Canada would have been torn to shreds if it lost to the U.S. in the gold medal game. If Team Russia hockey loses to anyone in the gold medal game, the ridicule would be insurmountable.
The Russians are looking to return to the medal stand for the first time since 2002 when they took home bronze. The Big Red Machine has looked more like a band of misfits than one of the deepest and talented teams assembled for international play. Questioning Russia’s motivation is almost commonplace at this point, so expect the same if there is a lackluster performance. The team is built with a near 50/50 split of NHLers and players from the Kontinental Hockey League based out of Russia.
There is a good mix of youth and experience in their top 12. Pavel Datsyuk (if healthy), Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov lead the top six, with Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikolai Kulemin, and rookie Dallas Star Valeri Nichushkin donning the double-headed eagle crest.
The group assembled could end up scoring the most goals in the tournament despite being in the “Group of Death” with the USA. The motivation to win at home is even more reason to expect a good showing offensively.
There is very little to like on the back end. Andrei Markov and Fedor Tyutin offer the most stability. Slava Voynov and Alexei Emelin have been up-and-down this season in the NHL, and the hope is Emelin’s familiarity with Markov will help him. Evgeny Medvedev and Ilya Nikulin play together in the KHL, as well, as chemistry will loom large for the average D corps.
Sergei Gonchar’s exclusion from Team Russia hockey’s roster may have been warranted, but his experience will be sorely missed.
It appears as if reigning Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will be starting in between the pipes, but Semyon Varlamov is playing well enough to earn at least one start. Both have shown to have lapses in play in their careers, and third-stringer Alexander Yeryomenko may be more of an injury replacement than backup despite a career 1.97 goals against average in the NHL.
The “hot goalie” approach may suit Russia the best.
Group A opponents
USA, Slovakia, Slovenia
Projected group finish
1st– 8 points
3rd– Beating the U.S. in the bronze medal game