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World Cup

Alex Ovechkin named Team Russia captain

Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk to be alternates for World Cup

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The announcement Wednesday that Alex Ovechkin had been selected as captain for Team Russia for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 didn't seem to surprise the players.

Some had been expecting it since training camp opened at Yubileyny Sports Palace on Monday.

"Is it official now?" asked center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who also plays with Ovechkin on the Washington Capitals.

Ovechkin, who will turn 31 on Sept. 17, last served as captain for Russia at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, Belarus. Russia won the gold medal in that tournament. 

Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk were selected as alternate captains for the World Cup, which will be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Malkin, 30, has been an alternate captain with the Pittsburgh Penguins since the 2008-09 season. Datsyuk, 38, was an alternate captain for the Detroit Red Wings for 10 seasons before retiring from the NHL in June and joining SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.

"It's a huge honor to represent Team Russia in this tournament," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter if it was me or Malkin or Datsyuk who is the captain. Everybody has to be a captain out there and be a leader."

It's a role Ovechkin is familiar with. He was named Capitals captain Jan. 5, 2010. He was 24 at the time.

"This is the right choice," Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin said in Russian. "I'm happy for [Ovechkin]. He has a lot of respect inside our team."

Kuznetsov said that respect for Ovechkin has been evident from the first day of camp.

"He's a leader in the locker room and on the ice," Kuznetsov said. "You can see in every meeting before you start to talk about something. All the guys listen to him. He's got some great experience and he feels pretty comfortable in that position."

There will be one significant difference in Ovechkin's leadership style with Team Russia in comparison to how he handles things with the Capitals.

"I can speak the Russian language," Ovechkin said, smiling.

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov talked Monday as if he knew that Ovechkin, Malkin and Datsyuk would wear the leadership letters for Team Russia. 

"[Ovechkin] and Malkin and Datsyuk, all these guys, they have a lot of respect," Kucherov, 23, said. "We are young guys. We're just trying to follow them and listen to them. It's nice to have them."

Datsyuk was Russia's captain for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when it was eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals. It was the third consecutive Olympics in which Russia did not win a medal. It is hoping for a better result in the World Cup.

After three days of practice, Team Russia will play its first pretournament game against Team Czech Republic at Yubileyny Sports Palace on Thursday (12:30 p.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, TVA Sports). The players are eager to begin the next phase of preparation for their World Cup preliminary-round opener, against Team Sweden on Sept. 18. (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports).

"Practice is just practice, but the game is different," Chicago Blackhawks forward Artem Anisimov said. "We just need to get in game shape. We have three [pretournament] games to find out our game and be ready on Sept. 18."





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