Peter Bondra hasn’t made up his mind yet whether he will join his countrymen in Salt Lake City for the meaningless concluding games of the hockey qualifying tournament in the Salt Lake Winter Games, but he knows he won’t be there for the medal round that starts Friday.
“It’s a disaster,” the Washington Capitals wing said yesterday about heavily favored Slovakia being eliminated from medal competition. “It’s really a big disappointment for our country.”
Several other Caps players will depart today for the Games, although goalie Olie Kolzig hasn’t decided whether he will go to root on Germany if it makes the medal round, as now seems a good bet.
Kolzig was expected to be the starting goalie for the Germans, but he sustained a mild knee strain in the second period of Friday night’s game against Nashville and will be out at least another week to 10 days. Where Germany will be at that point in the competition is not known, but it does not appear Kolzig will be ready in time to play.
“Nothing problematic” was found during an MRI examination of Kolzig’s knee yesterday, a Caps source said. He also strongly denied a report that the goalie’s injury was far more serious than the team was reporting and that the Caps had contacted Montreal about the availability of veteran Jeff Hackett.
“An absolute fabrication,” the source said, insisting Kolzig would be ready and fully recovered when play resumed Feb. 26.
Germany resumes play tonight against Latvia and has been doing pretty well without the former Vezina Trophy winner. The Germans have been getting excellent goaltending from Mark Selinger, whom the Caps drafted 251st overall in 1993. Two other former Caps, Jan Benda and Stefan Ustorf, also are playing for Germany.
Meanwhile, Bondra and dozens of other foreign nationals have been prevented by team or league rules from taking part in the qualifying tournament. Six countries had qualified in advance, but eight others were playing for two available spots.
“It was obvious something was missing [because of] the way it was set up,” Bondra said of Slovakia’s play and the format. “I want to play, and I have no problem with qualifying; just let us have a full squad. Have the tournament sometime in the summer when everybody is available and we’ll have a better chance.
“It’s kind of tough, tough on the players, tough on the country. I’m disappointed, I could be in the Olympics, but now I’m not. Instead, I’ll be home, I guess. I have to find someplace [to] vacation with my family.”
Bondra said he talked to his brother back in Slovakia and was told most of the country was up in the middle of the night watching the game against Latvia, which finished in a 6-6 tie. Slovakia had to win Sunday night to stay alive.
“You feel something is not right when you don’t have a full squad,” Bondra said, “but I don’t have anybody to blame. Now we can only blame ourselves because we didn’t make it.”
Other members of the Caps family leaving today for Salt Lake are players Jaromir Jagr, Czech Republic; Ulf Dahlen, Sweden; Dmitri Khristich, Ukraine; Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Nikolishin, Russia, and Doug Shearer, equipment manager for the U.S. team.