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Lightning's Olympians weigh security risks

Richard Panik’s parents will not attend the Olympics to see him play for Slovakia.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Richard Panik’s parents will not attend the Olympics to see him play for Slovakia.

Richard Panik was to bring his parents to Sochi, Russia, next month so they could watch him play for Slovakia in the Olympics. But the recent terrorist activity in southern Russia prompted a change of plan.

"My dad was worried about it, so they decided not to come," said Panik, a right wing the Lightning demoted to AHL Syracuse last week.

Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas, who will play for the Czech Republic, also is being cautious. His father will attend the start of the Games, but his mother and girlfriend will come later, only if Gudas is confident in the security situation.

Security at the Games has been a hot-button issue for all athletes since suicide bombers in December killed 34 people at a train station in nearby Volgograd. There also have been recent threats to attack the Games, though Russian officials called them a hoax.

"Oh, yeah, I'm worried," said Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, who will play for the Czech Republic and is planning to bring his girlfriend. "You never know what's going to happen, but I don't want to think about bad things."

"It's a concern," said Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, executive director of Team Canada. "We certainly have asked a lot of questions. Our understanding is the Russian government, the Russian Olympic committee, is doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible. But there's no question it is a concern for everyone."

Yzerman said Canada has briefed its athletes on all challenges they will face at the Games, including things as simple as transportation, and to weigh all factors before bringing family and friends. Opening ceremonies are Feb. 7. The hockey tournament begins Feb. 12.

Canada's Globe and Mail reported the NHL and players association will reconsider their participation if terrorists attack Sochi before the Games. If there is a significant attack during the Games, Canada's men's hockey team will leave, the newspaper said.

Lightning center Valtteri Filppula, who will play for Finland, said he is keeping up with news from southern Russia, where insurgents have long battled to establish an Islamist state. For now, Filppula said, his parents, girlfriend and brother still are planning to attend.

"It's tough," he said. "You don't want anyone to get hurt or anything to happen. At the same time, it's the Olympics. It's a cool event, and I want people close to me to be part of it."

"I'm sure the people at the Olympic committee and (players association) will evaluate it," said Lightning defenseman Sami Salo, who also will play for Finland. "If the risks are too high, I'm sure they will let us know."

Lightning's Olympians weigh security risks 01/25/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 25, 2014 8:36pm]
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