Russia's Big Red Machine ready to roll again

Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:11am EST
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By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The Russian men's ice hockey team came together in a show of unity on Tuesday, ready to reclaim the country's status as global superpower in the sport by winning the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics.

If there was any doubt about ice hockey's importance to Russians it was removed by an 'all-for-one, one-for-all' press briefing which filled the largest conference hall at the Sochi Olympic media center, attracting close to 200 journalists and 40 plus television cameras.

Spread across the podium was the best of Russian hockey past and present, with three-times National Hockey League most valuable player Alex Ovechkin and former goaltending great Vladislav Tretyak, now president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, handling most of the questions.

"I participated in four Olympic Games and I don't remember such an interest in ice hockey players," said Tretyak. "We have brought for the first time the entire ice hockey team.

"I think all of us here together decided to appear at this press conference as a team because we want to show that we are one team.

"It is a team sport and it's up to the entire team to get the gold so that is why we are here together."

The Russians enter their tournament opener against minnows Slovenia on Thursday feeling the same crushing pressure that was on Canada four years ago at the Vancouver Games with the hockey-crazed nation expecting nothing but gold.

But if there is one country in the world where the sport matters as much as it does to Canadians, it is Russia and president Vladimir Putin would love to see the most expensive Olympics in history end the same way as Vancouver with the host nation celebrating a gold medal.   Continued...

Team Russia's forward Alexander Ovechkin attends team practice in the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh