For Russia, no Olympic medal more important than men's hockey

USA forward Phil Kessel reacts as Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovski can't stop a goal by USA defenseman Cam Fowler during the second period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
AP Photo

SOCHI, Russia -- There are 98 medal events at the Olympic Games -- 98 chances to win gold. But for the host country, none is more important than men's hockey.

It's the old Soviet flag, and it looks like the old days in the music video the Russian hockey team released for these games: stirring music and scenes from great victories from long ago, with Russia's current hockey heroes singing the chorus.

But the new days haven't been like the old days.

US Joe Pavelski scores past Russia's goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovski during the Men's Ice Hockey Group A match USA vs Russia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 15, 2014. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
The new days have been a bit rough. Having lost to the U.S. on Saturday, the Russians only squeaked by Slovakia on Sunday and now have to play a do-or-die game to stay in the tournament. Losing on home ice is an unthinkable prospect.

It's not what the hockey-loving fans of Russia expected. It's not what the hockey-loving president of Russia expected. It's not what was expected by the elite group of former Russian players led by Vyacheslav Fetisov, the first Soviet player to move to the NHL and win Stanley Cups. He held that old trophy aloft again Monday in Sochi, where it's making a goodwill visit. Complete coverage of the2014 Winter Olympics

Team USA beats Russia in hockey
 Asked whether this year's team is under more pressure than any Olympic team has faced, Fetisov says there was "pretty big pressure when you played with the Soviet Union."

Fetisov was part of the Soviet team that had to regain the gold after the disaster of their loss to the U.S. in Lake Placid in 1980. That was pressure. But it may be nothing compared to Sochi.

Asked if a loss in Sochi would be as big as the loss in Lake Placid, Fetisov says, "Could be."

But there's no sympathy for the home boys here from competitors like U.S. defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who, when asked whether he empathized with the Russians, replied, "Uh, not really."

In Sochi, these games will not be remembered for their enormous cost or the security risk. They'll be remembered for whether the Russians won gold in hockey.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.