Anton Belov and the Defence of Team Russia

Pavel Datsyuk is fired up in Sochi (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Pavel Datsyuk is fired up in Sochi (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

When penning a post-mortem of Russia’s painful exit from the Olympic games, you could point to any one of the main issues that plagued the team: underperforming stars, questionable systematic play, an inferior coaching staff and a more prepared opponent. The Russians were expected to medal based mostly on the fact that the games were on their home soil, and they boasted offensive superstars like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. But not even those big names could carry this team.

Russia Had Too Many Problems

The harsh reality surrounding this team is that from top to bottom they weren’t good enough. Other countries were simply better. And the pressure of winning at home, with a roster that wouldn’t have truly been in contention for gold in other other country, set Team Russia up for failure.

The fallout of the elimination has brought with it some odd details and accusations. Apparently Evgeni Malkin had to beg his coach to pull the goalie at the end of game, which is both puzzling and head-scratching. And bench boss Zinetula Bilyaletdinov wasted no time throwing Ovechkin under the bus.

“Well, it’s difficult to explain why we didn’t score, especially the players who usually score a lot in their games, especially Alexander Ovechkin, who scored over 40 goals. I cannot explain so far.” (Sportsnet)

Yes, Ovechkin was expected to do more. But the defensive system the coaching staff put into place didn’t do anything to help matters, and a team loss is much more than just one player. The team just didn’t have a sense of cohesiveness from the start, and now they’re going back to real life empty handed. However to even suggest that this team was the favorite and underachieved would be quite inaccurate.

The Defense of Team Russia Was Not Good Enough

The Olympics are a display of the very best hockey players in the world coming together to represent their respective home countries. And while it’s not always about who has the most talent on paper, some coutnries simply have a deeper pool of talent to draw from. Russia had a split of NHL players and KHL players, and while they did boast a lot of firepower, their blueline left a lot to be desired.

Anton Belov, property of the Edmonton Oilers, was a feature on Russia’s back-end throughout the tournament. He was on the ice a lot for his country, something that can’t be said when he plays for his NHL club. The 27-year old was undrafted, playing in the Russian Elite League and KHL before deciding he wanted to be in the NHL. The Oilers signed him to a one-year contract in the offseason. He’s a big guy, at 6 foot 4, but no one was really sure what to expect from him.

Belov has one goal and six points through 47 games with the Oilers. He’s a minus -11 on the season, but some Oilers fans feel he’s being underutilized. He performed quite well in Sochi, averaging over 15 minutes a game.

Is there anything wrong with Anton Belov? No, not at all. Would he be a top-four defenceman on the best team in the NHL? Probably not. That’s not his fault, and it’s not Russia’s fault either. But when a guy who struggles on the second worst team in the NHL is a fixture on your blueline for the biggest tournament in the world, there might be a problem.

Russia Didn’t Have Much to Choose From

Russian’s don’t dominate NHL rosters the way they used to, and that fact is especially emphasized in their options on defense.

Rk Born Name Pos GP G A P PIM +/- PPG SHG GWG G/GP A/GP P/GP
1 1974 RU Sergei Gonchar D 1229 219 574 793 957 31 102 2 35 0.178 0.467 0.645
2 1978 RU Andrei Markov D 743 96 334 430 405 25 51 3 18 0.129 0.450 0.579
3 1983 RU Fedor Tyutin D 659 50 181 231 428 -30 17 3 5 0.076 0.275 0.351
4 1982 RU Anton Volchenkov D 638 19 106 125 422 66 0 0 3 0.030 0.166 0.196
5 1990 RU Dmitri Kulikov D 289 22 70 92 184 -31 7 0 4 0.076 0.242 0.318
6 1983 RU Denis Grebeshkov D 234 17 68 85 114 -18 4 0 0 0.073 0.291 0.363
7 1990 RU Vyacheslav Voynov D 161 17 50 67 58 17 4 0 4 0.106 0.311 0.416
8 1986 RU Nikita Nikitin D 191 13 51 64 63 -1 4 0 4 0.068 0.267 0.335
9 1986 RU Alexei Emelin D 142 7 20 27 100 -23 0 1 0 0.049 0.141 0.190
10 1991 RU Dmitry Orlov D 98 4 22 26 32 5 0 0 1 0.041 0.224 0.265
11 1986 RU Anton Belov D 47 1 5 6 32 -11 0 0 0 0.021 0.106 0.128
12 1995 RU Nikita Zadorov D 7 1 0 1 4 -4 0 0 0 0.143 0.000 0.143
13 1992 RU Alexei Marchenko D 1 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000


In comparison to teams like the USA, Canada and Sweden, Russia’s defence wasn’t up to par. They didn’t bring Sergei Gonchar over to Sochi, and his presence on the powerplay probably would have helped. But at the end of the day, Russia shouldn’t really be labeled as failures, and it’s not about making excuses. They lost to a better team in Finland, and even if they did win that game, they likely would not have been able to overcome Sweden to reach the gold medal game.

Is this team, and country, disappointed? Obviously. Did the coaching staff and management do everything they could to prepare this team? Did they bring the right players possible? There were many reasons Russia didn’t medal at these Olympic games. But there’s no doubt an inferior lineup was the main one, a fact that too many people are ignoring.