Pavel Datsyuk navigates an interview the same way you might expect him to weave through mismatched defenders.
With grace, ease and the requisite amount of showmanship.
Datsyuk’s humour is palpable, despite the slight language barrier. But make no mistake – the man known as the “Magic Man” for his peerless skill is dead serious about his career, work ethic and mission in Sochi.
The 34-year-old Datsyuk (he’ll turn 35 later this month) has played his entire 12-year NHL career with the Red Wings after being drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, 171 overall.
Now, he’s slated to stay in the Motor City for another three seasons after signing an extension worth $22.5m in mid-June.
He announced the deal via Twitter, thanking friends, fans and the Ilitch family, which owns the “Original Six” club.
The Russian dynamo registered 15 goals and 34 assists during the truncated season – earning him his massive payday.
His incredible stickhandling skills, for which he is largely considered the most gifted player in the NHL, alongside his domination in the defensive end, probably had something to do with the extension as well.
Despite a rash of injuries and the retirement of former captain Nicklas Lidström, Detroit made the playoffs for a twenty-second straight season, losing to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference semi-finals.
“We had a lot of young guys to start the season. But then we started playing, stuck together, and by the end of the year we were a very good team.”
“Pasha” also credits the work of Henrik Zetterberg in his first year of captaincy.
“He [Zetterberg] did an unbelievable job. I know it was his first year as captain. He got more comfortable as the year went on and the team was happy to support him.”
With staples such as Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall constituting the core of the Red Wings and the infusion of youthful talent such as Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, the future of hockey remains bright in Detroit.
As for Datsyuk’s future after Detroit, much is unknown, but the center acknowledged it would be meaningful to end his career in front of his hometown fans in Yekaterinburg.
“My dreams and goals are different sometimes. I would love to finish my career in my hometown because I started there and I’d like to close the loop.”
Datsyuk was reminded of the great support he’s afforded as a member of CSKA Moscow during the labour conflict in the NHL, playing a road game against Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.
“I played one game there last year and lots of people came to cheer and support me. I would be great to come back and help them win too.”
Datsyuk spent four years with the professional team in Yekaterinburg prior to a one-year stint with Ak Bars Kazan before finally making his NHL debut for Detroit in 2001 after being drafted in 1998.
Yet, despite living far from Russia for more than a decade, it’s clear how fond Datsyuk is of his upbringing in Yekaterinburg.
“When I was a kid, I would spend the whole day playing outdoors. We still only have three indoor rinks. If we weren’t playing soccer in the cold, we were playing hockey.”
His hockey idols, like many Russian youth fixated on hockey, included the legendary and revered Valeri Kharlamov and his linemates Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov – a trio of the most iconic stars in hockey history.
And, just like those Russian hockey icons, Datsyuk is dedicated to winning Olympic Gold, just as they did, although for Datsyuk’s Russian team, the task takes on a different dimension at home.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to play in front of our fans and family, but it’s also a lot of pressure. We’re not just playing, we need to win, so we’re focused on that.”
Describing what winning the Olympic hockey gold medal means to Russia, Datsyuk said: “It’s the biggest thing for any country. It’s hard to explain, it’s just a feeling you have.”
Winning an Olympic gold medal is just about the only accomplishment not credited to Datsyuk. He’s already won the Stanley Cup, the World Championship and a Russian championship, so the Olympic crown is vital to him now.
“I think winning the Olympic gold is the biggest thing for any hockey player. You want to win for your country.”
When asked about his summer plans and attending Russia’s pre-Olympic camp, Datsyuk deadpanned the following.
“I’m just waiting to make sure I make the team.”
There’s another humorous moment from one of the world’s most seriously talented hockey prodigies.
– compiled by IIHF.com staff