Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been teammates in Detroit for 11 seasons, but all pleasantries will once again be brushed aside when they land in Sochi, as the Euro Twins will try to captain their respective countries to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“It’s just a big honor for those guys to represent their country and be captains,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I think anytime you’re a captain of any team it’s something special and going over to the Olympics for a two-week tournament, I think they picked two of the right guys to go represent their teams.”
Both players will be participating in their fourth Olympic Games, Zetterberg at the helm of Team Sweden, and Datsyuk captaining Russia’s team in his home country.
“It’s an honor, humbled to represent Russian team, especially in hometown, home country,” Datsyuk said. “Lots of pressure for us, but so happy.”
Although Sweden won gold in Turin in 2006, Zetterberg already thinks the 2014 Winter Games carries a greater importance than any other Olympic tournament he’s been part of.
"It's the fourth time in a row now but this one is going to be a little special, I think,” Zetterberg said. “It could be my last. We have a good team, got some good young players coming in that plays well. We're one of the countries that have a chance to go all the way and it's going to be a great hockey tournament, all the best players are there and I look forward to it."
Zetterberg, who was named Detroit’s captain following Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement in 2012, also followed in the defenseman’s footsteps as captain of the Swedish Olympic team, as Lidstrom was Sweden’s most recent captain at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
"Obviously I learned a lot from him, just being next to him and see how he approached the game and off the ice,” Zetterberg said. “Definitely helped me become the player I am."
While Zetterberg has had nearly two years of experience as a captain under his belt, Datsyuk will wear the “C” for the first time during his professional career. But his teammates have no doubt that the center will make a great captain for Team Russia.
“He’ll be just fine,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “I know he doesn’t say much around media or anything here but probably being able to speak his native language will allow him to speak a lot more.”
Datsyuk received the honor ahead of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who leads the league with 40 goals, and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who ranks sixth in the NHL with 40 assists. Although Datsyuk missed 14 games in 2014 due to a lower body injury, he returned to the lineup in the Wings’ 3-1 victory over Florida Thursday, and will appear in one more NHL game Saturday against Tampa Bay before flying to Sochi.
The center still ranks eighth in the league with 50 takeaways despite missing one month of the season, and was an obvious favorite to be named captain of Team Russia according to Zetterberg.
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Zetterberg said. “For him not to be named captain could have been very tragic.”
The two captains, NHL teammates and friends will face off in the preliminary round of the ice hockey tournament on Feb. 15.
“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.”