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Reality of Olympics in homeland sinks in for Ovechkin

by Adam Kimelman

With the long-awaited unveiling of the Russian team that will look to defend home soil at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin said the reality of what will come next month is starting to set in.

"Every day it's getting closer," Ovechkin said during a conference call Tuesday. "All my friends are calling and asking what's happening, who's going to be on the team. I'm very excited. I'm very happy to be on the roster, very excited to represent my country in my country at the Olympic Games."

Ovechkin will be a central figure not just on the Russian hockey team, but the entire Russian Olympic delegation. He was the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch when it left Greece in August.

Russia will be expected to contend for the gold medal and the pressure on the team will be extreme. However, Ovechkin said he's trying to ignore that pressure as best he can.

"I don't think about it," he said. "I don't want to take the pressure right now on me. Soon I'm going to feel all kinds of pressure on myself, on the team and on the coaching staff. Right now I don't think about it. But it's hard to do because every time I get the news on the Internet it's all about the Olympic Games and all that kind of stuff. The fans and media, everybody wants more information, wants more news about the team and about the rosters."

Ovechkin said he hasn't talked to anyone with the Russian hockey federation about linemates or how the roster was selected, but did say he was surprised by two omissions, Dallas Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Carolina Hurricanes forward -- and former Washington teammate -- Alexander Semin.

"Semin is my closest friend and it's sad for him he's not on the team," Ovechkin said. "But it's a coach's decision and you can do nothing with it."

Ovechkin was more concerned with who did make the roster, especially younger forwards like the Dallas Stars' Valeri Nichushkin, 18, and 22-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues.

"For the future it means a lot," Ovechkin said. "It means we still have talent. … I'm very happy for them. I was the same age … I was 19 probably in 2006 when my first Olympic game was. That experience helped me a lot in the future."

No captain was named to lead the team. It's a role Ovechkin holds with the Washington Capitals and one he likely will play with the Russian Olympic team. However, Ovechkin said he would not be stumping for the captaincy and said he'll be fine with whatever decision the team and the coaching staff decide.

"It will be a huge honor for me [if he's named captain]," Ovechkin said. "I'm not going to say I want to be captain or I don't want to be captain. It's the coach's decision or the team's decision. I'm sure when we get to Sochi at the meetings we're going to talk about and coach is going to tell us who will be captain and who's not. If I'm going to be captain it's going to be good for me. I don't want to push somebody and say I have to be captain or I'm not going to play."

This will be the third time Ovechkin has represented his country in the Olympics, but the first time he's had the chance to do it in his home country. That's why he thinks the 2014 Sochi Games are so important not just to him, but to every player named to the roster.

"Since I was a little kid and since everyone [on the roster] was a little kid their dream was to play in the Olympic Games," he said. "Especially we have the chance to represent the country in Sochi, it's unbelievable. … I don't think somebody is going to just say their mission is done just to be in the Olympic Games. Our mission is to win the gold medal and play our best hockey."


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