Former NHLers Kovalchuk, Datsyuk lead Russian Olympic hockey team
Will officially compete as 'Olympic Athletes from Russia' amid country's doping ban
Former NHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk will lead the Russian men's hockey team through the doping scandal mess that has its Olympic squad competing as neutrals in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.
As expected, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk were among the 25 players named to the Russian team on Thursday.
Last December, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from competing as a country at the 2018 Winter Games after an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Games hosted by Russia in Sochi.
But while the Russian Olympic Committee has been suspended, the IOC will allow "clean" Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang under the name Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).
Earlier this week, the IOC released a list of 389 Russians allowed to compete in South Korea. Five candidates for the men's hockey team — Anton Belov, Alexei Bereglazov, Mikhail Naumenkov, Valeri Nichushkin and Sergei Plotnikov — were not given IOC clearance. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation said no reasons were given for their exclusion.
No flag, no anthem
The strange situation for the Russian men's hockey team brings to mind the one faced in late 1991 and early 1992 by the Soviet Union/Commonwealth of Independent States team at the world juniors in Fussen, Germany.
Halfway through that tournament, when the calendar flipped from 1991 to 1992, the Soviet Union officially dissolved into the temporary Commonwealth of Independent States.
Four players on the team — Sergei Zholtok (Latvia), Sandis Ozolinssh (Ukraine), Darius Kasparaitis (Ukraine) and Alexander Kuzminski (Lithuania) — as well as head coach Peter Vorobiev (Latvia) did not belong to the new confederation.
There was uncertainty about whether or not the team would or could continue. It kept playing, and the CIS team went on to win the tournament.
"It was one of my best times in hockey," says Alexei Yashin, a retired NHL star who was on that 1992 world junior team and will work as an Olympic analyst for CBC Sports next month. "It was the first time I represented my country in a major tournament.
"There was a lot of buzz for this tournament. Canada had Eric Lindros. Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and [Mikael] Renberg were a big line for Sweden. It was a similar situation, but also different. It was different because we already were a team. It was the same in the sense that although we kept our jerseys, we no longer were the Soviet Union and not yet Russia. We didn't have a country, we didn't have a flag, we didn't have an anthem."
The 2018 Russian team will compete under the Olympic flag. The Olympic anthem will be played instead of the Russian anthem.
"We didn't have to come together in 1992 because we already were a team," says Yashin. "We had a very talented team. A few of our players [Alexei Kovalev and Alex Zhitnik] went on to win gold at the Olympics a few weeks later."
Markov left off
Russia was favoured to win men's hockey gold in Pyeongchang before the IOC's banishment decision, and it remains the favourite.
Andrei Markov was about the only surprise omission from the Russian roster. But the 39-year-old former Montreal Canadiens defenceman had not been under consideration for the past few months. He was not on Russia's long list of candidates forwarded to the IOC to be cleared earlier and he did not play for Russia at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki in November, nor the Channel One Cup in Moscow last month.
This team should have plenty of chemistry. Every player was drawn from the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League. Russian head coach Oleg Znarok, who also coaches KHL-leading SKA St. Petersburg, has 15 of his players on the national team. Another eight hail from CSKA Moscow.
Kovalchuk has been dominant this season with St. Petersburg. He leads the league in scoring with 31 goals and 63 points in 53 games.
Here are the three goalies, seven defencemen and 15 forwards named to the Russian Olympic team, as well as the NHL teams that drafted them:
- Vasily Koshechkin (2002 Tampa Bay, 8th round)
- Igor Shestyorkin (2014 N.Y. Rangers, 4th round)*
- Ilya Sorokin (2014 N.Y. Islanders, 3rd round)#
- Vladislav Gavrikov (2015 Columbus, 6th round)*
- Alexey Marchenko (2011 Detroit, 7th round)#
- Nikita Nesterov (2011 Tampa Bay, 5th round)#
- Vyacheslav Voynov (2008 Los Angeles, 2nd round)*
- Artem Zub (undrafted)*
- Andrey Zubarev (2005 Atlanta, 6th round)*
- Bogdan Kiselevich (Undrafted)#
- Sergei Andronov (2009 St. Louis, 3rd round)#
- Alexander Barabanov (Undrafted)*
- Pavel Datsyuk (1998 Detroit, 6th round)*
- Mikhail Grigorenko (2012 Buffalo, 1st round)#
- Nikita Gusev (2012 Tampa Bay, 7th round)*
- Dinar Khafizullin (Undrafted)*
- Ilya Kablukov (2007 Vancouver, 5th round)*
- Sergey Kalinin (Undrafted)*
- Kirill Kaprizov (2015 Minnesota, 5th round)#
- Ilya Kovalchuk (2001 Atlanta, 1st overall)*
- Sergei Mozyakin (2002 Columbus, 9th round)
- Nikolay Prokhorkin (2012 Los Angeles, 4th round)*
- Vadim Shipachyov (Undrafted)*
- Sergei Shirokov (2006 Vancouver, 6th round)*
- Ivan Telegin (2010 Atlanta, 4th round)#
* denotes member of SKA St. Petersburg
# denotes member of CSKA Moscow