Deep Dive is a new interview series where Nick Nollenberger and Joey Goldstein sit down with some of your favorite members of the San Jose Barracuda to "dive deeper" into some of their experiences on and off the ice. In this feature, Nick and Joey sst down with Barracuda Captain John McCarthy to learn a about his time in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Nick Nollenberger: Walk us through the early stages of the whole experience, flight, arrival, family, etc.?
John McCarthy: I was able to get a flight directly from San Francisco to Seoul which was pretty good because most guys on the team had to make connections. A few of them got delayed and for some it was kind of a mess to get everyone there. But yeah, I flew from San Fran to Seoul; it was a 12-hour flight which was something new for me. When I got to the airport I met a bunch of my teammates because a lot of us got in at the same time. That was the first time I got to meet a lot of them, which was pretty cool. I was finally able to put faces to names. I’d say half the team was there and then we got a bus to Pyeongchang, which is about four hours away from Seoul, so it was a pretty long day. We got there around 10 p.m. but with the time change I had no clue what time it was, but it was good to get there and settle into the Olympic village.
Joey Goldstein: What did you do to keep yourself entertained on the flight?
JM: I watched a couple of movies, read a couple of books, took a couple of walks. I don’t know if I could do it again (laughs). I kept thinking the seats would be bigger than a regular airplane, something had to be different, but it wasn’t, it was a regular airplane. It was a long 12 hours, but it was totally worth it.
NN: When you first met your teammates, and you got on the ice with these guys, you knew a couple of them, but what was it like to be on a team that you had very little to no chemistry with?
JM: It was definitely nerve-racking, as you said, I knew a couple of the guys, a few were from Boston, but it’s kind of like that training camp feeling. The first day everyone’s trying to impress the coaches and trying to earn playing time so it was a pretty intense first few days. I think we had four or five days of practice before our first game so we had to get know each other pretty quickly. It was a pretty good experience, and everyone gelled pretty quickly.
JG: You were living with three or four guys, did you get to pick or did they assign you?
JM: It was assigned, but I ended up with Chris Bourque (Hershey Bears) who I previously knew, which was good, and Bobby Butler (Milwaukee Admirals) was also in our apartment. There were five of us in a three bedroom style apartment.
NN: We always hear about Europeans having trouble transitioning from the big to the small ice, what was it like going from the small to the big ice?
JM: The first day of practice, the very first drill was kind of an angling drill where you started on the wall, and another guy would come across from the other wall to try and angle you off with his stick. It’s a long way, the width is really far, so the first day was kind of an eye-opener on just how big the ice surface really is. You’ve almost got to change your angles a little bit and take a safer route than you would in North America because there’s so much more space out there. The other difference I noticed was the penalty kill because you can’t pressure as much as you normally would, if you go too far outside the dots they’re probably going to make you pay, so it was more about being patient and giving up a bad shot and then trying to get a clear.
JG: Going into the Olympics you knew what your roll would be, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, but as we continued to watch it seemed whenever there was a big faceoff, you were out there taking it. Did you expect your role to be as large as it was?
JM: Um, no, not really. I went into it thinking I was going to work hard and see what happens. I knew I was one of the later guys to make the team, and I knew I was kind of one of the last guys picked, so I didn’t know what to expect. I figured I'd go out and practice and see what happens. I was on the fourth line, so you never know if you're going to be in the lineup. I was hoping I would be and it ended up working out, but I didn't know. I think the biggest thing you've got to do in that type of situation is play your game, the coaches make the decisions on who’s playing in each situation, so it was kind of out of my control, but I was happy I got to play so much.
NN: There were some young college kids that were pretty impressive, was it fun to watch those guys just flying by the seat of their pants?
JM: Yeah, it was really cool. That’s an experience they’ll never forget, and as you said, they’re all really impressive players, and I’d be shocked if they all didn’t play in the NHL this season. It was really fun watching them, everyone seemed to feed off their energy.
JG: You get through pool play, you get past Slovakia in the first round, and then you end up with the Czech Republic, and obviously that ends in a shootout. Was it tough to have the tournament end in that fashion?
JM: It is, it really is a tough way to lose out in a tournament like that, but at the same time it’s understandable because they have so many games going on in the same day, they’ve got to end it at some point. It would have been a bit easier to take it had we lost in an actual game scenario. We actually went to the woman’s final against Canada, and I watched the entire game and overtime. I thought the US dominated the whole game and if that shootout had gone the other way I think it would have been terrible, they deserved to win the game. In a shootout, it can go either way.
NN: What was it like hearing the national anthem with USA jersey on?
JM: It was awesome! I think I was the only guy on the team that had never played on Team USA at some point. I never had a chance to put that jersey on. We had picture day our second or third day there, and we put the uniforms on and that was the first time I was really like, wow! This is pretty cool, I get to play for Team U.S.A, and represent the entire country.
JG: Watching the games on TV it seemed like there was a large contingent of American fans, was it that obvious there?
JM: Yeah, definitely a strong representation. It was cool because I had my family there and my fiancé and all the guys had their families, but even outside of that, there were fans that just came to watch. So it was a pretty unique feeling to get to play in front of them.
NN: What was the Olympic village like, and what was it like hanging around different athletes?
JM: It was something out of a movie. When you get there they give you, literally, two suitcases of gear that says Team USA on it and you’re supposed to wear it whenever you’re going to practice or games. So everyone is walking around the village in their colors. You walk into the cafeteria and each table is a different country. It was really amazing because our building was all USA people. We had speed skaters, the woman’s hockey team, pretty much all of the non-mountain sports were in our village. We came across a few of those people, which was fun just to talk to them, and get advice from those who were in their second or third Olympics and get to know them a little bit was pretty cool.
JG: Any opposing players that wowed you, obviously Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk were there, but in addition to the guys you faced on the ice were there any other athletes from other sports that you crossed paths with?
NN: Obviously when you’re playing in a tournament like that you don’t want yourself to get wowed by anybody on another team, but it was cool to play against Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, two guys I grew up watching. As far as athletes that weren't hockey players, we walked into opening ceremonies and Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White were there, which were the two most prominent names and most recognizable people there, so it was fun to be wearing the same outfit as them.
NN: Since the men won curling, the demand in the Bay Area has been off the charts, is curling something you’ve done, and were you guys following it because it was pretty crazy stateside?
JM: I’ve never curled, personally, but I think it’s awesome! Matt Hamilton who was on the team was everywhere, I saw him almost every day. He was explaining the sport after he won gold and now that I know the rules it’s definitely more entertaining. It’s great for the sport! Now you see, because they won, that the sport is picking up in popularity in places that you wouldn’t expect like California.
JG: With the time change what was it like acclimating yourself once you got there and then when you got back stateside?
JM: I thought coming back was way harder. Maybe because I was excited and I was all ramped up when I got there. When I first arrived, I stayed up until four or five in the morning and then I just went to sleep and was able to get on a schedule right away. But coming back was I was on a red-eye flight, and I don’t sleep on planes, so I was thrown off for two or three days.
JG: How was South Korea as a host nation?
JM: I couldn’t say enough good things. If we needed a cab to go to a restaurant and the driver didn’t know English, we’d ask someone and they would come outside where it was freezing and explain to the cab driver where we were going and what we needed. Everyone in the restaurants and around the Olympic village was so friendly and helpful. I was happy they got to be the host country.
JG: Did you have a chance to learn a bit more about the culture?
JM: Unfortunately we lost in the quarterfinals but my flight wasn’t for another three or four days, so I was able to go to Seoul with my extra time off. Seoul is great, it’s their nation’s capital and I was able to try Korean Barbeque which is pretty cool. They give you the meat raw, and you cook it yourself on a little skillet at your table. It was a totally different experience, but I loved my time there.