As I was watching the gold-medal game between America's Hat and the Massage Capital of the World, I stared at the television in confusion. I could not accept that the United States did not medal. Or that Russia won the total medal count. I was blinded by the uniforms; was this the Olympic Final or the Helen Keller Championship for the Visually Impaired? It looked like the North Americans were too fat for regular jerseys so they had to sew together giant Canadian flags and the Swedes were so afraid we would forget they were playing that they dressed as tiny yellow suns of eye horror. I felt guilty, as if I was to partially blame for this travesty, since our love affair was clearly too distracting for T.J. after the Miracle on Ice 2.0. I was bored. I stared at my fantasy roster, wondering who to drop so I can activate Steven Stamkos and Johan Franzen, both of whom are expected back this week. I tried to figure out who I was rooting for: Team Bieber/Ford or Swedish Fish. Canada scored first. They won 3-0 on goals by Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, and Chris Kunitz. I decided I hated everyone. Bitter, Party of One, your table is ready.
Not Al Michaels kept referring to the missing Nicklas Backstrom, a late scratch who was replaced by Jimmie Ericsson before the game for undisclosed reasons. With Henrik Zetterbeg, Henrik Sedin, and Franzen already out for the Swedes, it was a big loss. Before the game, Backstrom was asked about the pressure he felt as team leader; he told NHL.com, "I always put pressure on myself and have high expectations of myself in a tournament like this or when you go into a new NHL season. That's a similar situation . . . Obviously we have a lot of ice time and the coaching staff believes in us, so it is something we have to take care of." How, exactly, did Backstrom plan to "take care of" the game, considering he was absent from it? Where was he? Did he have a migraine, as rumors implied? Or was it something more sinister? Then the other shoe dropped: Backstrom had failed a drug test and had been suspended from the game for a banned substance! TWIST.
I love a good mystery, especially one that morphs into an international conspiracy. It was seemingly possible that Niklas Backstom was the Barry Bonds of hockey. I mean, those assist totals are not normal, let's be serious. 55 assists in 2007-2008, 66 in 2008-2009, 68 in 2009-2010, 47 in 2010-2011, 30 (in 42 games) in 2011-2012, 40 in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, and already 45 this season. His assists steadily increased until he hit a wall in 2010. Since then, like a sad but impressive Manny Ramirez of yesteryear, he seemingly found the magic again, while we have unknowingly been waiting for him to take a timeout and pee in the penalty box, or fabricate a knee injury, or roll around on the ice after tripping over the puck. Just Nicky being Nicky. Another day in the dark and dirty locker rooms of the NHL.
So I called my clients and scanned the internet for news, waiting to hear how Backstrom was shooting PEDs and rubbing the little hockey stick in his pants with Icy Hot, like Roger Clemens used to do. I looked for reports of butt abscesses and gossip about how he almost stabbed Sidney Crosby with a broken hockey stick. Backstrom would not be the first player to be banned from Sochi; Vitalijis Pavlovs of Latvia tested positive for a banned stimulant called methylhexaneamine and was disqualified from the Olympic tournament yesterday. Finally, the truth was revealed: Backstrom was suspended for...an allergy medication!!!!!!!!!!!111111one. Wait, what the....? An allergy medication? Like Dayquil or a hardcore dose of Claratin? He missed the Olympic championship for a stuffy nose?
Apparently, as information has trickled out, it has only became a deeper mystery. Nicklas Backstrom was told only two hours before the game that he was banned from playing. On the verge of crying, he said he was drug-tested three times leading up to the Olympics and that he was "ready to play probably the biggest game of my career." He has been taking allergy medication with on a daily basis for the last seen years, including during the 2010 Olympic games, with team doctor approval. His most recent test was Wednesday, February 19th, days before he played in Sweden's semi-final win over Finland on Friday - yet he was still only informed about the failed drug test today. In particular, Backstrom's A sample tested for 190mg of pseudoephedrine, which is legal up to 150mg. His B sample will now be tested to determine if he is allowed to keep his silver medal.
The International Ice Hockey Federation did nothing to quell questions, simply asserting that the test results took forever because "we have a lot of tests going on." The NHL, on the other hand, released a statement, adding to the seeming absurdity of Backstrom's Olympic ban:
We understand that Nicklas Backstrom tested positive for a substance banned ‘in competition' by the International Olympic Committee. It is our further understanding that the positive test was the result of a common allergy medication taken by the player knowingly, with the approval of the team doctor and without the intention of gaining an illegal or improper performance-enhancing benefit. In addition, the specific substance that resulted in the positive test is not currently on the League's Prohibited Substances List. Subject to confirmation of the facts as we understand them, and given the fact that the substance is neither prohibited in the NHL nor was used in an improper manner here, we do not anticipate there being any consequences relative to Nicklas' eligibility to participate in games for the Washington Capitals.
Swedish coach Par Marts was understandably heated. He directly accused the International Olympic Committee of shadiness, saying that he thinks the "IOC has made things up here" and "it sucks." He kept ranting. He told a Swedish news outlet that he was "furious that it can happen in this damned way. It is inconceivable that it can happen. We're all angry that we weren't able to compete with a full team." Marts added that the Backstrom Ban was like "kindergarten" and "affected us" because they are "only human being sitting in there." Tommy Boustedt, the Swede's general manager, also stated that, "Our opinion is that IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Swedish history." The NHL Players Association effectively agreed, with Mathieu Schneider commenting that "There's definitely a problem with the process. The process is flawed. The damage was already done for Nicklas." So far, the IOC has not commented other than to say the investigation is ongoing.
Nicklas Backstrom: severe allergy victim or Alexander Rodriguez of Sochi? Only time will tell.