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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

While all but one of his Penguins teammates got to rest during the Olympic break, Sergei Gonchar was thrilled to represent his country in Torino, Italy.

Gonchar returned to practice in Pittsburgh on Tuesday after helping Russia to a fourth-place finish at the Winter Olympics.

“It’s always an advantage to compete in such a tournament. You’re not going to get that kind of experience anywhere else. I was happy that I went there. It’s always good to be there playing for your country,” said Gonchar, who arrived in Pittsburgh on Monday night. “At the same time, it’s not easy traveling 24 hours, playing eight games in 11 days and then traveling 24 hours back. It’s not easy and it’s going to be tough for everybody. But, you have your pluses and minuses.”

Gonchar had two assists for Russia, which finished fourth in the tournament.

“I thought I played well. I played well going into the Olympics and I felt good and thought I played well over there,” he said. “Obviously, not good enough to win, but I’ve done what I’ve done.”

The Russians finished second to Slovakia in Group B with a 4-1 record. Slovakia beat Russia, 5-3, in the tournament-opener, but Russia rattled off four-straight wins in the preliminary round by beating Sweden (5-0), Kazakhstan (1-0), Latvia (9-2) and the United States (5-4).

Russia, which also featured Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin, stunned Canada, 2-0, in a quarterfinal game.

“That was a big game. We played well as a team,” Gonchar said. “In such a tournament and such a game, when one mistake can mean so much, we were lucky to score the first goal. It’s so hard to play on that big ice and catch up and try to come back from behind. It was a good thing for us to score first. We kept playing the same system and finished strong. They had such a great team and had some chances, but our goalie was right there to make good saves.”

The triumph brought jubilation to the Russian Federation.

“It was a huge, emotional win for everyone,” Gonchar said. “You should have seen what happened back home. We didn’t win over Team Canada for five years or whatever, so back home there were fireworks and other things.”

The victory seemed to catapult Russia into medal contention. However, Russia dropped a 4-0 decision to Finland in the semifinals and was shut out by the Czech Republic, 3-0, for the bronze medal.

“We spent a little too much energy on [the win over Canada] maybe,” Gonchar said. “The next game we played against Finland and we didn’t have a lot of emotions going, same with the Czechs.”

Malkin, the 2004 second-overall pick, finished tied for second with Alexei Kovalev in scoring for Russia. The 19-year-old Malkin, the youngest player in the tournament, had two goals and four assists for six points in seven games. Pavel Datsyuk had eight points (1+7) in eight games.


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