U.S. Hockey Players Trash Room at Village
By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 1998; Page D1
NAGANO, Feb. 20 (Friday) An unknown number of players on the U.S. men's hockey team caused about $1,000 worth of damage to their rooms at the Olympic athlete's village early Thursday morning, about 10 hours after they were eliminated from the Olympic tournament.
Chairs were broken, and two apartments were damaged by activated fire extinguishers. One fire extinguisher was tossed from the fifth floor into the common area, USA Chief of Mission Paul George said. The incident occurred at about 4 a.m. (2 p.m. Wednesday EST).
"This is an unfortunate incident and one that we deeply regret," said David Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "We believe only a handful of individuals were involved. Nevertheless, we will work with the NHL and the NHL Players Association in an effort to determine exactly who was responsible. The actions of a few should not be constructed as representative of an entire team."
The players involved have not yet been identified, although the USOC, USA Hockey, the NHL and the Nagano Organizing Committee are investigating the incident. USOC officials will meet with NAOC officials today to arrange payment for repairs. Both the NHL and USA Hockey have offered to cover the cost of the damages, USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz said.
Team USA General Manager Lou Lamoriello told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger that the players "should be ashamed of themselves."
"I'm upset. I'm appalled to hear something like that," he said. "I don't condone it. I can't accept it. . . . There is no reason to do anything like that. If they were disappointed, think of all the fans who were disappointed."
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Michelle Verdier said this morning that the incident would not result in the banning of any players from future Olympic participation. This is the first Olympics to involve players from the NHL, which is in the midst of a two-week break from its season.
All 23 members of the U.S. team were NHL players, creating high expectations that went unfulfilled. The Americans went 1-4 in the tournament and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic, which features 12 NHL players. Most of the U.S. team has left the village, returning in separate planes to their home cities.
The NHL has not said whether it would suspend or fine players found responsible for the incident at the village, although senior vice president Brian Burke and NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow inspected the damage. Dennis Cunningham, the NHL's vice president of security, will be working with the organizations involved to determine which players were responsible.
"Obviously, such conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The NHL and USA Hockey have issued formal apologies to the USOC and NAOC. The USOC also expressed its regrets.
"Not only are we sorry that this happened for many reasons, but I am particularly unhappy that this incident disturbed other U.S. athletes who were sleeping and preparing for their events on Thursday," USOC President Bill Hybl said.
USOC spokesman Mike Moran said the organization regarded the incident as "the individual activity of veteran, mature athletes. The USOC is not a babysitter."
Some U.S. players have been keeping late hours while in Nagano, and were spotted in local bars until the early morning hours several times in the last week. Responding on Sunday to criticism that the team was not taking the Games seriously enough, U.S. Coach Ron Wilson noted that "they're men; I'm not going to throw a curfew at these guys. They're the best athletes we have. They know how to take care of themselves."
Forward Brett Hull, one the players spotted out at a bar the night of the incident, argued earlier in the day that the players' party image was overblown. He added that players might have performed better if they had gone out more often.
"That more than anything was a downfall for us; it was almost stifling," he said. "Maybe if we did something to relax a little more, we would have done better."
Most players said they enjoyed staying in the athletes' village, where four to seven players lived in small two- to four-bedroom apartments. Each unit had a common room with a television and a table.
This is not the first time the USOC has been embarrassed by the behavior of its athletes. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, two U.S. swimmers acknowledged taking an $800 plaster mask from a local hotel. They were kicked off the swim team and confined to the Olympic village before being allowed to return to the United States.
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