SOCHI, Russia — Pavel Datsyuk won’t allow a nagging injury to keep him out of the biggest event of his hockey life.
The Russia captain and Detroit Red Wings star on Tuesday said he is healthy for the Olympics after joining the home team for its second full practice.
“I’ll play in the first game,” said Datsyuk, who has barely played in the NHL since New Year’s Day.
The 35-year-old center said he has been waiting for these Olympics “all of my life.”
He almost wasn’t ready: Datsyuk has struggled through the last several weeks with an apparent left knee injury in Detroit, missing more than a month after the Winter Classic. He played limited minutes for the Red Wings in two games right before the Olympic break.
He missed Russia’s first practice session Monday after the charter flight to Sochi, but centered a line with KHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov at practice Tuesday morning. He intends to play in the Olympic opener against Slovenia on Thursday.
“Yeah, this Olympics there is much more pressure,” Datsyuk said. “Usually, there’s lots of pressure, but this is much more, playing at home, in front of our fans.”
Datsyuk’s presence will be a key for a Russian team loaded with scoring talent, but needing steady veteran leadership for its secondary lines and a young defense.
Datsyuk is among Russia’s most respected players from a generation with limited international success. The once-dominant Russians have failed to win Olympic gold since 1992, and they have no medals at all since winning bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Datsyuk is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a three-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward, and a four-time NHL All-Star. He also teamed up with Evgeni Malkin and goalie Semyon Varlamov during Russia’s unbeaten run through the 2012 IIHF world championships.
Although Datsyuk clearly is still coming back from injury, he isn’t worried about being limited on the ice over the next 12 days, saying he “can do everything.”
’’The one thing I can’t do is talk to the media too much,” Datsyuk deadpanned. “It takes lots of my energy.”