Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Russia

The Russia National Hockey Team is currently ranked 3rd in the IIHF World Rankings is one of the favorites to win the gold medal in at home in Sochi.

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Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, Russia was automatically entered in the 2014 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.

Russia has participated in the Olympics in ice hockey five times since 1994 after the breakup of the Soviet Union with mixed results. 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. They followed that with a bronze in 2002 and another fourth in 2006 prior to an uninspired 6th place in 2010 after getting blown out of the tournament 7-3 by Canada in the quarterfinals.

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 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 with back to back titles in 2008 and 2009. A silver immediately followed in 2010 and a fourth gold came in 2012 after a dominant, undefeated 10-0 performance.

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Russia celebrates it's 2012 world championship

The Russians have also participated in the World Cup of Hockey twice, reaching the semi-finals in 1996.

Russia enters the 2014 Olympics with 16 NHLers on it's roster, with the remainder coming from the KHL. Their squad is highlighted by Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

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Ovechkin never passes on an opportunity to
play for Russia, as he did successfully in 2008

Other members of the incredibly potent Russian offense include Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin and Alexander Radulov, formerly of the NHL and currently playing in the KHL. Russia is so loaded up front that they neglected to name current KHL scoring leader Sergei Mozyakin to their roster.

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Ilya Kovalchuk

The Russian defense will be led by the offensively talented Andrei Markov and Slava Voynov, while the goal will be patrolled by NHLers Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov.

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 the United States on February 15th and Slovakia on the 16th to go undefeated and ensure themselves one of the byes. This could be a tough task if the Americans are on top of their game. From then on, it's a single elimination tournament, with just two wins required to make the finals, and many are expecting Russia to be playing for gold on February 23rd if they do not let the pressure of playing at home get to them.

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The home fans will have plenty to cheer for in Sochi

Today's featured jersey is a 1992 Russia National Team Alexi Kovalev jersey as worn during the 1992 World Championships during the early days of the Russian National Team following the breakup of the Soviet Union in December of 1991.

When competing at the 1992 Olympics in February of 1992, Russia competed as the Unified Team, a joint team from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia, wearing the last of their old Soviet Union jerseys, only with a blank space where the CCCP lettering used to reside on the front.

By the time the World Championships arrived in late April, Russia now had their own separate hockey program and were decked out in their stunning new jerseys which featured a bold design based on the onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.

For some reason, these great jerseys had a unexpectedly short life span, having only been used for the 1992 World Championships and the 1993 World Juniors before being replaced by a new style.

Kovalev was one of the most skilled players in the history of Russian hockey and played 19 seasons in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, making him one of the first four Russians to ever have their name engraved on the cup.

Internationally, he played twice for the Soviet Union at the European Juniors, as part of the Unified Team at the 1992 World Juniors and Olympics, winning gold both times, and for Russia eight times, three World Championships, earning a bronze in 2005 (when he was named the Best Forward), the World Cup of Hockey twice, and two more Olympics, winning bronze in 2002.

Russia 1992 jersey photo Russia1992F.jpg
Russia 1992 jersey photo Russia1992B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that Russia will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics as the host nation in Sochi. While the red road jersey bears a classic hockey look, the white home jersey is an over the top affair with the oversized double headed eagle from their coat of arms in a full bleed print that includes the wings on the arms of the jersey in a style that would seem more at home in the early 1990's.

That said, it's an effective, eye catching look that is well done with the blue "Russia" in Cyrillic and the blue waist stripe giving a solid anchor to the wild look of the upper half of the jersey. Patriotic to it's core, this jersey should be a hit with the fans of the home team, and if not, they always have the more traditional red jersey to fall back on.

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Here, Kovalchuk scores the winning goal in overtime of the 2008 World Championships, defeating the host Canadians.

Next are highlights from Russia's most recent World Championship, which came in 2012.

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