Alexander Ovechkin is under the most pressure of any athlete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
If Russia wins the gold medal in men’s hockey, these Olympic Games will be an enormous success for the host nation. A failure to win the event would be a huge disappointment for a country that hasn’t tasted Olympic hockey glory for more than two decades. To accomplish this goal, Ovechkin needs to play at a high level, one far above his performance four years ago in Vancouver when Russia was knocked out in the quarterfinals with a 7-3 loss to rival Canada.
Ovechkin got off to a perfect start in his gold medal quest Thursday, proving to everyone that he’s ready for the biggest challenge of his hockey career.
The superstar winger scored Russia’s first goal of the tournament just 77 seconds into the opening period against Slovenia, immediately sending the hometown fans at Bolshoy Ice Dome into a frenzy. Ovechkin also added an assist with a beautiful pass on Evgeni Malkin’s goal a few minutes later for a multi-point performance in his Sochi debut as Russia earned a 5-2 victory.
Alex Ovechkin posted 1-1—2pts, a +2 rating and four shots on goal in a team-high 17:24 of playing time for Russia. #Olympics—
NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 13, 2014
Ovechkin’s goal scoring has been well documented in the NHL (he leads the league with 40 goals at the Olympic break), but it was his playmaking skill that impressed against Slovenia. He’s a fantastic playmaker, and his ability to thread the needle with pinpoint passes at high speeds is an underrated part of his game. On the wider international ice surface, Ovechkin has even more time and space to create scoring chances for himself and teammates.
The road to the medal stand doesn’t get easier for Russia on Saturday, when Ovechkin and Co. take on the United States in their second preliminary round game at 7:30 a.m. The winner is likely to claim Group A and secure a place in the quarterfinals.
Russia spent about $50 billion on the Sochi games, and if the men’s hockey team fails to become Olympic champion, this two-week period will be a gigantic failure. As the face of the team, Ovechkin would shoulder much of the blame, even if it’s not deserved.
But if Thursday’s performance is any indication, Ovechkin is ready for the challenge of helping Russia win its first men’s hockey gold medal since NHL players began participating in Olympic competition 16 years ago.
Photo via Twitter.com/PostSports