SOCHI, Russia – When the Russian men’s hockey team took the ice on Monday night for the first time with NHL players, one of the League’s biggest names didn’t practice: Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, who has been limited to 37 games this season with a nagging lower body injury.
Datsyuk’s participation in the Sochi Olympics has drawn attention, as other players like Steven Stamkos and his own teammate Johan Frazen have pulled out with injuries. But Ken Holland, Datsyuk’s general manager, maintains that his hands were tied and trusts Datsyuk knows what’s best for his health.
“If he couldn’t play, he won’t play,” said Holland on Monday, before Team Canada’s first practice of the Sochi tournament.
But beyond Datsyuk’s health, another issue is whether Holland could have prevented him from going. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow recently came under fire from Slovakian management, accused of leaning on defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to not play in the Olympics after missing most of the season with a concussion.
Holland maintains that the decision is out of his hands.
“That’s really the agreement between the Players' Association, the NHL and the IIHF. The players are coming here. Every federation gets to announce their roster,” he said.
“From a team standpoint, we have to respect there’s an agreement in place and that a player knows his body better than everyone else, and respect that decision.”
Holland said it’s an injury Datsyuk will play through when the NHL returns later this month.
“I think with the injury he’s been battling, really, since late December, for the rest of the year every opportunity he gets to take a break he’s going to take a break. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said
And that’s the thing with Datsyuk: He’s a special case. The Games are in his homeland. As Holland said, this opportunity comes once for a pro player – it’s up to him whether to potentially risk his heath for that chance.
“In his hockey lifetime, the Olympics will never be in Russia. He’s the captain. He’s probably been preparing for this tournament for five of six years,” he said.
“You’re trusting they know their body.”