LARRY LAGE, AP Hockey Writer
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Pavel Datsyuk wants to play, not talk.
With Russia only one loss from being eliminated from the Olympic hockey tournament — a setback that would crush the spirits of millions of people — Datsyuk wasn’t in the mood Monday for any chit-chat.
The third-seeded Russians play 12th-seeded Norway on Wednesday in the qualification round. If they avoid a stunning upset, Finland awaits in the quarterfinals.
“It doesn’t matter who we play against,” Datsyuk said Sunday.
The host Russians are under a lot of pressure to earn a medal, something they haven’t done in hockey at the last two Olympics. So when it was time for the team to pick a captain, the obvious choice seemed to be Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.
Datysuk, however, was the one picked to wear a “C” over his heart on his jersey.
While that seemed surprising in the United States, it didn’t seem to be the case in his homeland.
As Datsyuk’s name was announced during pregame introductions before the Russians played Slovenia in their Sochi Games opener, the roar the Detroit Red Wings star received from the crowd rivaled the welcome for Ovechkin.
“Everybody knows him,” Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov explained after Monday’s practice. “Everybody likes him.”
There’s a lot to like about the two-time Stanley Cup champion — on and off the ice.
Datsyuk can magically dangle the puck on his stick and consistently snatch it away from opponents in a way that even casual fans can appreciate.
The 35-year-old four-time Olympian from Yekaterinburg said he learned those skills as a kid.
“In Russia, we had tough times. Only one puck,” Datsyuk has said. “I always wanted the puck, so I learn how to keep it and make space and get puck when other guy has it.”
Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy, which honors the NHL’s best defensive forward, from 2008 to 2010. He became the first player to win it three years in a row since Bob Gainey’s four-peat from 1978 to 1981 after the inception of the award.
Datsyuk put his two-way talents on display in the highly anticipated matchup with the U.S. that lived up to the hype. He scored both of Russia’s goals in regulation before T.J. Oshie lifted the Americans to a 3-2 shootout win.
It was quite an impressive performance because Datsyuk is basically playing on one good leg. He was on the ice for just two games, playing limited minutes, for the Red Wings before the Olympic break after missing more than a month because of what appears to be an injured left knee.
“I’m OK,” Datsyuk said after Saturday’s setback to the Americans. “We OK. We, not me.”
Datsyuk caught himself talking about himself, not the team, in the postgame interview. Correcting himself is yet another sign of why he’s leading his team.
“He is a good guy, not just good guy on ice,” Pittsburgh Penguins star and Russian teammate Evgeni Malkin said. “He’s always cares about young guys — helps lot — and is always smiling. He is good person.”
Datsyuk is also pretty funny, a fact he has let reporters from around the world find out before choosing not to talk to them on Monday.
After the Russians bounced back from their disheartening loss to the Americans with a shootout win over Slovakia, he was witty.
“Of course, we’re not happy about this game,” Datsyuk said. “We wanted to win it in regular time, not to go into shootouts or cause heart attacks.”
And earlier in the tournament, which Datsyuk said he has been waiting “all of my life,” he was asked whether his injury will limit his performance:
“I can do everything,” Datsyuk said. “The one thing I can’t do is talk to the media too much. It takes lots of my energy.”
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