Friday, February 12, 2010
The highest seeded team in Group B at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is Russia.
The Russia National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 1st in the IIHF World Rankings is one of the favorites to win a medal in Vancouver, having won the last two World Championships.
Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, Russia was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
Russia has participated in the Olympics in ice hockey four times since 1994 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 1994 they finished in 4th place, followed by their best showing in 1998 with a silver medal in Nagano, Japan, the first Olympics with full professional participation. The followed that with a bronze in 2002 and another fourth the last time out in 2006.
Since 1992, Russia have been regular participants in the World Championships, with a number of medals to their credit. They first won a gold medal in 1993, still playing with the core of the last Soviet Union trained club. Following that success, the program fell into a down period when compared to the dominance of the Soviet Union. From 1994 through 2001, the Russians failed to win a medal of any kind, which included a dismal 11th place finish as hosts of the 2000 tournament. Russian fortunes too a turn for the better with a silver in 2002, bronze medals in 2005 and 2007 before regaining the gold in 2008 and backing that up with another gold in 2009.
The Russians have also participated in the World Cup of Hockey twice, reaching the semi-finals in 1996.
Russia enters the 2010 Olympics with 14 NHLers on it's roster, highlighted by Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, currently the best player in the world. Other members of the incredibly potent Russian offense include Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Aleksey Morozov, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, currently playing in the KHL. Russia is so loaded up front that they neglected to name current KHL scoring leaders and former Olympians Maxim Shushinski and Alexei Yashin to their roster.
The Russian defense will be led by the offensively talented Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar, while the goal will be patrolled by Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov, with Nabokov expected to play in the majority of the games and Bryzgalov a more than capable backup, having led the Russians to the 2009 World Championship.
This is a stellar lineup that sports, in addition to the 14 NHLers, nine players from the Russian KHL, including the familiar names of Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Russia will be defeating rivals the Czech Republic in the Preliminary Round on February 21 to go undefeated to ensure themselves one of the byes. This could be a tough task in the most difficult of the three groups. From then on, it's a single elimination tournament, with just two wins required to make the finals, and most experts are calling for Russia to be playing for gold on February 28th.
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2009 Russia National Team Ilya Kovalchuk jersey as worn when Russia captured the gold medal at the 2009 World Championships as Kovalchuk was named the tournament's MVP after scoring 14 points in nine games.
Kovalchuk, who normally wears #17 in NHL competition in honor of former Soviet great Valeri Kharlamov, regularly wears #71 when playing for the National Team due to #17 being retired by the National Team in the late Kharlamov's honor.
A regular on the National Team, Kovalchuk, despite only being 26 years old, already has played in two World Junior U18 Championships, earning a silver and a gold, a World Junior u20 Championship, six World Championships, earning two bronze and two gold, as well as two previous Olympics, with a bronze to his credit in 2002.
Here is a look at the jerseys that Russia will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. A jersey with too much going on, it has blue underarm flashes, oddly narrow stripes on both the waist and arms, with the arms then coming to a point toward the inside of the sleeves for some reason. Add in the color blocks for the numbers on the shoulders leave this jersey looking like a patchwork quilt. If that weren't enough, they have also added the subtle printing on the lower arms of the eagle from the crest to give you even more to look at.
Here, Kovalchuk scores the winning goal in overtime of the 2008 World Championships, defeating the host Canadians.
Next up is a compilation of Kovalchuk highlights from both the 2009 and 2008 World Championships.
Here is some classic footage of the Soviet Union winning the 1965 World Championships over Czechoslovakia.