This story is over 5 years old.


When American Hockey Players Destroyed the Olympic Village in Nagano

The U.S. Olympic hockey team played terribly at the 1998 Winter Games, but somehow they were even worse off the ice.

Sunday marks the 56th anniversary of the time the U.S. national hockey team—its roster populated by a bunch of college kids and laymen—marched toward an unlikely Olympic gold medal victory. Last week, however, marked the 18th anniversary of a much different event in American hockey lore: the time a bunch of drunk, angry, adult babies destroyed their apartments at the Olympic village after getting bounced from the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.


It was the first year the International Olympic Committee permitted NHL players to compete in the games, and so expectations for the quality of play at the tournament were high—especially for an American team whose 1996 World Cup–winning roster remained mostly intact, and which featured twelve of the top fifteen highest-scoring U.S.-born NHL players of all-time. Along with the U.S., the squads from Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, and Sweden were all essentially satellite NHL All-Star teams; these were to be Olympic Games worth watching.

Read More: Nana Fujimoto is Out to Save Everything

Things didn't go as planned, though, at least not for Team USA (or their fans). In four games, they could only muster a single victory (against a Belarusian side that featured just one NHL representative, defenseman Ruslan Salei, who, fascinatingly enough, had been able to join his countrymen earlier than expected—and therefore help them navigate the nettlesome preliminary round—because he was serving a two-game suspension from the NHL for head-butting). The American men succumbed to the eventual gold-medal-winning Czechs, 4-1, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, February 18, but as it turned out, their lackluster play wouldn't be the most embarrassing part of their time in Japan.

The morning after getting bounced by the Czechs, at approximately 4 AM, a delegation of U.S. players—almost certainly liquored up and definitely dissatisfied with their performance—decided it would be a good idea to smash almost a dozen chairs and activate a few fire extinguishers, one of which was reportedly tossed off a balcony into an Olympic village courtyard. Officials discovered the aftermath a few hours later, and initially estimated the property damages at around $1,000—a number that tripled when all was said and done.


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was not impressed. "Obviously, such conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," he said after the incident.

"This is an unfortunate incident and one we deeply regret," said then executive director of USA Hockey Dave Ogrean. "We believe only a handful of individuals were involved. Nevertheless, we will work with the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Player's Association in an effort to determine exactly who is responsible."

Bettman assigned the league's security boss to work with USA Hockey, the NHLPA, and the United States Olympic Committee to "determine which players may have been responsible," but their investigations ultimately failed to uncover any of the guilty party. To this day, no one player from the 1998 team has been named, or held accountable, for what happened the morning of February 19.

The American players had already been dogged by reports of their partying during the Olympics. "Players are going to have fun and do whatever they like to do," Mike Modano told reporters after his team's elimination. "If the players play well, everyone forgets about it. If you lose, people will use that as an opportunity to pick at players."

World beating sniper Brett Hull said that, contrary to reports of him showing off at a nightclub during the Americans' disastrous week, he was in bed by 8 PM eight of the 10 nights he spent in Nagano.


"It was almost ridiculous the amount of time I spent just listening to my CD player and doing crossword puzzles on my bed," Hull told a reporter for the St. Louis Dispatch before he left Nagano. Once reports of the team's vandalism surfaced, this quote was picked up by then-Baltimore Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal was as incredulous as anybody at the thought of Hull the scholar sitting in his room working through the New York Times Sunday crossword while listening to, like, Creed:

Crossword puzzles?
Here's a clue for the clueless:
Seven letters for Olympic embarrassment.
T-E-A-M U-S-A.

As outrage over the hockey team's antics grew, players doubled down, refusing to fess up or to name names.

"I know one thing," Jeremy Roenick, a man known for his monk-like silence, told CNN. "A lot of furniture in there was very cheap furniture. We were sitting around playing cards and chairs would break underneath us."

That claim is dubious. I'm big guy—210 pounds, or about the size of your average professional hockey player—and I can assure you I've never had a chair shatter beneath my ass while sitting around trying to determine whether or not to tell a friend to "Go Fish." Then again, it's always going to be hard to trust a guy who behaves like this:

At least all-time American great Doug Weight showed some emotion in his post-vandalism statements (even if he echoed some of PCP-in-human-form Jeremy Roenick's boneheaded theories about how the chairs broke, and even if he deflected the blame to the media for assuming the worst of his teammates).


"I'm really upset that all this stuff is happening, that people would think we were all hammered and destroying furniture and that we don't care about the Olympics," Weight was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe that week. "That's not true."

"We were really pissed off that we lost the game," he said. "That night after the game, a bunch of us and our wives and families were taken to a karaoke restaurant. We had a great time, singing and drinking a few beers."

(Hull definitely sung three Creed songs.)

Weight continued, "We got back to the village real late and we probably were too loud. Some guys were wrestling and stuff, but that's it. I know nothing about broken windows or anything like that. We weren't throwing furniture."

As far as the broken chairs go, Weight did say that they were all "big guys" and the chairs weren't "real strong" and that they broke while players were sitting on them during a poker game.

Unless J.R. was sitting on Weight's lap, or Hull was crosswording too damn hard, those chairs were probably broken after being smashed against a wall by a tantrum-throwing adult male who'd just been given a free vacation to one of the world's great nations. A dozen chairs and a few thousand dollars' worth of damage might seem relatively trivial; disrespecting a gracious host country, while simultaneously embarrassing your own, is anything but.

I wondered what American players of Olympic glory past thought about the whole ordeal, so I gave Mike Eruzione a ring and asked how he and his 1980 U.S. national teammates viewed the mayhem.


"You know, there wasn't much of a reaction at all to be honest," Eruzione said. "If they weren't pros, who knows if anyone would have said anything about it…. It wasn't a good thing, but I was told that some of the furniture wasn't necessarily the most solid furniture." (Maybe J.R. and the boys had a point after all?) "They acted up, things got out of hand, but because of who they were, it was bigger than it was."

According to Eruzione, a group of players from the '98 team—he believes it was led by team captain Chris Chelios—collected enough money to cover the costs of the damages. Chelios did send a letter and a check for $3,000 to the Nagano Olympic officials that March (not specifying where the money came from at the time).

"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of Japan, the Japanese Olympic committee, the USOC, and to all hockey fans throughout the world," he wrote. "Bitter frustration at our own level of play caused a few team members to vent their anger in a way which is not in the tradition of NHL/Olympic sportsmanship."

"They were pros, it was stupid and childish, and they should have known better," Eruzione said. "It was unfortunate and wrong, but they stepped up and apologized and did the right thing in the end."

While we were chatting, Eruzione raised a fair point: What if the '98 team had won gold and destroyed their dorms in an act celebration rather than one of dejection? Would there have been the same degree of scrutiny? Hypotheticals and embarrassing conduct aside, this was still a wildly talented hockey team that fell way, way short of its potential.


"I thought that team was awfully good," says Eruzione. "So for them not to medal—I've always felt that since we've got pros playing, I think we should always medal. And I think the players themselves would say the same thing."

Along with being the first Olympic tournament to include professional hockey players, Nagano also marked the debut of the women's tournament, which was won by—you guessed it—the Americans. Captained by all-time great Cammi Granato, the American women conducted themselves with grace and class en route to upsetting the rival Canadian juggernauts. Juxtaposed with the conduct and success of the women, the behavior of the men's team looked even more embarrassing.

But maybe the '98 squad's piss-poor performance and post-elimination conniption wasn't such a bad thing in the end. Perhaps the very public humiliation and subsequent appalling behavior of a bunch of future Hall of Famers was exactly what American hockey needed. Fast-forward 18 years, and the U.S. has one of the great national programs in world hockey. Fueled by the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (it was founded in 1996, but no one from that first team was on the roster in Nagano), America is now producing some of the best prospects in the game, and consistently assembles a team capable of beating anyone on any ice surface. This past Olympics, they knocked off Russia on home ice in Sochi. The NTDP has yielded some pretty great players, if not all model citizens.

It's been 36 years since American men claimed a gold medal in Olympic hockey, but recent progress—a silver medal at home in the 2002 Games, another in 2010 on Canadian ice, and a fourth-place finish in a stacked Sochi Games—indicates that things are at least headed in the right direction.

"The last couple tournaments, I think we've had some really good teams," Eruzione said. "We just can't seem to get over that hump. But we've got a lot of good young players coming up, so we'll see."

Speaking of those good young players: a squad of 17 of them—all of whom were born in the year 2000, which is insane—just beat their Canadian foes in Lillehammer to capture gold at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games. It's not Lake Placid, but it's not Nagano, either. And perhaps it's just what USA Hockey needs to help it get over that pesky little hump.