SOCHI, Russia -- Detroit Red Wings and Russia center Pavel Datsyuk, whose participation in his homeland's Olympics was in doubt because of a lower-body injury that had plagued him since early January, practiced Tuesday and said he plans to play in Russia's Olympic hockey opener.
Russia, which faces high expectations to win as the host nation, will play its first game on Thursday against Slovenia.
Asked how his injury felt after he went through a full practice on Tuesday, Datsyuk indicated he was fine. "What injury?" said Datsyuk, Russia's captain. "I play first game."
This Olympic experience clearly means a lot to Datsyuk, who struggled with his injury and played the wing in his last two games with Detroit before the break instead of his usual center spot. And he gave a heartfelt response when was asked about a statement from Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland, who said he thought Datsyuk had been waiting for this tournament for six years, since Sochi was awarded the Games.
"Not six. All my life," Datsyuk said. "It's a good feeling when you come back and now you play a home Olympic in front of your fans. It's an unbelievable feeling."
He also acknowledged the weight of fans' expectations on the Russian team to win a gold medal. Russia, once a dominant Olympic hockey power when playing as the Soviet Union, hasn't won Olympic gold since it competed as part of the Unified Team in 1992.
"This Olympic is much more pressure," he said. "Usually there is lots of pressure. But this is much, to play at home for our home fans. We need to handle it and convert to energy, this pressure. We take it this way, it will help us."
Datsyuk, with a touch of humor, said he was able to participate fully in Tuesday's practice.
"I can do everything," he said, "but only one thing what I can do is talk too much to media. Takes a lot of energy."