Russia seeking Miracle on Ice redemption

Yahoo Sports

SOCHI, Russia – Viktor Tikhonov has never seen the movie "Miracle" and says he never will. Ever.

A feel-good film about how the 1980 United States hockey team, the one where a bunch of college kids somehow triumphed over an all-star team from the Soviet Union and went on to win gold?

Not happening for a guy named after his grandfather, who just happened to be the coach of that Soviet team. Eighty-three-year-old Viktor Tikhonov has lived with decades of second-guessing about the game, most notably why he pulled star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak. It's not exactly recalled as a triumphant moment here. The grandson, making his first appearance on the Russian national team, has said he's never even asked his grandfather about the game.

"Never, never watched it," the younger Tikhonov said here Monday, after the Russians' first full practice. Tikhonov was born in Russia but grew up in California and Kentucky, where his father was a pro player and minor league coach. He's played in the NHL, and while he's back playing professionally in Russia, he has plenty of American friends who have obsessed for years about how to get him to watch the movie.

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"I have a bet going with my friends, one of them is a goalie," Tikhonov said with a laugh. "If he can stop 10 shots in a row, penalty shots, then I will sit down and watch it with him.

"But all the times he tried, I usually get him on the first or second one."

It's probably for the best, particularly as Russian hockey enters these games under immense expectations to win gold. There is no other event, no other athlete or team at these Olympics, under greater pressure to produce than the Russian hockey team.

"Once everything gets started," Tikhonov said, "the wall of pressure is going to hit."

The Russians aren't even pretending that this is anything but what it is — gold or bust. The Canadians were in a similar spot four years ago in Vancouver and delivered. This may be even bigger.

Russia is a volatile place, always evolving, with ups and downs and turbulence. Yet one of the constants has been its ability to churn out elite talent, and a roster led by Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin is proof of that.

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Meanwhile, the competition is far better than in 1980, when the U.S. sent young amateurs. A loss here wouldn't be as shocking, but the disappointment might last as long.

The Russian players from the NHL arrived at Sochi International Airport Monday morning and were met by a mob scene of fans and journalists. When they stepped onto the ice here for practice, cameras snapped all over the arena from a sizable media contingent.

Players said workers in the Olympic Village besieged them for autographs and pictures. Still more watched the practice and offered cheers after a team picture was taken. A quick poll of four of them about what they predict for the Russian team went as follows: gold, gold, gold, gold.

This is the eye of the storm.

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"It is something crazy," Ovechkin said. "We appreciate what [the workers] do for us, everything is fine. I didn't see [any player] say, 'No.' I'm pretty sure sooner or later someone will say, 'Sorry, guys, I have to go.' Right now we're like everybody [else] – we're excited."

Still, he knows reality is coming.

"The pressure is going to come 100 percent," Ovechkin said.

These are grizzled pros, some of whom have drunk from the Stanley Cup. Yet this moment is huge. The intensity is palpable and only growing.

"Huge pressure for us," goaltender Semyon Varlamov said.

This is exactly how they want it, they say. It is always special to represent your country, especially in the Olympics, but this team has a chance to be legendary here. Everyone wanted to be on it.

Ovechkin called it "a very emotional time" when Sochi was awarded the games seven years ago and the concept of competing on home ice was real. Tikhonov said he was nearly overwhelmed when his wife sent him a link to the announced roster while he was on a road trip in Siberia for his current pro team SKA St. Petersburg.

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One and all they know not just what these games mean to their country, how much was spent, and what is being demanded of the hockey team. What would gold mean?

"[It would mean] the gold cost only 50 billion," Ovechkin said with a laugh. "Probably."

So they must win, against a loaded field in a no-room-for-a-misstep tournament. Silver isn't good enough. This time, they want to be the ones making the movie.

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