the summer all sorts of ways. Injuries happen.

"But I think the player does have some responsibility to his organization, a lot of responsibility, but I don't know if there's a right or a wrong. It's just trying to make a good decision prior to coming to these Games. But I don't begrudge any player who wants to come and play and do what they can to play."

It should be noted Yzerman, on that bum knee, also led the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2002.

Babcock impressed

Two games into Canada's Olympic tournament and head coach Mike Babcock has a sense of a few players that have impressed him.

"Well, I think Jamie Benn's outstanding," Babcock said of the Dallas Stars captain. "There's one example, but there's lots of guys I could get right down the lineup. Bergy, who was on our team last [time], I think is off to a heck of a start," he added about Boston Bruins veteran Patrice Bergeron.

Babcock said Benn played hard.

"Does it right," the coach said. "I'm impressed. I always liked him, but he's a good player."

What's next for Subban?

[+] EnlargeP.K. Subban
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesP.K. Subban is a huge talent, but he's not seeing a lot of playing time so far.

Montreal Canadiens fans are up in arms that P.K. Subban isn't getting more of a role here.

To be fair, the right side is so stacked with Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Weber, I'm not really sure what you can do.

Asked about Subban's play from the Friday game, Babcock had a bit more to say Saturday than he did the previous night.

"He's a young player. He was fine," said the coach. "Subban can pass the puck. It's unbelievable, some of the things he can do. In saying all that, when we look at our group today, we'll be looking at what you can do with the puck and what you can do without the puck. And finding the best synergy to allow us to win.

"Every one of these players, when we talk about them -- and that can be [Patrick] Sharp or it could have been [Matt] Duchene or [Dan] Hamhuis -- those are the four that have been identified so far [as previous scratches]. ... But no one's done anything wrong. Everyone's played hard. They're all very good players. Every guy would like to play more."

Life in the village

Both Yzerman and Babcock had nothing but great things to say about how they've been treated in Sochi.

"It's been fantastic in the village," said Yzerman. "Everything about it. The beautiful blue skies; it's been fantastic. Everything is well organized; everything about the village has been really good. All the employees and volunteers have been super helpful and polite. So it's been a really good experience so far, a really good experience."

"I think it's been fantastic, actually," echoed Babcock. "From the food to where you stay to how you get to events to the people, the whole thing. I think it's incredible."

Yzerman described life in the village as "serene."

"It's nice and quiet; there's not a lot of people," he said. "I wasn't really in the village but once maybe in Vancouver. It's very quiet. It's well organized. It's very comfortable for the athletes to come and go. Everybody is riding around on bicycles. That seems to be theme now is that everyone is riding a bike and getting around from venue to venue. It's really convenient if you want to go watch a different event for a little while.

"I think the athletes are really enjoying it. For me, being part of it four times, you'd be surprised how really quiet it is in the village. The athletes are very respectful and focused on what they're doing. It's a really good atmosphere. I think our players really appreciate it. They're kind of in Stanley Cup final mode: eat, sleep and play. They're not distracted by a lot. They can just relax and be comfortable."

Babcock has enjoyed meeting other athletes from other sports in the village.

"When you walk into the cafeteria where you get your food, you can see athletes from all different countries, lots of them, when you bump into them and you talk," the coach said. "You get to see lots of different Canadian athletes, and you get to know each other way better, and you have a bigger experience.

"Being an Olympian is you're way more than part of the hockey team, you're part of this big team. When we go to curling today, you're part of that team. When you go to Canada House, you meet all these parents of these kids and all these fans, I think it's a spectacular thing."

Supporting Zetterberg

Babock put his Red Wings hat on for a moment in reaching out to the injured Zetterberg on Friday.

"I spoke or texted with Z yesterday," said Babcock. "You know obviously he's disappointed. I mean what an opportunity to be captain at the Olympic Games and represent your country. As good a player as he is, he's a better man and a better leader. So they're going to miss him.

"In saying that, Z has had back troubles over a number of years, and he manages it very, very well. At this point, it became where he couldn't manage it. He's intelligent about that, he's got a long career in front of him. So he'll get back [to Detroit], get looked after and get back to playing hockey -- what he loves to do as fast as he can."

Day off for Canada

Babcock decided to give the players Saturday off, feeling they needed a break as much mentally as physically.

"The big part of it is the NHL schedule," he said. "You can just imagine the meetings these guys have had with their own teams preparing for their own games coming in. I just know with my own team, it seemed like we played every single day. It was exhausting for that.

"Then you come over here and you jam them full of information, you practice them too hard, really. We practiced 56 minutes the day before our first game. That would never happen in the NHL -- well, at least not if I was running the team. The other thing is, everyone needs to breathe. I saw Duncan Keith at breakfast, he told me these are late games.

"We've tried to turn 9 p.m. into 7 p.m. By the time we get up and what we're done with the day, it's 2:30 in the morning and you're sitting around every night. And then body-clockwise, Duncan said you had to race over to get a McDonald's Egg McMuffin before they shut down breakfast, so you have to get there early enough. So there's priorities like that."

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