Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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I’m officially back on the hockey beat. Unfortunately, countries are at three different venues today and U.S. and Canada don’t practice and aren’t available until tonight, so it’ll be a little bit of a scramble today.
Good evening from the Whistler media center, where I have a half-hour before I jump on the 10 p.m. bus back to Vancouver media center. Would have made the 9 p.m. bus if not for the bus situation over at the Whistler Sliding Centre, but I digress.
Spent the day up at Blackcomb Mountain, which is spectacular. Very sad being at the Sliding Centre, especially standing next to the spot where Nodar Kumaritashvili lost his life. Flowers lay there now, and if front of that now-padded steel pole was a 12-foot wooden wall over the track to try to keep lugers on there.
You can read my story tomorrow, but the International Luge Federation investigated the accident and concluded that it was driver error, not track safety that cost the Georgian luger his all-too short life. Still, they raised the wall, shaved the ice to keep lugers from drifting high at the 16th turn, padded the poles and shortened the track, having lugers pull the handles off the women's ramp instead of the men's.
It made for a completely different slide -- a much slower one, which affected lugers like White Bear Lake's Tony Benshoof, whom I wrote a feature on in Saturday's paper. He's currently in seventh place, less than a second off the lead, heading into Sunday's 3 p.m. CT third head and 5 p.m. CT fourth heat.
Remember, Benshoof felt lugers would hit 100 mph on the old track. Tonight, only four lugers even hit 90, and none were Benshoof.
Doesn't it sound like I know what I'm talking about?
I'll tell ya, it was a gorgeous night out there. I've been in a lot of snow living in Minnesota and traveling to Denver and Western Canada all the time, but tonight was amazing. With pitch blackness in the distance and the stadium lights, the look of the snow was pretty sensational. Kind of therapeutic. Of course, I say this before tomorrow's bronchitis hits.
Benshoof was in good spirits and seemed convinced that after a little video analysis tonight, he can make up time and become the first American ever to medal in men's singles luge. Easier said than done, though.
I'll be back up here Sunday to document what is likely his last two Olympic runs ever. Then, starting Monday, I hit the hockey beat. I hope I can remember the verbiage.
Good morning back in the Twin Cities.
I am sitting in the right bulkhead seat of a giant charter bus in the pitch blackness of 5 a.m. heading up to Whistler. In the left bulkhead is Star Tribune photojournalist extraordinaire Brian Peterson. Behind us on this 54-seat, 45-foot bus is nobody!!!
Brian and I have the bus to ourselves as we wanted to get a head start up to Whistler, which meant a 3:15 a.m. wakeup call to get to downtown Vancouver from our Richmond hotels. Driving is Ian from England. He currently lives in Prince George, British Columbia. Not only is he driving the bus, but he's giving us a tour. In a few minutes, we'll be driving along an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. "If you go left, next stop Japan. Unless you're a really bad sailor, you might actually hit Hawaii," says Ian.
He says in a few minutes we'd normally be seeing everything from submarines to the original "Love Boat," which is now an accomodation for the Olympic working crew in Whistler, Ian says. He says the boat was just brought in for the Olympics. But unfortunately it's black out right now, so no dice.
Brian and I will be on this bus for the next 2 1/2 hours as we head up to watch Lindsey Vonn at least attempt her first training run on a bum leg. As you can see in the paper/Olympics page of startribune.com, Vonn injured her lower leg Feb. 3 in Austria. I was also on the swimsuit edition beat yesterday, which is a slight upgrade on covering hockey pucks for a living.
Brian and I are heading to the Whistler media center. Then, we'll get on another bus for 15 minutes to get to the downhill ski slopes. Then, Brian and I will hop on a Gondola to take us to the bottom of the mountain -- the finish line -- where there will be a media sub station for writing and filing photos, plus the area to get the athletes.
I'll be making this to and from 5-6-hour round-trip trek three or four times in the next three or four days. Saturday and Sunday, I plan on coming up to Whistler again to cover White Bear Lake luger Tony Benshoof's runs in what is "very, very likely to be my last Olympics." Benshoof? Great, great interview. Had the pleasure of chatting with him for a half-hour yesterday and I'll be writing a profile on him for Saturday's paper.
I also plan on coming back one of these days to take a peak-to-peak Gondola ride from mountain to mountain apparently. Supposed to be breathtaking.
Rachel Blount and Jim Souhan will be working in Vancouver today as we at the Star Tribune quadruple team Olympic coverage. This is obviously a blast for me. Rachel and Jim are Olympic veterans, but me, I cover the NHL. I'm not used to muscling reporters out of the way to dig deep into a scrum to get an athlete in a mix zone.
Me? I just have to outmuscle Kevin Falness and his "radio voice" once in awhile.
What else? You should have seen Jim Souhan last night sandwiched against a door of a jam-packed train for 20 minutes. Priceless. I wish I had my camera out at the time. Jim and I picked the exact same time that the Opening Ceremony dress rehearsal was letting out. Fun trip.
It looks like I'll get to take in the Opening Ceremony, which is according to the people I talked to on the train, spectacular. I'm hearing rumors of who might be lighting the flame Friday night, and let's just say I'll be -- and all of Canada will be -- very thrilled. Unless I confirm it though, I'm not going to throw it out.
Speaking of hockey, hint, the U.S. women's team's press conference is this morning. Rachel will have that covered. The U.S. men's team will have two press conferences Sunday and Monday. Grieving GM Brian Burke is expected to address the media for the first time since his youngest son passed away on Monday. Burke won't march in the Opening Ceremony now.
In a cool story, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson is chartering a plane for he and his family and coming to Vancouver to march in the ceremony because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, he'll go back to play in the Kings' weekend game.
All the men's teams will be practicing for the first time Monday, and I'll be there to take them all in.
OK, I'm getting bus sick, so I might to catch a cat nap. I'm on 3 1/2 hours sleep thanks to TSN's spectacular behind-the-scenes look at Steve Yzerman and crew picking the Canadian men's hockey team. It was on last night. Great inside look at the debate on picking players, and it showed the coaches, including Jacques Lemaire, talking systems and things like that. Very fun show to watch. And it was on last night at 11 p.m. and I couldn't turn it off.
That's it. Talk to you later.
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