Apparently, yesterday was the day all of hockey’s media decided to begin their predictions for the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. From ESPN to Yahoo, both the USA and Canada has been the talk of the best international hockey tournament on the globe. Luckily, no one is yet talking about the hosts, the best national team in the sport, and the reason you all read this site.
That team of course is Russia (or sbornya if you’re a Russki). The team heads into the tournament with the expectations of only the biggest country on the planet and the burning desire to be on top of the Olympic hockey world for the first time in over 20 years. Coming off an absolute disaster in Vancouver, the “new Russia” could be the team that is destined to erase the ghosts. Here’s how they’ll look
Alex Ovechkin – Pavel Datsyuk – Alex Semin
Ilya Kovalchuk – Evgeni Malkin – Alex Radulov
Sergei Mozyakin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Nikolai Kluemin
Nail Yakupov – Alex Burmistrov – Alexei Morozov
Those top two lines are the best in the world, bar none. Just to give you an idea these two projected lines compared to Canada’s outscore the latter by 400 goals. Firepower aplenty but the key to success will be to get them to play united unlike in Vancouver. Since 2010, the majority of these players games have evolved to both sides of the puck instead of just offense. Along with age and being the reigning World Championships,where the big stars co-existed last, makes them quite a force if they learn to play as a unit like the Big Red Machine of old.
The bottom two lines are questionable since the Russian Hockey Federation is always making decisions that leave fans and pundits scratching their heads. It’s hard to imagine a Russia team playing in Russia without players from the KHL. Mozyakin is a shoe-in as he leads the KHL in all-time scoring while Kuznetsov has become the leagues brightest young star despite promising to come to DC once the games expire. Some older players might be added just to play in the Olympics one last time so who makes the final cut is anyone’s guess. Don’t forget this is the same organization that has given Evgeny Artyukhin multiple chances to put on the national crest. Players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Maxim Afinogenov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alexei Tereshchenko, Alexei Kovalev (long shot but who knows) are on the bubble.
Dmitri Kalinin= Denis Denisov
Ilya Nikulin – Anrei Markov
Sergei Gonchar -Alexei Emelin
If there is a place where there is no shortage of options on this team, it’s defense. If you remove any of these players there are certainly top caliber options waiting to jump in. I worry least about this blue-line and I’m pretty curious who they choose to give the call and who to leave at home. Players on the bubble Fedor Tutyin, Nikita Nikitin, Anton Volchenkov, Dmitry Kulikov.
The Russian crease is this teams Achilles’ heel. All three netminders have represented their country in at least one major competition but based on play so far into 2013 none look too promising. Varlamov led the team last year at the World’s and almost broke the trophy but that doesn’t mean the starting role is his. The 2013 championship will be an unofficial tryout to see who deserves the chance over his counterparts. Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t have a successful stint back home during the lockout but that doesn’t mean he won’t feature in his fourth consecutive Olympics. Nabokov was pretty much shelled last time around. Konstantin Barulin is someone to keep an eye on as I just can’t picture 3 NHL goalies two games’ in a row.
Whatever the roster looks like by the time Sochi rolls around, Russia should have little trouble advancing from their group with Slovenia, Slovakia, and the USA before reclaiming the medal they most desire.
(All photos courtesy of Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)