The 2014 Winter Olympic Games gets started in less than three months so I think it’s time for a preview! The Olympics start on February 7, with the men’s Olympic hockey tournament beginning on February 12.
From Monday to Thursday this week and next, Tyler Wilde, Ryan Biech and myself will be previewing the rosters from the eight contending countries (sorry Austria, Norway, Latvia and Slovenia, but you’re not important enough yet). We’ll wrap up with previewing Team Canada on November 21.
Up first is the host nation, Team Russia.
Russia finished 6th in Vancouver, losing to Canada in the quarterfinals. They last won gold at the Olympics in 1992 (competing as the “Unified Team“).
Round Robin Opponents
Russia will be competing in pool A along with USA, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Russia’s top end talent is as good as anyone’s, boasting the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk (remember him? He has 25 points in 19 games in the KHL this year). It remains to be seen where Nail Yakupov fits in with the team, if at all. Yakupov is struggling to make the Edmonton Oilers roster, but he has a lot of talent and is more accustomed to the big ice surface, so I have him on the team.
Semin – Malkin – Ovechkin
Kovalchuk – Datsyuk – Radulov
Tarasenko – Anisimov – Kulemin
Popov – Tikhonov – Perezhogin
Russia’s defence is probably a little bit underrated. They still have veterans Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar and Anton Volchenkov, but newcomers Slava Voynov and Alexei Emelin will be key contributors for them.
Markov – Voynov
Tyutin – Emelin
Kulikov – Gonchar
The battle for the crease is between Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky. Varlamov has had the better start to the season on the ice (off the ice is another story), posting better numbers than Bobrovsky for an upstart Avalanche team. Bobrovsky was sensational last season and won the Vezina Trophy in the lockout shortened season. They might split games in the round robin, but I’m giving Varlamov the edge at this point, due to his strong play this season. Nabokov has the most experience, of course, but he’s past his prime.
Most likely to get snubbed
I’m going to be honest, I haven’t watched as much KHL as I should to be predicting Team Russia. My picks are likely to have an NHL bias, but Russia has a lot of their best playing in the KHL at the moment. I chose 6 players from the KHL to make this team, but I probably omitted a few worthy players as well. Vadim Shipachev, Mikhail Vamakov, Denis Kokarev and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named to the orientation roster and are probably fine players, but I have only stats and reputation to go on right now. There are a couple of former NHL names that you might remember playing in the KHL, but are getting snubbed by me, including Leo Komarov and Alexander Burmistrov. In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov might feel snubbed, especially if he has a strong couple of months with the Oilers.
No team will be under more pressure to win gold in Sochi than the host Russian team. Not even Canada. Russia has never won an Olympic gold medal since the NHL began allowing Olympic participation in 1998. They are supremely talented up front but have a few questions in goal and on defense. If they are to win gold, they must gel as a team (something that has been caused into question in past tournaments) and get great performances from their stars: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.
Other Roster Previews:
November 11: Russia
November 12: USA
November 13: Sweden
November 14: Czech Republic
November 18: Slovakia
November 19: Switzerland
November 20: Finland
November 21: Canada
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobTheHockeyGuy