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SOCHI SCENE: Russia's hockey focus

AP - Sports
SOCHI SCENE: Russia's hockey focus

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Czech Republic forward Roman Cervenka, forward Petr Nedved and forward Jiri Novotny race around the rink during a training session at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- Dozens of reporters, cameramen and Olympic volunteers mobbed the practice rink behind Shayba Arena, leaning over railings and pressing against the glass while part of the Russian men's hockey team went through a workout.

Just imagine what it'll be like when Alex Ovechkin gets to Sochi.

The Russians know they're under extraordinary pressure to win their nation's first gold medal in hockey since 1992, but the remarkable media turnout for a mere practice Sunday certainly underlined it.

''It looks like it's a really big deal worldwide,'' said Viktor Tikhonov, the former Phoenix Coyotes forward. ''It just kind of shows you (the) scope ... it's always nice to see how interested people are.''

The Russians are giving themselves every chance to play well. The domestic Kontinental Hockey League began its Olympic break more than two weeks before the first puck drops in Sochi, and its players on the national team held private workouts in Kazan for the past week. They even skipped the opening ceremony.

Russia actually went through two practices Sunday, quite unusual in the compacted Olympic schedule. They'll be back on the ice Monday night, after their NHL stars begin to arrive.

- Greg Beacham - Twitter


Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter:

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