Angry US Hockey Players Trash RoomsALAN ROBINSON , Associated Press
Feb. 20, 1998 4:53 AM ET
NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ First they crashed, then they trashed.
U.S. hockey officials were in damage-control mode today _ apparently a day too late _ after some American NHL players vented anger over an embarrassing Olympics by trashing their Olympic Village rooms.
Three apartments in a complex shared by as many as 20 players were vandalized. Ten chairs were broken and three fire extinguishers were emptied, and six of the chairs and a fire extinguisher were thrown from a fifth-floor apartment to a courtyard below. No injuries were reported.
Damage was estimated at $3,000, and both USA Hockey and the NHL quickly volunteered to make restitution. Nagano Olympic organizers expressed disappointment with the players' behavior and, by Japanese standards, were unusually stern with their criticism.
There were apologies all around _ from the NHL, USA Hockey and the NHL Players Association. But that didn't seem to appease the Japanese hosts.
Asked if he was happy with the apologies, Ko Yamaguchi, a spokesman for the Nagano Olympic organizing committee, replied: ``I'm not happy. It's a very sad incident. It was a very dangerous incident, not in line with the Olympic spirit.''
``It's quite regrettable that these things happen,'' Yamaguchi said. ``But they should not happen. The Olympic Village should be respected. It's an important area for Olympic athletes to have good circumstances, especially at 2:30 in the morning.''
Yamaguchi listed the damage to the three apartments as: a dented door; scratched and dented walls; damaged floors and beds; the three fire extinguishers; and the 10 broken chairs.
The room trashing came hours after a 4-1 elimination loss Wednesday to the Czech Republic prevented a USA team loaded with six 50-goal scorers and 17 NHL stars from reaching the Olympic semifinals.
``I feel sad for them (because) that's how they will be remembered,'' Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice president from the United States, said of the players' behavior. ``Athletes should be remembered as Olympians who competed with honor and had some dignity.''
USA forward Doug Weight suggested the incident was overblown, telling the Miami Herald that some players had ``a few beers'' after the Czech game. He denied there was any vandalism during an incident that occurred between 2:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. Thursday (12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. EST Wednesday), a few hours after the Czech loss.
``We got back to the village real late, and we probably were too loud,'' Weight said. ``Some guys were wrestling and stuff, but that's it. I know nothing about broken windows or anything like that.
``As for the broken chairs, we're big guys and the chairs aren't real strong and some of them had been broken since we got here just from sitting on them to play cards. We weren't throwing furniture,'' he said.
Although some players stayed with their families in Nagano hotels, most were in the village, making it difficult to determine immediately who was responsible. The Nagano organizers wouldn't identify who was assigned to the rooms.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Vice President Brian Burke and players union head Bob Goodenow viewed the rooms, and USOC officials met with Nagano organizers to assess the damage. Bettman said the league's security chief would work with USA Hockey on the investigation.
``Obviously such conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,'' Bettman said. But it is unclear if the NHL can discipline any players involved, since they were not representing their NHL teams.
Team USA general manager Lou Lamoriello told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger that the players, whoever they were, ``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.''
David Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said there was no connection between the trashed rooms and an accident involving Canadian bobsledder Matt Hindle, who was struck and slightly injured earlier Wednesday evening by what was described as ``pieces of glass'' that fell from the sixth floor of the Olympic Village tower.
Other U.S. Olympians, most of whom earn only a fraction of what hockey players make, regret the players' behavior.
``It's embarrassing because most people leave the Olympic Village with no gold medal. There's no million-dollar contract for them,'' luger Erin Warren said. ``It was very disappointing. ... I'm disgusted by it.''
Although the actual damage seemed relatively minor and no players will face criminal charges unless Nagano Olympic organizers request them, the incident is another blemish on the American team's image.
Some players seemed to take a casual attitude about the much-hyped Olympic tournament from the start, treating it as a mid-season vacation from the rigorous NHL schedule rather than a potential breakthrough for their sport.
Players were spotted several times partying late into the night, and USA Coach Ron Wilson canceled a practice the day before a loss to Canada.
``We'll be the laughingstock of the NHL for a couple of weeks,'' USA assistant captain Keith Tkachuk said after the Czech loss.
U.S. Olympic officials seemed more irritated than irate about the lack of judgment by highly paid athletes competing in a country where good manners are paramount and vandalism is rare.
``The USOC is not embarrassed,'' USOC spokesman Mike Moran said. ``I don't know why we would be embarrassed. These are the individual activities of veteran, mature athletes. ... We are not babysitters for professional athletes.''
Previously, the USOC was pleasantly surprised with the mostly millionaire players' decision to stay in the Olympic Village, rather than pricey hotel rooms, just like the amateurs who largely make up the American team. By contrast, the U.S. basketball dream team, loaded with NBA stars, holed up in hotel suites during the Atlanta Games.
The International Olympic Committee wants to make the Olympics into the premier event in all of its sports, and this was the first time the NHL allowed its players to participate. These games were seen as a trial run for future Olympic involvement by the NHL.
But Rene Fasel, president of the governing International Ice Hockey Federation, said the U.S. incident would have no affect at all on any future NHL involvement in the Olympics.
``It is not acceptable what they did, but sometimes it is not always avoidable,'' he said. ``I'm not trying to excuse their behavior, but sometimes sports people will not always be sportsmen.''