All things considered, Backstrom deserved better

All things considered, Backstrom deserved better
February 26, 2014, 6:00 am
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Backstrom adjusts after Olympic disappointment

Nicklas Backstrom has worked too hard and has accomplished too much in his hockey career to be subjected to answering the kind of questions he faced on Tuesday.

The Swedish media was in full force at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, asking Backstrom about how often he took allergy medication during the Olympics [one per day for those counting] and asking Adam Oates why there is a difference between the medication allowed under NHL rules and IOC rules [“You know what, ma’am? That’s out of my league,” Oates replied.]

In truth, the Capitals’ 26-year-old center deserved a chance to play in Sweden’s gold medal game against Canada on Sunday, an opportunity he was denied when he failed an IOC drug test because of the Pseudoephedrine levels contained in Zyrtec-D, an allergy medication Backstrom has been taking for seven years.

But instead of facing off against Sidney Crosby with a chance to win a gold medal, Backstrom is forced to deal with the most humiliating set of circumstances of his career. And he has no silver medal to show for it.

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“I think it’s bull [expletive deleted],” said Capitals forward Marty Erat, who said he was tested four or five times while playing for the Czech Republic during the Olympics. “It’s probably one of the highlights of his career and to not play in a game like that because of something like Zyrtec.

“Everybody takes Zyrtec; it’s a medication for allergies, but I don’t think it helps you at all. It’s just ridiculous that it can happen at a big tournament like this, at the Olympics, just before the finals when everybody is ready to go and you just want to enjoy the sport. It just happened because of some stupidity and it’s just unbelievable that this can happen in the Olympics.”

“I was devastated,” said Capitals defenseman John Carlson, the Caps’ lone representative for Team USA. “He’s a very good friend of mine. It was certainly a bad situation and I feel terrible for him.

“Obviously, you dream about playing in that game. I know what it’s like to come up short, so I can only imagine the feeling for him is probably 10 times worse.”

In the immediate aftermath of Backstrom’s banning, Sweden’s team doctor, Bjorn Waldeback, took full responsibility for recommending Backstrom take Zyrtec before Sweden’s quarterfinal victory over Slovenia, saying, “The fault is entirely mine." Backstrom was tested immediately after that game, which was played at noon, making his levels of Pseudoephedrine higher than if he had taken the medication the morning of a night game.

Oates said it was “borderline unfair” for the IOC to ban a player for taking medication that is permitted under NHL guidelines.

“At the end of the day it’s frustrating because it probably could be avoided,” Oates said. “The normal amateur athlete that trains for four years for their event, they’re used to these medicines. They’re on the clock all the time. Hockey players, they’re not. It’s a two-week window for us. We’re not as regimented.”

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 Oates said he doesn’t understand how the IOC can determine how a time-release medication impacts a 90-pound figure skater differently than a 280-pound bobsledder.

 “Everybody’s body processes medicine differently,” he said.

Now, the challenge ahead of Backstrom and the Capitals is finding a way to move past Zyrtec-gate and zero in on the final 23 games of the regular season, beginning Thursday night in Florida.

“Getting through this is a big one,” Oates said of the media attention placed on Backstrom. “It’s great we’re getting over with it as fast as possible. Let the guys move on.”