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Tim Arsenault: International incidentals on the Olympic ice

In this image from Russian media taken from Twitter, Vladimir Putin speaks with hockey players from Russia, dressed in Red Machine colours.
In this image from Russian media taken from Twitter, Vladimir Putin speaks with hockey players from Russia, dressed in Red Machine colours. - Submitted

Women’s hockey got off to a notable start during the opening weekend at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, with two takeaways among the breakaways.

On Sunday, Team Canada looked strong as it began the quest for a fifth consecutive gold medal with a decisive victory over OAR. Yes, those old archrivals OAR — in this case, Olympic Athletes From Russia, not the mellow American rock band.

As marquee events go, Canada versus OAR branding doesn't present a very tempting marquee. Well, whose fault is that?

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As a penalty for having been caught perpetrating a massive doping scandal in the amateur sports world, Russia was sort of, kind of, not really barred from participating at the Games in South Korea. While particular individuals were blocked from competition, athletes deemed clean are allowed to participate as something of a No Frills squad.

Spectators would know the OAR team members are from Russia, but the country’s flag and anthem would be replaced by the Olympic rings.

Tim Arsenault
Tim Arsenault

Well, Sunday’s game provided a good long look at how this will play out in practical terms. The red and white hockey sweaters declaring the wearer an Olympic Athlete From Russia are actually fetching enough that some fans might consider getting one just to wear ironically. As labels go, they’re not exactly yellow and black cans of soup on a shelf of brand names.

Whatever. Right now, the Russian women look like they’re going to be up the Volga without a paddle against elite competition.

But the pressure on Team OAR is nothing compared with what the Korean women have been tasked with. Just world peace. No biggie.

The unique joint squad, which includes a handful of players from North Korea, took to the ice Saturday in front of a crowd that included South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Korea lost 8-0 to Switzerland, despite the presence of more than 100 highly incentivized cheerleaders from the North.

On the bright side, 44 of the Swiss shots did not find the net. On the other hand, none of Korea’s eight shots did either.

South Korea’s president went with an optimistic but appropriately chilly metaphor for the team’s mission.

“The female ice hockey players from the two Koreas are now holding a small snowball in their hands,” said Moon, who was reportedly not mistranslated.

“Now, if we put our hearts and minds together, it will continue to grow larger and larger and turn into a snowman of peace.”

So what if some experts think Korean unity is less likely than the Beatles getting back together. Winter’s coming.

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