SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Pavel Datsyuk won't allow a nagging injury to keep him out of the biggest event of his hockey life.
The Russia captain and Detroit Red Wings star on Tuesday said he is healthy for the Olympics after joining the home team for its second full practice.
"I'll play in the first game," said Datsyuk, who has barely played in the NHL since New Year's Day.
The 35-year-old center said he has been waiting for these Olympics "all of my life."
He almost wasn't ready: Datsyuk has struggled through the last several weeks with an apparent left knee injury in Detroit, missing more than a month after the Winter Classic. He played limited minutes for the Red Wings in two games right before the Olympic break.
He missed Russia's first practice session Monday after the charter flight to Sochi, but centered a line with KHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov at practice Tuesday morning. He intends to play in the Olympic opener against Slovenia on Thursday.
"Yeah, this Olympics there is much more pressure," Datsyuk said. "Usually, there's lots of pressure, but this is much more, playing at home, in front of our fans."
Datsyuk's presence will be a key for a Russian team loaded with scoring talent, but needing steady veteran leadership for its secondary lines and a young defense.