Pavel Datsyuk: Intellectual might of the Red Machine

Coaches, fans and marketing managers are placing their bets on Pavel Datsyuk, the leader of Russia’s Olympic hockey team.

If the Russian team does pull out a gold medal in the Olympics, it will be thanks to the leadership of Pavel Datsyuk. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank

Leo Zaytsev, special to RBTH

Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk is a name associated not just with Russia's Olympic hockey team, but with Team Russia as a whole. Datsyuk is a true team captain, and not just because he was assigned this role by coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.

“This is a person everyone respects and everyone defers to,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, who plays forward for Team Russia and CSKA St. Petersburg. “Year in, year out, [Datsyuk’s] game proves that he is a true professional. At 35, he has the experience and knowledge needed to conduct himself in the locker room and on the ice. With a captain like that, you can achieve anything.”

Datsyuk began his career in his hometown of Yekaterinburg, the capital of the industrial Urals region. At 23, he moved to another industrial centre, Detroit – where he rose to become a star of world hockey. Now in his 12th season with the Detroit Red Wings, Datsyuk has become a living symbol of the club. During his time in the Motor City, he has won the Stanley Cup twice, the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship four times, and the Frank J. Selke Trophy (for the forward who excels at defense) three times. He scored 97 points in both the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons (31+66 and 32+65 respectively).

“There is not the slightest doubt that Datsyuk is one of the world's best hockey players. It's a pleasure for me to work with him,” said Mike Babcock, coach of Detroit and of Team Canada at Sochi. “Regardless of his small size, Pavel is a very tough and determined player with remarkable leadership skills. And what's more, he's a remarkable person. The great thing about Detroit is guys like Pavel who are more than just good hockey players.”

Datsyuk is not a typical hockey player. At 5 ft 11 in and weighing 198 lb, he is built more like a soccer player than the center-forward of one of the best teams in the NHL. However, Datsyuk possesses the invaluable combination of qualities that make up what is sometimes called athletic intelligence. A smart athlete, he can make unusual decisions, shoot unexpectedly for a goal or make a precision pass. This is on top of his excellent technical skills, his relentlessness in trials of strength and his iron nerves. It's not for nothing that Datsyuk is always scoring in the last minute or in overtime.

Ahead of the Sochi Olympics, the Russian forward has attracted the attention not just of the sporting world, but also of various corporations that are also preparing for the games. Datsyuk has become the face of Visa, and also appears in ads for the Russian telecom company Megaphone. In an ad that is being widely aired on Russian TV, the Red Machine defeats the Canadians and Americans. A line of t-shirts with the caption “Moves like Datsyuk” was launched last autumn, and they are now available from numerous online stores.

Given Datsyuk’s status as a universal favorite, he has managed to keep his private life out of the spotlight. Not much is known about Datsyuk's background beyond this: When he was 15, his mother Galina died of cancer. His father Valery was a mechanic; he died of a heart attack in 2005. Datsyuk has an 11-year-old daughter, Yelizaveta, who lives in Yekaterinburg with his ex-wife Svetlana.

Despite his life story, Datsyuk has the reputation of a person with an open soul and strong character who is a real patriot of his club and his homeland. If the Russian team does pull out a gold medal in the Olympics, it will be thanks to the leadership of Pavel Datsyuk.

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