NHL legend Pavel Datsyuk takes 1 final shot at elusive gold
Former Red Wings Magic Man still dazzling at what reportedly could be his last Olympics
By Mike Shulman, CBC Sports
The last time Russia faced the Czech Republic in the medal round of the men's hockey tournament is still a sore spot for Pavel Datysuk.
It was the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, a 3-0 Russian loss which gave its former Soviet comrades the bronze.
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"The bracket that we had there — let's not bring it up," said Datsyuk, captain of the Olympic Athletes from Russia's squad at these Pyeongchang Games, earlier this week.
"We had a very emotional game against the Canadians [in the quarter-finals] and we didn't have time to recover before we faced the Finns [a 4-0 loss in the semifinals]," he said.
And as Russia prepares to again face the Czech Republic in the semis on Friday in South Korea, Datysuk is hoping to help his team earn its first gold medal in 26 years, and get his hands on one of the few trophies that has eluded him over the course of a career that includes two Stanley Cups, a world championship and a Gagarin Cup as KHL champions.
"Our dream is still on. We are in a tournament where we are the top favourite, but we need to improve," he said following OAR's 6-1 win over Norway in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
'You can't do any better'
At the age of 39 (he turns 40 in July) Datsyuk is the oldest player in the tournament and he will reportedly retire at the conclusion of the KHL playoffs, which will resume after the Games. And even if he helps the Russian squad break its gold-medal drought in his swan-song season, his former teammate in Turin and NHL star Alexei Yashin said he has already cemented his status as perhaps one of the greatest players of all time.
"I think he has had a great career in the National Hockey League, European hockey, international hockey, several Olympics and several Stanley Cups — it's like you can't do any better," said Yashin, who hails from the same city of Yekaterinburg and is in Pyeongchang as an analyst with CBC.
"The average NHL career is about three and a half years, so anything you can do after three and a half years it's like a bonus … and it's been way more than [that]," Yashin said with a laugh, adding he hopes Datsyuk keeps playing "so we can enjoy his game a little bit longer."
Despite the miles accrued over the course of his 14-year NHL run with the Detroit Red Wings plus his seasons in Russia (which includes an incredible recovery from an ankle injury that required the use of cadaver tendon replacements), he is still an invaluable asset for OAR.
The Russian centre has put up four points in four games, proving the player known as The Magic Man can still reach into his bag of tricks to make a dazzling play.
"He has an unbelievable skills, stickhandling and vision," Yashin said. "He's real a playmaker and he can do some things … defensively, not just with the puck, but he gets other players in the unit involved — the forwards, the defence — to generate chances."
Despite Datsyuk's quiet demeanour, the veteran of five Olympic Games has been a guiding force for the team's younger players.
"Pavel is a fantastic player," said OAR winger Nikolay Prokhorkin, 24, last week. "We all know how much he has achieved during his career. He helps us in every way he can. Above all, with his game and his experience."
Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Vladislav Gavrikov, 22, who considers Datsyuk his hero, summed up his admiration succinctly.
"He's our leader and our captain — that says it all."
Yashin said the OAR is headed for a "very tough" matchup against a strong defensive team in the Czech Republic that has received good goaltending from KHL star Pavel Francouz.
While he admits anything can happen and he's seen some "questionable" defence from the Russian team, it's likely "too talented" to lose.
A win would put Datsyuk and OAR one step away from a gold medal, but regardless of which song is played as the curtains potentially draw to a close on his Olympic career, he can rest easy about his legacy.
"I don't think he's going to have any regrets if he retires," Yashin said. "You can't play forever. The time comes when you want to do something else."
"It's just great to see him and I'm sure if he gets his gold medal it would a nice story to end his career, if he decides to do that."