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Terrorism threats don’t deter Olympic-bound Blackhawks

An ambulance leaves site an explosiafter bomb blast tore through trolley bus Volgograd RussiDecember. Volgograd is some 600 miles northeast

An ambulance leaves the site of an explosion after a bomb blast tore through a trolley bus in Volgograd, Russia, in December. Volgograd is some 600 miles northeast of Sochi, | AP

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Updated: February 26, 2014 6:15AM



Niklas Hjalmarsson knows there are security concerns in Sochi for the Olympics. He knows there have been deadly bombings in Volgograd, some 600 miles northeast of Sochi, and that the militant group taking credit has threatened a “surprise” for Sochi.

But when Hjalmarsson, his dad and his brother — all of whom are going to Russia next month — talk about the Olympics, they don’t focus on the concerns surrounding the Games, but rather the excitement.

“I haven’t really been reading into that as much as some other guys, maybe,” Hjalmarsson said. “But, obviously, you’re aware of it. I’m trusting the security they’re going to have there, and I think there’s no doubts for me, personally, going there. If people stop going because of threats like that, I think the terrorists are going to win.”

But for many fans and athletes, fear has overtaken anticipation as the Games draw near. The United States even plans to have two warships in the Black Sea at the ready to evacuate American officials and athletes in the event of a terrorist attack. And the NHL will have extra security for its players in Russia.

Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith told reporters this week “it’s not worth it” to take his family with him to Sochi, and players around the league have echoed the sentiment.

But most players are remaining cautiously optimistic, including the 10 Blackhawks making the trip.

“Obviously, we know what happened, right?” Marian Hossa, who’ll play for Slovakia, said of the bombings. “But maybe the awareness will be even higher because of that, and the security’s going to be even tighter, from what I heard. I’m sure they’re going to make sure everything’s going to be secured really well.”

Hossa’s family is not going to Sochi, but he said that’s because it’s too difficult logistically with his two young daughters, one of them a 2-month-old. That’s the same reason Patrick Sharp is going solo.

Patrick Kane, meanwhile, is bringing his mother, one of his sisters and his girlfriend.

“They understand what’s going on,” Kane said. “It’s their choice to go over there, and they wanted to. I’ll take the support, for sure.”

Kane and Hossa said their coaches had sent out emails explaining what to expect in Sochi, and that lengthy security measures for fans — friends and family included — were mentioned. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Jan. 17 that officials “will try to make sure that the security measures aren’t too intrusive or visible, and that they won’t put pressure on the athletes, guests and journalists.”

With bombings in the region, blatant threats on the Games and a massive hunt on for so-called “Black Widows” who might be looking to avenge the deaths of their husbands or other family members, the players — just like the 200,000-plus other expected visitors to Sochi — can only hope those security measures are effective.

As Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said, he’s going to worry about hockey and let those in charge of security worry about security.

“You hear it,” Kane said of the threats. “You’re going to hear different things and read different articles. To be honest with you, if I’m worried about that, my head’s in the wrong area. I have to worry about playing the game and doing as well as I can for my country. You’re going to be scared at first and think a little bit about it. And you hope everything gets figured out.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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