© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2002
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- The NHL has done a lot to clean up the brawling and mayhem that used to mar the game.
So it was no surprise commissioner Gary Bettman reacted harshly to the claim by Wayne Gretzky there would be payback for Roman Hamrlik's cross-check on Theo Fleury during Monday's game between the Czech Republic and Canada.
"One of the things that's always tough to prove when we administer supplementary discipline is intent," Bettman said. "But when people talk in terms of payback, that makes it relatively easy.
"I don't think our ice is the venue for payback, and if something inappropriate or untoward happens on the ice, it will be dealt with thoroughly, decisively and harshly."
In case you missed it, Hamrlik decked Fleury in front of the net with a shot to the back, though it did not appear to be as harsh as Gretzky said.
Fleury, who ended up on top of Czech goalie Dominik Hasek (and wouldn't let Hasek up) showed no ill effects, nor did he speak out against the hit after the game.
Gretzky, Canada's general manager, said vigilante justice could come when Hamrlik's Islanders and Fleury's Rangers meet March25. Hamrlik said he doesn't understand the fuss.
"I was upset because the guy was holding my stick," he said. "I came to the front of the net and saw Theo standing there. And I just tried to push him away.
"It looked bad because he was smaller than me. But I know Theo. He's a nice guy. I would never do anything to hurt him."
Of Gretzky's threat, Hamrlik said, "If something happens, I'll just have to take care of myself."
NO REGRETS: Gretzky said he does not regret saying there was an "American propaganda" conspiracy to undermine his team.
"Was it emotional? Yeah. Did I speak from the heart? Yeah," Gretzky said. "I felt our team was getting bombarded. I was trying to stand up for our whole club."
Gretzky, who did not cite specifics, said the only uncomfortable moment came when he spoke to his children, who were born in the United States.
"They said, "We're Americans, dad. What does that mean?' " he said.
TRASH TALK: There just seems to be no place for diplomacy. This time, U.S. coach Herb Brooks took shots at Canada.
"Playing that dump-and-chase is their style," he said. "I think the game is a little more profound than that. It seems kind of stupid to me to work hard to get the puck, then say, I'm going to give it back to you, then try to get it back."
Of the impact the United States has had on international hockey, he said: "We've proved over the last 50 years that American hockey is as good as any in the world. If you took a medal count over the last 50 years, Russia has dominated the gold medals, but we've had two, Sweden and the Czechs have one and Canada has -- none."
CHALLENGE MATCH: Before Russia and Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 41 saves to beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in Wednesday's quarterfinal, he was visited by Russia assistant and legendary Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak.
"Before the game, I met with Khabibulin," Tretiak said. "I told him, "Enjoy life.' I asked him, "Who is better, you or Hasek?' He showed me."
LANGUAGE BARRIER: The Mixed Zone is the worst invention in media relations history. It is where the media (on one side of a low fence) tries to talk to players (on the other side of the fence) as they come off the ice.
Reporters push and shove to get close to the players (who speak loud enough so only the person directly in front of them can hear). And questions are asked in English and the native language of the player.
After a short session with a group of Czech reporters after the Czech Republic's 2-1 loss to Sweden, Petr Sykora, who also plays for the Devils, turned his back on reporters from the United States.
"I can't speak English now," he barked. "Are you kidding? I've been speaking Czech for 12 minutes."
OH, CANADA: Russia's legislature voted to reinstate the national anthem of the former Soviet Union, which Russia coach Slava Fetisov does not mind.
"I like the anthem. We have won many championships with it," Fetisov said. "I'm sure many Canadian players can hum the song in their sleep."
Asked about his memories of the Soviet Union's 1980 loss to the United States in Lake Placid, Fetisov, who also had a great career with the Devils and Red Wings, deadpanned, "I can't remember. Too many concussions."
ODDS AND ENDS: A World Cup tournament will be in August and September 2004. It might be the last hockey with NHL players anyone sees for a while because the contract between the league and players association expires right before the 2004-05 season begins. ... Brooks called Stars center Mike Modano "as good a forward as you have in the world today. He's dynamic and can do it all. There are some great forwards in the world, but if you had the first pick in the draft, it would be hard to go by that guy. ... Canada star and tournament MVP Hayley Wickenheiser said she wants to play professionally with a men's team in Europe. ... There were rumors the U.S. women's team stomped on a Canadian flag in the locker room before its gold-medal game with Canada. Players vehemently denied it, and there was speculation Canada coach Daniele Sauvageau used the story as between-periods motivation.
END QUOTE: Asked which of the three other men's semifinal teams (the United States, Canada and Russia) was the best, Belarus goaltender Andrei Mezin could not commit. After listing the strengths of each, he said, "All are so powerful. I will give three gold medals to them."