Five Capitals to Represent Respective Countries in 2014 Sochi Olympics

The Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament begins on Wednesday, and to allow nearly 150 of its players to participate, the NHL has taken a two-week hiatus.

Five of those players are members of the Washington Capitals; forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Martin Erat and Marcus Johansson as well as defenseman John Carlson will all represent their respective countries as they strive for gold in Sochi.

To familiarize yourself with the Capitals taking part, consider this a primer of the upcoming tournament.

Alex Ovechkin

Age: 28 (Sept. 17, 1985)

Birthplace: Moscow, Russia 

Position: Right Wing/Left Wing

Height: 6'3"

Weight: 235

Previous Olympic Experience: 2006, 2010

No other hockey player participating in the two-week tournament -- and possibly no other athlete participating in the entire Winter Olympics -- is under more pressure to perform than Ovechkin.

The NHL's leading goal scorer arrived in Sochi on Sunday, but has been answering countless questions for the past several months about the enormous expectations placed upon himself and his countrymen as they attempt to win gold for the first time since the Soviet Union dissolved. 

Anything less than gold will be considered a failure by the host nation, and that is the focus that Ovechkin and his teammates have taken. 

"Since I was a little kid and since everybody [on the roster] was a little kid, their dream was to play in the Olympic Games," Ovechkin said recently. "Especially we have the chance to represent the country in Sochi, it's unbelievable. ... I don't think somebody is going to just say their mission is done just to be in the Olympic Games. Our mission is to win the gold medal and play our best hockey."

Nicklas Backstrom

Age: 26 (Nov. 23, 1987)

Birthplace: Gavle, Sweden

Position: Center 

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 208

Previous Olympic Experience: 2010

Unlike his magnetic linemate, Backstrom is content to cede the spotlight. That approach has made him one of the most quietly effective players in the NHL, consistently racking up points with little to no fanfare. No player in the NHL has more power-play points this season (31) than Backstrom, and his 26 games with at least three assists are the most since he entered the league in 2007-08.

On a Swedish team loaded with talent, the 26-year-old may assume a similar position, but just like in Washington, as long as his team wins, he is perfectly fine with that. 

“It means a lot. Obviously I have my heart here in Washington but it’s always fun to play for your country,” Backstrom said about his selection last month. “I’m very honored to be on the team and it’s going to be a fun experience.”

John Carlson

Age: 24 (January 10, 1990)

Birthplace: Natick, Massachusetts (raised in Colonia, New Jersey)

Position: Defense 

Height: 6'3"

Weight: 217

Previous Olympic Experience: N/A

With injury-prone defenseman Mike Green unable to consistently stay in the lineup, Carlson has become coach Adam Oates' most relied-upon blueliner. 

Carlson has been on the ice for 40.4 percent of Washington's total ice time this season, a team-high and 16th-most league-wide. He anchors the Capitals' penalty kill (his 3:59 of shorthanded ice time per game ranks second in the NHL), mans the point on their potent power play and regularly faces some of the league's toughest competition among defensemen

Carlson's all-around game was too enticing for USA Hockey to pass up, and now he will be able to prove himself once again on an international stage

“Definitely nervous," he admitted this past weekend. "Anyone would be lying. But I’m excited. It’s still hockey. I’m looking forward to it.”

Martin Erat

Age: 32 (August 29, 1981)

Birthplace: Trebic, Czech Republic

Position: Left Wing/Right Wing

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 196

Previous Olympic Experience: 2006, 2010

This season has easily been the most frustrating of Erat's 12-year career. In the Capitals' pre-Olympic finale on Saturday, he finally scored his first goal of the season, and he did so for a team that he would prefer not to be on.

Yet Erat received some good news last week when he was tapped as a replacement for injured St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka.

"It's always nice to play for your national team, especially in as big a tournament as Olympics are," said Erat, who will make his third Olympic appearance. "It's going to be nice to change scenarios for a while and hope [we] get something done there."

Erat will join a veteran-laden Czech team featuring two of the first five picks in the 1990 NHL Draft: former NHLer Petr Nedvěd and New Jersey Devils forward/ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr. 

"I think the experience can actually help in this moment," Erat said. "Like you play the quarterfinals, you've got a 60-minute game and everything can happen. And then after, you just play for medals. It's big games."

Marcus Johansson

Age: 23

Birthplace: Landskrona, Sweden

Position: Left Wing/Center

Height: 6'1"

Weight: 205

Previous Olympic Experience: N/A

Johansson was not originally selected to Sweden's 25-man roster when it was unveiled last month, but he was among three players included on the reserve list and told by team brass to sit tight.

With Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin hampered by bruised ribs and physically unable to compete, Johansson received the call that he had hoped for in January. 

“It’s a great feeling, it’s awesome. It’s a dream coming true, playing in the Olympics for your country, it’s pretty awesome and I’m really excited,” Johansson said. “You feel proud and really excited to be able to experience the Olympics and have a chance to win the gold medal.”

The 23-year-old, in his fourth NHL season, is steadily developing into a solid playmaker. Of his 29 assists this season, 18 have come at even-strength and 15 are of the primary variety, both of which lead the team.

Johansson said last week that Sweden's great strength is its depth, which is formidable at every position. Judging by the team's first practice, Johansson may not be called upon to play, but Oates hopes that simply being surrounded by the world's greatest players will have a positive effect on his young forward. 

"If you couldn't, I don't know what else could motivate you," Oates said. "You're getting an opportunity to go play with the best for 10 days. You get to play with your peers, some of the guys you looked up to, I'm sure. It takes you to another level, so now you're going to be regarded at that level." 

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