Sidney Crosby and Canada are traveling halfway around the world in search of another golden moment. Sweden, Finland and the U.S. team arrive in Sochi brimming with NHL talent and intending to depart with medals.
While every elite hockey player in the world desperately wants to win his sport's biggest international tournament, nobody needs to win in Sochi like the host team and Alex Ovechkin, the peerless goal-scorer expected to put Russia back atop the Olympic podium.
"Russia is going to have a whole different kind of pressure," said Teemu Selanne, who will suit up for the Finns in his record-tying sixth Olympics. "And it's not easy to be that team."
The Olympic men's hockey competition is much more than a glorified All-Star week to the 150 NHL players exchanging their money-making jerseys for their national colors in 12 frantic days on the Black Sea coast. The NHL's stars are back at their fifth consecutive games, and the defending champion Canadians are largely favored to win their third gold medal in four Olympics.
Yet even Wayne Gretzky realizes all eyes in Sochi are squarely on the home team, saying the Russians will be "very difficult for anybody to beat."
"There's a number of teams that can win," said Gretzky, who played for Canada in Nagano and built its gold-medal team in Salt Lake City. "It comes down to the same thing all the time: Best goaltender, and if your best player is the best player on the ice and the best line on the ice, your team is ultimately going to be the gold-medal winner."
The vaunted Soviet Union team claimed seven of the nine gold medals awarded between 1956 and 1988, but Russia hasn't won this tournament in 22 years. The Russians have just one silver and one bronze since Albertville in 1992, getting shut out entirely in the last two Olympics despite their wealth of world-class talent.
"When you've got great players like (Evgeni) Malkin, (Pavel) Datsyuk and Ovechkin, everybody thinks they're going to carry them to the gold medal," said Igor Larionov, Russia's three-time Olympic medalist and Hall of Famer. "It will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure."
In his jaw-dropping 18th international competition for Russia, the stalwart Ovechkin tops a lineup that includes top NHL goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and KHL scoring stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov.