DETROIT – Center Pavel Datsyuk can add one more honor to his impressive resume: captain of Team Russia in next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“It’s an honor, humbled to represent Russian team, especially in hometown, home country,” Datsyuk said. “Lots of pressure for us, but so happy.”
It was an announcement that came as no surprise to the Red Wings in Detroit’s dressing room.
“Well I think it’s a high testament for himself,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “I mean the Russian team is amazing. If you think of all those guys, I think you could find at least three real big candidates so it’s pretty impressive that he got named it. He’s the leader in our room a lot and he’s always showing by example. I think even if he gets speak his own language he’d be even a more vocal player for that team so it makes more sense that he’d be captain.”
Datsyuk is the second member of the Red Wings’ roster to be named captain of an Olympic team this year, as Henrik Zetterberg will lead Team Sweden in Russia. It will mark the first time Datsyuk has worn the “C” as a professional, and is excited to share the honor with his Euro Twin.
“We’ll always be friends outside the rink,” Datsyuk said. “Inside hockey we play against each other. Fun to learn from him, try to improve.”
To have one member of Detroit’s roster captain an Olympic team is extremely special, but to have two speaks volumes of the leadership within the club’s locker room.
“I think it shows that we got a lot of guys who, they can step up and lead when needed and it’s not just the guys with the ‘C’,” defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “So there’s a whole locker room of guys who have been here for a while and have leadership qualities.”
It’s those elder players that the young Red Wings look up to and learn from as they continue to establish themselves in the NHL.
“I just try to be like a sponge and take away all the things they do on and off the ice,” Smith said. “Obviously they’re leaders in this room and they’re leaders on their countries so they’re doing the right things and it’s just things that I try to emulate and try to take into my day-to-day routines.”
There are few better leaders to learn from in the league than veterans Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall has the utmost confidence that the former will excel in a leadership role with Team Russia.
"I think he's the perfect guy to settle things down and make sure that they stay focused on the right things,” Kronwall said.
Although there is much excitement about Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s honors around The Joe, coach Mike Babcock can’t help but long for Datsyuk’s return to the team’s lineup, as the center has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury and isn’t expected to play against the Rangers at Madison Square Gardens on Thursday.
“Obviously, we think it’s a big part of what we’ve got going on here,” Babcock said of his team’s veteran leadership. “Now obviously we’d like to get them all back and playing and all of those things but in the meantime it’s a great honor for him and for Z.”
MEMORABLE YEAR: It has been an unforgettable season for Tomas Jurco, who saw two of his childhood dreams come true within one month.
“When I was a little kid and I was watching Slovaks play at the Olympics and World Championships and all that stuff for sure I wanted to be there one day,” Jurco said. “And then my other dream was to play in the NHL and this year both dreams came true so it’s great. It’s a great year.”
Jurco was called up from the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins on Dec. 15 and made his NHL debut that night when Detroit hosted Tampa Bay. The 21-year-old has appeared in seven games with the Red Wings this season, and was named to Slovakia’s Olympic roster along with forward Tomas Tatar.
“There’s not many guys I know a lot like I do Tomas so it’s obviously good for me to have somebody there that I know a little better,” Jurco said. “Obviously it’s going to be a great experience for me and just to play on the same team with a lot of great players, the best players in the world so for a young player it’s just a great, great experience.”
HOWARD IN GOAL: Jimmy Howard (hip flexor) will start in goal for the Red Wings against the Rangers Thursday after making 45 saves in Detroit’s 3-1 victory over Los Angeles last Saturday.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be much from the other night,” he said. “More so than anything the muscle itself just felt really fatigued, felt it needed a bit of a break. Better to take one night off than to go out there and cause further harm and be out 2-3 weeks.”