Each NHL Team’s Biggest Character: Detroit Red Wings, Pavel Datsyuk
You might have been expecting Bertuzzi for this one but aside from the fact that he fractured three of Steve Moore’s neck vertebrae in the biggest cheap shot in NHL history, there’s not much to talk about with big Bert, at least in comparison to Datsyuk. So hear me out here and if by the end of this post you still disagree write it down in the comments under this post and maybe I’ll give Bertuzzi the reaming you’d like to hear me give him.
What can you say about Pavel Datsyuk that hasn’t already been said. Pavel “the human highlight reel” Datsyuk is and has been redefining the game of hockey with his unique style of play since he entered the league. Pasha (Pavel’s nickname since he was a kid) was selected an incredible 171st overall in 1998 after missing the NHL entry draft in 96 and 97. The Red Wings have had an uncanny ability to find incredible talent in draft year in and year out (Federov – 74th, Franzen – 97th overall, Holmstrom – 257th overall, Zetterberg – 210th overall, you get the picture…) but Datsyuk might have been their best late round pick ever. As a matter of fact when his teammates at his Russian club told him he was drafted, he asked for proof. When his teammates showed him the newspaper article he insisted it was a misprint. He is a 5-time NHL All-Star, 3-time Selke Trophy winner [Best defensive forward in the NHL (won back-to-back-to-back in ’08, ’09, and ’10)], 4-time Lady Byng Trophy Winner [player who exhibits most sportsmanship and gentlemanly qualities (won back-to-back-to-back-to-back in ’06, ’07, ’08, and ’09)] and 2-time Stanley Cup Champion. That’s quite a line-up, but when you see Datsyuk play it only make sense, he is one of the most creative, elusive, skilled, respected, talented (you get the idea) players in the NHL. He moves in such a way that even Kinesiologists are left baffled. His flow with the puck makes the most difficult of moves look like they could be performed by someone who’s never laced up in their life. Obviously a lot of his talent can be attributed to natural talent and hard work but when you enter the NHL with mentors like Lidstrom, Yzerman, Federov and being put on a line with Brett Hull and Igor Larianov in your first season in which you also won a Stanley Cup, Datsyuk would have had to screw up pretty hard to be a flop in the NHL. So what makes Datsyuk so amazing? For me it comes down to two things, his incredible defensive play and his incredible offensive arsenal. Those three Selke trophies weren’t dumb luck, he is almost always leading the league in takeaways and if you’re not aware when Datsyuk is on the ice, don’t even bother catching a pass because Pasha will grab it before you even realize its gone. His defensive positioning is impeccable and he always plays the PK because of that. And as good as he is on defense he might possibly better offensively. He is so well equipped and dangerous offensively you could compare him to Rambo after raiding an US Army issued weapons warehouse. It is almost impossible to defend Pasha because you never know what the hell he’s going to do. He can toss more sauce than Chef Boyardee, he’s got more jukes than the first 6 seasons of So You Think You Can Dance, he could out-snipe Master Chief, and he dangles that puck like it ain’t no thing like a chicken wing on a string (sorry that was lame), to name a few of his talents. His stick is like a magic wand and Datsyuk is more than willing and able to pull any number of those trick just mentioned out of his hat at any given moment. His unmatched ability to read the ice, his teammates and his defenders simultaneously makes him virtually unstoppable. As we all know I’m a huge Wings fan and I’m trying not to worship the man too much here but when you’ve seen the insane number of perfectly sculpted masterpieces this guy pulls out of his ass on a nightly basis, I just can’t help myself. Here is an awesome clip to show you just a few of his dangles and dekes although it did leave out a few of my favorites…
For as amazing as Datsyuk plays, he keeps the humility of player who just got his first call up. Just like his Selke awards, Datsyuk’s Lady Bing Trophies were no mistake. Datsyuk’s incredible humility stems way back from his early childhood. After I read the Sports Illustrated article, “Disgusting, But In a Good Way” published last year, a lot of light was shed upon me as to why Datsyuk acts the way he does. Pasha is from Sverdlovsk, Russia where he lived in a 4th floor, 3 bedroom apartment with his Mother, Father and his sister, whom he shared a room with. His window overlooked an Ice rink one which he frequently played ice soccer (attributing to his great footplay with the puck). He also spent several hours a week playing chess which he attributes to his great ice awareness. Pavel’s father eventually let him get into hockey and he did well, but barely weighing 150lbs it was hard for him to stand out. When Pavel was 16 his mother passed away and a few years later, his father went as well leaving him an orphan at the age of 19, but he always kept the lesson they gave him – humility makes the man, on and off the ice. Datsyuk once said in an interview, “A happy person is the one who doesn’t need anything”. He says he misses the days in Russia where he had to walk everywhere and that the greatest moment in his career was when he got injured in Russia because it helped him realize how much he loved the game.
Datsyuk’s humility is unmatched, but something people rarely hear about is his sense of humor. His lightheartedness has won over his teammates and fans alike. When asked in an interview if he liked winning the Lady Bing award he replied, “Yes, I love ladies”. And when asked about why he works so hard to get back on defense he said, “Must get back before Holmstrom, so he’s the slow one not me.” On the subject of his broken wrist last year, when the cast came off he asked his doctor if he had recovered so he could play the violin, the doctor responded,”Of course” to which Datsyuk said, “Wow, this is great. Before this injury, I could never play violin at all. I must break the other hand so I can play guitar.” You can find more of his humor in this interview http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Puck-Daddy-chats-with-Pavel-Datsyuk-and-gets-dro?urn=nhl-155003. Lastly two of the funniest thing about Pasha are his Beaver Cleaver haircut that looks like the standard haircut given to USSR Cosmonauts, and his grasp, or lack thereof on the English language. Now the Russians aren’t as fortunate as the Swedes to have both their native language and English taught in the classroom and admittedly it has gotten better over the past decade, but when you hear guys like Ovechkin who learned the language within a few years it kind of makes you scratch your head. He knows his English is poor and uses his sense of humor to poke fun at it but, it’s still always entertaining to watch him stumble through interviews. His speeches after winning the Lady Bing and Selke are hysterical . Perhaps his inability to fully grasp the English language is why he’s such a good sport, can’t be called a dick if you haven’t said anything. And maybe it can also be the reasoning behind everyone elses inability to re-create his style of play, after all if he can’t properly explain what he doing, how will others learn. Either way Pavel Datsyuk is the most versatile player in the NHL today and is a real treat to watch. His unmatched talent on the ice and attitude off the ice are what make him stick out more than anyone else and the Detroit Red Wings’ biggest character.