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Kovalchuk feels chemistry within Russian hockey squad (VIDEO)

Published time: December 17, 2012 14:01
Edited time: December 17, 2012 19:54

Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk (C) plays against Finland in Channel One Cup (RIA Novosti / Grigoriy Sokolov)

Hockey stars, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, agree that the victory in the Chanel One Cup has been a great test for Team Russia ahead of the home Olympics in Sochi.

­The Moscow Euro Hockey Tour stage presented a really unique opportunity for Russian hockey lovers.

Never before have the Big Four – Aleksandr Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeny Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk – played together for the national squad on home ice.

The Channel One Cup, which saw Team Russia topping Sweden (4-1), Finland (3-1) and the Czech Republic (6-0) is always well attended, but this year it had particular significance.

The players were pleased to put on a show for the fans, as with many playing in North America for a number of years; they rarely get a chance to play in Russia together.

“You know it’s great,” Ilya Kovalchuk said. “That’s what we play hockey for. We have a big tournament coming up in a year and we just have to prepare ourselves best as we can. We knew that the fans will be right behind us.”  

The supporters weren’t the only ones to benefit as head coach, Zineatula Bilyaletdinov, also got some valuable practice time with his top stars ahead of the Sochi Games, which are just 15 months away.

Part of the all-conquering Soviet Union's success was their continuity, given that the national team players constantly competed together.

And Kovalchuk believes this familiarity can only help the Russians going into their home Winter Olympics.

“It’s nice to feel that chemistry,”
he stressed. “Just being around the guys is fun, especially with the new coach. Some guys play for the first time for him. And he’s got a new system. We have to go through a lot to feel good about each other.”

"It’s a kind of a small test for us,”
Kovi’s teammate, Pavel Datsyuk, added. “You never know when you play again with all teammates.”

This was a great opportunity for Bilyaletdinov to try out new combinations – and so far things seem to be going well.

And if this is a sign of things to come – then Russia could finally end their wait for their first Olympic gold since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

One of the stand-out players at this tournament has been Pavel Datsyuk.

The Yekaterinburg native, who's one of the best two-way centers in the world, has drawn gasps from the crowds with his impressive play, including a hat-trick against the Czech Republic, which Russia won 6-0.

However, the 34 year-old knows only two well the pressure his side will come under when the Sochi games get underway.

“It’s a lot of pressure on the home team. We’ll need to make the right choice, check every line that it could do its best,” Datsyuk explained.

After a few barren years, there is suddenly a new buzz within Russian hockey, which has helped by a number of the country's NHL stars returning home due to the lockout.

There is still much that can change ahead of the Sochi games, but the practice they’ve got at the Chanel One Cup ahead of the competition, could prove invaluable in their quest to get that elusive gold medal.