Ken Holland understands Pavel Datsyuk wants to play in these Olympics, even if he’s not totally healthy.
“He’s probably been preparing for this two-week tournament five, six years ago when it was announced that it was coming to Russia,” the Detroit Red Wings general manager said.
“Not six,” he said. “All my life.”
So it’s no matter that a lower-body injury kept Datsyuk off the ice for more than a month of the NHL season and Russia’s first practice. In brushing off concern in two languages, the 35-year-old insisted Tuesday that he’ll play in the first game of the tournament, Thursday against Slovenia.
“What injury?” Datsyuk said with a smile. “Yeah, I play first game.”
He played under 15 minutes in each of two games for the Red Wings before the Olympic break. Mike Babcock, who’s now coaching rival Canada, has said he didn’t think Datsyuk was 100 per cent.
Again, Datsyuk disagreed.
“Everything’s fine,” he said through an interpreter Tuesday afternoon.“ My injury does not bother me at all. Babcock is not my concern right now.”
Even after Datsyuk missed Russia’s first practice in Sochi, coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov expressed confidence about Datsyuk being in the lineup Thursday. He showed it by having Alexander Svitov serve as a place holder for line rushes.
A day later, Datsyuk was in his real spot, centring Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. Asked if he could do everything on the ice, Datsyuk flashed some more wit.
“I do everything but only one thing what I can’t do is talk to much media,” he said. “Take me lots of energy.”
With Datsyuk, Russia has arguably the most potent top-six forward group in the Olympics based on the combined abilities of him, Kovalchuk, Radulov, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin.
“They’re big, they’re fast, extremely skilled and great goal-scorers,” Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said. “You know what I think of Pavel Datsyuk. I had a chance to play with him being in the Detroit organization, he still remains one of the best all-around players in the game.”
A healthy Datsyuk has the opportunity to be the best player in the tournament. Because he’s dealing with a still-undisclosed lower-body injury, it’s uncertain what his potential will be.
“Is he a hundred per cent? Probably not, but there’s probably other players in this tournament that aren’t a hundred per cent as well,” Holland said. “You’re trusting that they’re going to make the decisions that they know their bodies, he knows the challenges both in this tournament and when he gets back to Detroit.”
Thought Datsyuk reported feeling “excellent,” playing at home for the Russians is so much more mental than physical.
“We play home (in front of) our fans, home fans,” Datsyuk said. “We need handle it and convert to energy, this pressure. That will be good help for us.”
All the talk about being 100 per cent or not didn’t seem to bother Datsyuk. Still, he used that number in a different way.
“I will play,” he said. “I give it my hundred per cent what I get.”