In the final hour of the IIHF imposed roster naming deadline for the Sochi Winter Olympics that begin next month in Russia, the host nation announced the cast that hopes to bring home a gold medal. No country in the hockey tournament portion of the 2014 Games is under more pressure to capture gold than the Russians, who have assembled a team they hope will be able to play a skill game with the Swedes, grind game with the Americans, and power game with the Canadians. Here is Russia’s 2014 Olympic roster:
Goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov & Alexander Eremenko.
Defence: Anton Belov, Vyacheslav Voynov, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, Evgeni Medvedev, Nikita Nikitin, Ilya Nikulin & Fedor Tyutin.
Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Denis Kokarev, Nikolai Kulemin, Evgeni Malkin, Valery Nichushkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Popov, Alexander Radulov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexei Tereschenko, Viktor Tikhonov & good ol’ Sergei Soin of Dynamo Moscow.
At the top-end, the Russians are as talented and capable of scoring game decisive goals as any other nation in the tournament. Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin, Kovalchuk: these are some of the best pure finishers of our generation. Given one opportunity to break open a game, any of the top Russian snipers can bury at the world’s finest level, making them a dangerous opponent to have in a tie game with ten minutes left on the clock in the 3rd period. The concerning question about the Russians is: do they have the depth to compete for 60 minutes against the other top clubs?
Being on home ice, in front of thousands of screaming patriots, this Russian group is going to give everything they have in the tank; they’ll be extremely difficult to beat. If there is a question of depth regarding Team Russia, there certainly won’t be the potential for a let down in energy or emotion in front of the screaming (or whistling) hometown crowds. The proud Russians will play the finest version of that beautiful east-west style that is so entertaining to watch. They’re going to give the competition fits defensively – especially the unaccustomed North American teams, who with all their skill, still have much to prove on international ice.
One thing I’ve noticed about the Russian national team since the NHL has been sending its finest, is that whenever they play on the big ice, there is no nation more in-sync and adept at puck possession. I expect the 2014 edition of Team Russia to own the puck for long stretches against every team they encounter at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. That alone will make them a near unstoppable force.
At the 2010 Winters in Vancouver the Russian national side was eliminated in an embarrassing 7-3 defeat against Team Canada. Four years prior, at the ’06 Games in Italy, it was the Russians who sent the the Canadians packing early, posting a 2-0 blanking of Canada’s best. As a hockey fan, I hope they meet again in Sochi. It’s always riveting when Canada and Russia clash in international hockey.
*It is nice to see Dallas Stars rookie Valery Nichushkin named to the Russian roster. The 18-year-old who takes a regular shift with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn – drafted 10th overall in the 2013 entry draft – is having a marvellous inaugural campaign in the NHL, and is already one of the league’s most exciting players to watch.
Since the inclusion of NHL players at the Olympics, the Russians have medalled twice: a silver at Nagano ’98 and a bronze at Salt Lake City 2002. It’s hard to imagine they don’t find their way into the medals on home ice, this time around.