Sochi venues getting high praise

A view of the Rosa Khutor Mountain Resort, host to some of the 2014 alpine skiing events. Fabrice Cofrini/AFP/Getty Images

Have to admit that when the 2014 Olympic Games were awarded to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, we were more than a little skeptical. With little infrastructure in place, the project would take an immense amount of building. And this was Russia, after all, a country still seen by many in the West as being not so far removed from the Wild West. Could they get their act together? Would it be chaos?

In talking to those who’ve done preliminary site inspections from Canada and the United States, there is a consensus that the 2014 Games are shaping up to be spectacular.

Brian Burke, the GM of the U.S. men’s hockey team that was defeated in overtime in the gold-medal game in Vancouver in 2010, was in Sochi last spring and told ESPN.com he thinks the 2014 Winter Games could be “the best ever.” Other officials from Canada and the U.S. agree.

“It’s going to be fantastic,” added the head of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, who said any historic concerns about traveling in Russia for international events have been put to bed.

Nicholson noted that at a recent international event in Yaroslavl for junior players, the Russian hosts “treated us as good as we’ve been treated anywhere in the world.”

North Americans who have visited the Olympic sites and will continue to do so periodically leading up to the event have raved about the rate at which construction is being completed and the setup of the competition sites.

Although they’re known as the Sochi Games, the athletes’ village and most of the sport venues, at least for the non-mountain sports, will be in the nearby town of Adler. A high-speed rail link is being built that will carry fans and journalists to the site and, once an initial security area is cleared, Burke said pretty much all the venues are within a walk, including where the medal ceremonies will be held.

Within this athletic location will be two brand-new ice rinks where the men’s and women’s tournaments will take place. One will have a capacity of 12,000 and the other will accommodate 7,000 fans.

Speaking of the Olympics, among our favorite pre-Olympic events are the orientation camps that many of the hockey nations take part in during the summer before the Olympic tournament.

The gatherings help to set the stage for the Olympics with hopefuls strutting their stuff before coaches and managers, usually a few weeks before the start of NHL training camps. In Calgary four years ago, the Saddledome, home of the NHL's Flames, was sold out for a scrimmage. A scrimmage.

Look for the Canadian event to stay in Calgary but move to a new winter sport training facility that opened last November and includes four ice pads and the Hockey Canada offices.

Four years ago, the American team met for a couple of days of workouts and team-bonding exercises in suburban Chicago. Next summer, the camp will be on the move and we’re guessing that the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., the practice facility of the Washington Capitals, may get the nod after U.S. officials checked it out some months ago.

The facility has two ice pads and, because it’s the Caps’ everyday practice facility, there are top-notch facilities like a weight room to which the American players would have access. The U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) has used the facility for camps the past two summers prior to flying overseas for tournaments.

Having the training camp in the Washington area would also be a nod to a strong U.S. hockey market and offer Caps GM George McPhee, born in Canada but a U.S. citizen, a chance to get involved in the Olympic process.