Russia a team united

"It's tons and tons of butterflies," Tikhonov said. "I'll tell you that. Ever since the opening [ceremonies], just been super, super excited for it to all start. Now that NHL guys are here, it's just amazing seeing so many superstars in one room."

Has he been asked about his iconic grandfather a few times in recent days?

Tikhonov laughed. A few.

Understandable, though, given the connection to past glories, glories that have eluded the Russians in best-on-best tournaments for many years now.

"Obviously, it's always been a dream," Tikhonov said. "The fact that's kind of coincidentally at home kind of just adds to that awesome factor. I don't know how else to explain it. Ever since I was a kid, that's what you think about you always want -- to win the Stanley Cup and the Olympic gold. So hopefully we can pull it off."

Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from a monster NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils to return home and play in the KHL before the start of the current season. If Alex Ovechkin is the face of Russian hockey in North America, Kovalchuk is a kind of a hockey prodigal son returning to his homeland at the peak of his powers.

"It's great," Kovalchuk said of his return to his roots. "You know, I'm very excited. I feel good. My family loves it; my mom is very often at the games. She plays with my kids, so it's good."

If he has been embraced by fans because of his decision, Kovalchuk said he's not aware of it, and it certainly wasn't a motivation for returning just as the Olympics were about to come to Russia.

"I don't know," he said. "When I was leaving, I don't think about that. I had a great 11 years in the NHL, and I appreciate everything that they've done for me. Right now it's a new page, new challenges for me. I feel like I'm home -- that's the most important thing."

Regrets? Hardly.

"No. It wasn't a decision [made] just in one day or two days," he added. "I was thinking about it. I think I made the right decision."

Regardless of where he plies his trade, Kovalchuk will carry a heavy burden as one of the team's biggest talents. Along with Ovechkin, captain Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin, Kovalchuk will need to produce offensively for a team that on paper looks to be vulnerable defensively.

"Everybody believes we can do [it] and we believe in ourselves too," Kovalchuk said. If the overriding question for the Russians is, "What would it mean," Ovechkin joked about what it would cost.

"A gold is going to cost $50 billion, probably," the Washington captain quipped, a reference to the estimated cost of hosting the Sochi Olympic Games.

If the tournament is vitally important to the nation's sporting psyche, it is likewise an important moment for Ovechkin, who is running away with the NHL's goal-scoring race and coming off his third Hart Trophy as most valuable player. But he has never achieved the team success that marks all truly great leaders.

This will be Ovechkin's third Olympic tournament, and he is already looking forward to facing firsthand the kind of pressures he saw Canada embrace in Vancouver four years ago in winning gold on home soil.

"I'm pretty sure it's probably going to be my biggest tournament," Ovechkin said. "You can't compare Torino, Vancouver and Sochi. Torino was my first Olympic games. I was 19. Everything was new for me. It was crazy. In Vancouver, we played against Canada, and that was a crazy moment.

"Right now, I play for my country at home, and this is another crazy moment. I'm pretty sure you can ask any Canadian guy, 'What's the biggest moment for them when they play for national team?' Of course, it's home Olympic games. It's probably biggest moment for me."

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