VANCOUVER – At this five-ring event, Team Russia is like a three-ring circus. Where do your eyes go first? Upon whom do you focus? What dare you not miss?
Look left and either Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk, two of the world's foremost goal-fillers, are liable to be flying down the wing. Look right and Alexander Semin is unleashing one of the game's best wrist shots. Look in the middle and Evgeni Malkin is performing acts of derring-do.
But the key to what, for the next two weeks, might just be the greatest show on ice could very well be a couple of guys who are being relied upon most for their selflessness and reliability: Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Fedorov.
Yes, in his day, Fedorov was as dynamic a player as anyone. He scored 120 points one year, 107 another and won a Hart Trophy for the Detroit Red Wings. But one of the most amazing feats in NHL history is that in those two seasons that Fedorov piled up those colossal offensive numbers, he won the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward.
Similarly, Datsyuk's career offensive years – 97-point seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09 for Detroit – also ended with Selke Trophies.
"We have a Malkin and an Ovechkin, so it's hard not to talk about 'The Show,'" Fedorov said, a grin on his face as he came off the Canada Hockey Place ice following today's Team Russia practice. "But I agree with you, I like to think our team is here to do a job and play well and play in harmony and find that fine balance among ourselves and within our lineup."
As North Americanized as any of the Russian players after 20 years in the NHL, Fedorov, who turned 40 in December, also is the lone link on Team Russia to the glory days of Red Army's domination at home and the Soviet Union's domination abroad. He isn't just along for a victory lap. He's on this team to make sure that the young bucks don't run wild and forget that winning Olympic gold requires the hard work of preventing goals as much as the joy of scoring them.
As gifted as all but a few players in the world, Datsyuk has long since been indoctrinated into the Detroit mantra that winning championships is worth any and all required subjugation of personal agendas. That is why Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov has stationed him at center of a line with Ovechkin and Semin, two absurd talents who rarely get caught on the defensive side of the puck.
"Time will show how easy or hard it's going to be," Datsyuk said. "But I know my job always, whether I play for the Red Wings or whether I play for the Russian national team. With these guys, I'm going to be more focused on defense so these guys can do everything they want to do on the offensive."
In the great Russian tradition, Bykov has divided his team into four five-man units. And after some loosening up and initial line rushes at this afternoon's practice, it was fascinating to watch Bykov send each quintet to a different quadrant of the ice for some caucusing.
The black-clad fivesome kneeled at one of the blue lines with Datsyuk clearly in charge of a fairly lengthy discussion in which Ovechkin and Semin were fully engaged.
"They're great players and we have great chemistry," said Datsyuk, who won a championship in Russia in 2005 as Ovechkin's Dynamo Moscow linemate. "I think it's going to be lots of fun – lots of fun for us and for you, too."
Of course, different players define fun in different ways. For Fedorov and Datsyuk, the definition clearly must include gold – no matter how many goals Team Russia scores or how many fans it brings out of their seats.
Not that Fedorov plans on being a wet blanket here.
"I'm not a coach, so I'm not going to tell anybody what to do," Fedorov said. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added: "If you want to be one of the guys, you have to goof off as well."