Well, Alex Ovechkin‘s dream of once again dawning the Russian jersey on the Olympic stage will have to wait. NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) is coming off a gold medal win at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, this year, their roster will look a bit different as a number of players are no longer eligible to compete, and others have since retired from pro hockey.
While Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov played a key role for the ROC in Pyeongchang, he is no longer eligible to play at the Olympics as he is currently on contract and lighting it up with the Minnesota Wild. Another key contributor to their success was the goaltending tandem of Igor Shestorkin and Ilya Sorokin, both of who are battling it out with the New York Rangers, and New York Islanders, respectively. With a few missing players, which also include Russian legends such as Sergei Mozyakin, and Pavel Datsyuk, this team is surely going to have a different look to it. 2022 top-prospect Danila Yurov could play a big role at the Olympics, as well as the Russian phenom Matvei Michkov.
Russia Has a Rich Hockey History
Russia has had a lot of success pumping out elite talent which includes Hall of Famers Vladislav Tretiak, Igor Larionov, Pavel Bure, and Sergei Fedorov to name a few. With current stars like Evgeni Malkin, Artemi Panarin, and Ovechkin in the NHL, they continue to pump out elite-level talent that is able to match up against guys like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews.
The Russians play a hard and physical game. In recent history, their defence core has always been built around large and physical defencemen such as Anton Volchenkov, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, and Vladislav Gavrikov. With these types of defenders on the ice, they bring that extra grit to the line-up, which allows for not only their offence to thrive but they are able to stop a quick rush or play by laying a big hit and thus altering the momentum of the game. There’s a reason the ROC has become a dominant force on the international stage.
The history for Russia at the Olympics dates as far back as 1955-1956 when they were previously known as a state of the Soviet Union. While at the 56′ Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, they captured their first gold medal. The Soviets would then go on to capture six more gold medals, the last in 1988 when Vladimir Krutov and the Soviets upset Finland in Calgary, Alberta.
Related: Top 10 Russians in the NHL Today
Their history as Russia has a bit of a different look. They were recognized as an independent state by the IIHF on May 6, 1992. Since then, they have medaled three times which includes silver, bronze, and a gold medal victory at the most recent 2018 Olympic Games.
Fun Facts About Team ROC & Its Players
- Since the league came into existence, 282 Russians have suited up for atleast one NHL game.
- Valeri Kharlamov is the all time leading scorer for the Soviets with 36 points.
- Ovechkin still leads all Russians in NHL goals and points with 756 and 1374 respectively. The next closest active player is Malkin with 1107 points.
- Kharlamov has his (#17) retired and remains the only player.
- Thier biggest win on the international stage came against Italy, when they defeated the Italians 10-0 on May 15, 2019.
- Their biggest loss however came against Finland when they were defeated 7-1 on April 22, 1997.
Biggest Stars on the World Stage
With previous Olympics being played with a majority of NHL players, Russia has seen a fair share of stars. Datsyuk is the all-time leader for the Russians, since 2002 he has competed in 5 Olympic Games and captained the team twice. He accumulated 20 points in 23 games and has won one bronze, and one gold medal. While Ovechkin would have captained the team this year, those responsibilities will now likely be handed off to Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) superstar and former Vegas Golden Knight, Vadim Shipachyov.
Without NHLers this year, they will be switching focus to other players who have international experience and can help the red machine bring home another gold. Other notable rumoured returnees who could be relied upon will be former NHLers Nikita Gusev, Nikita Nesterov, and Slava Voynov.
Where will ROC’s Players Come From?
Once again, they will be recruiting players from the KHL, the top league in Russia. A handful of players will be making their return to the roster after capturing gold in 2018. Among those players, some new faces could appear in the likes of Andrei Kuzmenko, Sergei Andronov, Alexey Marchenko, and former Buffalo Sabres first-round draft pick, Mikhail Grigorenko. Don’t count out players such as Shakir Mukhamadullin, Yurov, or Michkov either. All have played key roles for Russia on the international stage before.
While their roster will be a tad bit different from the 2018 team, they have proved that they can succeed without NHLers. Their system works, and they will once again be one of the hardest teams to go up against. They will be putting it all on the line to go for back-to-back golds in Beijing.
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die-hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been a part of his life. Now, Colton is exploring the sports media world and looking to make it a career. He currently covers the Winnipeg Jets, as well as contributes to World Juniors, and draft-related content. He is co-host of the WesternCentric Podcast, which revolves around the WHL.