Getty ImagesOn Jan. 7, Russia celebrated Christmas. The Russian Hockey Federation celebrated by announcing the final Olympic roster, giving a present to some players by including them on the team, while snubbing others for what appears to be no obvious reason.
Let’s break down the roster.
Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)
Alexander Eremenko ( Dynamo Moscow)
There are no surprises here. Last year, after Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy, I said that the Olympic starting goalie job was still Semyon Varlamov’s to lose. And it is still the case. Varlamov has been long seen in Russia as the one who will lead the team in goal in Sochi. The inclusion of Eremenko is a testament to the goaltender who spent his entire career in Russia, and has seen a fair share of snubs at the international level. It is tough to see him playing in Sochi, but at least he will be there. Russian Head Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said that having one goaltender from the KHL is the decision the coaching staff made a long time ago.
Anton Belov (Edmonton Oilers)
Vyacheslav Voynov (Los Angeles Kings)
Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens)
Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens)
Evgeni Medvedev (AK Bars)
Nikita Nikitin (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Ilya Nikulin (AK Bars)
Fedor Tyutin (Columbus BlueJackets)
There are no real surprises here as well, at least because Russia is not that deep when it comes to defense. The inclusion of Anton Belov over someone like Sergei Gonchar may be interesting, but not very surprising, even though Belov hasn’t really shown much in Edmonton. Gonchar could have been someone who could reanimate the impotence that is the Russian power play. The two defensemen from the KHL – Medvedev and Nikulin looked terrible at the last leg of the Euro Hockey Tour for Russia in December. There’s hope that the only way to go for them is up. Markov will have the weight of this team in every component of the game, including power play. One possible surprise is the omission of Anton Volchenkov, but his recent injuries may have caused him to be out of the team. Fedor Tyutin, however, is also nursing a small injury.
Artem Anisimov (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings)
Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey SKA)
Denis Kokarev (Dynamo Moscow)
Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Valery Nichushkin (Dallas Stars)
Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Alexander Popov (Avangard)
Alexander Radulov (CKA)
Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)
Alexei Tereschenko (SKA)
Viktor Tikhonov (SKA)
Sergei Soin (Dynamo Moscow)
This is where it really got interesting. The Russian Head Coach was in Dallas last night watching Nichushkin play, and Valery got the biggest Christmas present of his life. “He is in great shape right now,” Bilyaletdinov said. “In some way you can see [his inclusion] as an advance, but an advance that a player who is extremely talented and gifted should be able to pay back.”
By inviting Soin and Kokarev the Russians want to build a shutdown fourth line, preferring these KHLers to someone like Alexander Burmistrov from AK Bars, who must have been on the verge of making the team.
The biggest surprise is the exclusion of Alexander Semin. It is quite difficult to understand exactly what led to him not making the team. He is picking up his game lately, but, quite interestingly, Bilyaletdinov didn’t even speak with Semin when visiting one of the recent Hurricanes’ games.
Is there something personal there?
Evgeni Kuznetsov, who decided to stay in the KHL instead of coming to Washington, because he was hoping to make the Olympic team also didn’t make it. Neither did Nail Yakupov, but his recent bench warming exercises didn’t help his cause.
Overall, sans Semin, this roster is not a surprise. With an asterisk of Nichushkin making it being somewhat of a surprise. This is because the Russians don’t really have that many players to choose from. It is possible that the Russians will bring a dozen or so players with them to Sochi to participate in team practices.
But I do feel for Semin.