In just three weeks’ time, the Winter Olympics will be getting under way in Sochi, and Russia’s top ice hockey players will be out on the ice once again.
Pavel Datsyuk, the Red Wings forward, will be leading the Russian team on the ice, and e comes with quite a resume: He ranks number six in the club’s all-time scoring charts, and over the last few years, he has been one of the NHL’s top Russian performers.
Datsyuk already has an Olympic medal—a bronze from the 2002 Salt Lake City games. In total he has represented Russia 60 times at the Olympics or World Championships, scoring 17 times in the process. So he will be no stranger to the sort of competition awaiting the team in Sochi.
However, this will be his first time as captain. And what makes this all the more important, of course, is that Russia is hosting the Games. For coach Zinetula Bilyalyetdinov’s team, only gold will do.
1998, Nagano, Pavel Bure
Pavel Bure celebrates the goal in 1998 Nagano Olympics. Source: Imago / Legion Media
In the late 1990s, the legendary Pavel Bure was reaching his peak, and appointing him Russia’s captain for the Olympics seemed to make perfect sense. Led by the Russian Rocket, the team topped its group in Nagano, thrashing Kazakhstan and also overcoming Finland and the Czech Republic.
In the quarterfinals, Bure and company disposed of Belarus comfortably enough, by a score of 4-1. But in the semis, Finland made the Russians sweat: The final score of 7-4 underlines just what a ferocious contest it was. In the final, Russia was defeated by the Czech Republic, which scored the only goal of the game at the end of the game to prevail in what was an almighty battle. Tending goal for the Czechs was the legendary Dominik Hasek, and it was largely thanks to his efforts that the Czechs were able to secure gold.
Bure scored nine times in Nagano, including five against the Finns in the semi-finals. He was the competition’s top scorer and was voted top forward.
2002, Salt Lake City, Igor Larionov
Larionov at the 'Hockey Hall of Fame' Legends Game in 2008. Source: wikipedia
For the 2002 Olympics, the captain’s armband was entrusted to veteran forward Igor Larionov, who, by the time of the Games, was already 41. Four years earlier Russia had taken silver in Nagano, but on that occasion the Professor, as he is known, played no part, something he would come to regret.
“Four years ago, I didn’t believe I could do myself justice, either in the NHL or at the Games. Also, I’d already been to two Olympics. Then, after a while, I realized that I probably was up to it. But by that time it was too late,” the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted Larionov as saying at the time.
In the quarterfinal, Vyacheslav Fetisov’s charges avenged their loss to the Czechs in the 1998 final, defeating them by the same 1-0 scoreline. But in the semis Russia faced the United States, and Larionov’s squad failed to get the better of their American hosts, losing by the odd goal in five. In the third-place match, the Russians took their frustrations out on Belarus, crushing their neighbors 7-2. In the final, Canada won gold.
2006, Turin, Aleksey Kovalev
Kovalev. Source: AP
Along with Aleksandr Karpovtsev, Sergey Zubov and Sergey Nemchinov, Aleksey Kovalev was the first Russian to win the Stanley Cup, with the New York Rangers in 1994. He was the third Russian to rack up 1,000 points in the NHL. And he also won the Olympic title with the Commonwealth of Independent States at the 1992 Games in Albertville. His selection as captain for the 2006 Games seemed to be a fitting tribute to him and his achievements.
Russia, however, left Turin empty-handed. In the quarterfinals they dumped Olympic champions Canada out of the tournament, but they were to fall short in the semis. This time round it was Finland who were the obstacle, defeating Kovalev’s team 4-0. Nor was there any consolation in the third-place match, where Russia were once again held scoreless, as the Czech Republic won 3-0 and walked off with the bronze.
Kovalev played eight times, scoring four and providing two assists. The match against the Czech Republic was his last for Russia.
2010, Vancouver, Aleksey Morozov
Alexei Morozov of Russia (C) celebrates his goal against Slovakia during their men's hockey game against Russia at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Source: Reuters
Well before the Vancouver Olympics came round, Aleksey Morozov had already spent six seasons in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But his best performances came in the KHL, with Ak-Bars from Kazan.
In Vancouver, not only did he captain the Russian ice hockey team, he also carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony. Even so, he was unable to help Russia secure a long-awaited gold, the team once again finishing out of the medals.
This time, Russia didn’t even make it past the quarterfinals, where they lost to their Canadian hosts. Canada struck seven times in the first 30 minutes. Russia mustered just three in reply. The “Maple Leafs” ended up making it to the final, where they defeated the U.S. in overtime. Morozov played in all four of Russia’s games in Vancouver, scoring twice.
First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru.