Russia a team united


SOCHI, Russia -- You wonder what all of this means to the Russian hockey players, to Russians in general. What it would mean to win their first Olympic gold since 1992, to win it on home soil, to recapture hockey glory that used to be a kind of birthright for this nation.

And maybe this, in some ways, answers that question.

The entire Russian team took part in a press conference in the Pushkin Hall on Tuesday with a crowd of 463 jammed into a sprawling auditorium in the main press center. The crowd burst into applause when the team arrived and again when the players left, many rushing to the front to take pictures of the team and coaching staff.

There was also a spontaneous round of applause when head of Russian hockey and Hall of Fame netminder Vladislav Tretiak referenced the 1984 gold medal won by the Russians four years after being upset by the Americans in Lake Placid at the so-called Miracle on Ice Olympics.

The event on Tuesday was recorded by 48 television cameras and 23 still photographers.

Normally the press briefings include coaches and senior managers and maybe a couple of players. But the fact that the entire Russian team was on display was more than a little symbolic in a nation mad for hockey success.

"I think all of us here together decided to appear at this press conference as a team because we want to show we are one team," Tretiak said. "It is a team sport and it is up to the entire team to get the gold; that is why we are here together to talk to you.

"We know that we enjoy a lot of support here, but we also know that we have a lot of responsibility, a lot to answer for. But sport is sport, our team is going to try to show our best game, and we will do our best. How we perform we will have to see. We will see the results later, but everyone on the team understands what they are expected to do.

"Let me say this again: We understand what we have to do, and we will fight for the results in every match."

If the press-conference spectacle spoke volumes about the burden of expectation this Russian team bears, then this spoke volumes about how the players themselves are feeling: Sergei Bobrovsky, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, was asked if he could imagine what it would be like to win a gold in the Olympic tournament that begins here Wednesday.

He paused, a grin spreading across his face as he shook his head.

"No. Actually, no," the Columbus Blue Jackets netminder admitted.

"It's going to be huge. Huge."

The Olympic dream?

"Of course," Bobrovsky said. "I think it's lots of sport men's dream about play in front of your people, your country. It's great; it's a great experience."

Viktor Tikhonov's grandfather, after whom he was named, is considered one of the great hockey minds of all time and led Russia to Olympic gold three times (and added a silver). Tikhonov, a former first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, grew up in the United States but has been playing in his familial homeland in the Kontinental Hockey League the past three seasons.

He is effusive in discussing the opportunities that lie ahead for this Russian team in the coming days.

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