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Host Russia under pressure to win Olympic gold

by Corey Masisak

It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.

The Russians are the host nation and will be under tremendous pressure to win this tournament. Not only are the Winter Olympics in Russia for the first time, and with hockey as the marquee sport in the country, but the salty memories of being rocked by Canada in the quarterfinals in Vancouver four years ago remain.

Russia has not won gold in the Olympics; the Soviet Union won seven times and the Unified Team won in 1992, but the drought is at five Games and counting. In fact, Russia has medaled twice -- one silver, one bronze -- in the past five Olympics, four with NHL players involved.

Of all the "big seven" hockey nations, Russia might have the toughest roster to project. Precedent says there will be surprises, and the Kontinental Hockey League will be represented heavily. Ilya Kovalchuk's recent return to the KHL will make him the best of the non-NHL players.

The strength of the Russian squad will be the same as it was in Vancouver: a talented collection of world-class forwards. The top six -- all named on all three rosters: Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Alexander Radulov and Evgeni Malkin -- could be terrifying on the big ice surface. Two others were named on all three rosters: Artem Anisimov and Nikolai Kulemin.

The weaknesses also remain the same: a lack of elite talent on defense and general uncertainty in net. Three defensemen on each roster -- Andrei Markov, Fedor Tyutin and rising star Slava Voynov -- are solid, but the rest of the group could be exposed by the elite forwards likely to play in the tournament.

Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy, the first Russian to do so. So does that make him the favorite to start in Sochi? It should, but Ilya Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov could be in the mix. None of the three writers have the No. 1 goalie from 2010, Evgeni Nabokov, on the team.

Here are the projected rosters for Russia:

Projected Russia Olympic roster
Corey Masisak Slava Malamud Brian Compton
Artem Anisimov Artem Anisimov Artem Anisimov
Pavel Datsyuk Pavel Datsyuk Pavel Datsyuk
Ilya Kovalchuk Denis Kokarev Mikhail Grigorenko
Nikolai Kulemin Ilya Kovalchuk Ilya Kovalchuk
Evgeni Kuznetsov Nikolai Kulemin Nikolai Kulemin
Evgeni Malkin Evgeni Malkin Evgeni Malkin
Sergei Mozyakin Alex Ovechkin Vladislav Namestnikov
Alex Ovechkin Alexander Perezhogin Alex Ovechkin
Alexander Radulov Alexander Popov Kirill Petrov
Alexander Semin Alexander Radulov Alexander Radulov
Vladimir Tarasenko Alexander Semin Alexander Semin
Viktor Tikhonov Sergei Soin Vladimir Tarasenko
Nail Yakupov Alexei Tereschenko Nail Yakupov
Alexei Emelin Alexei Emelin Alexei Emelin
Andrei Markov Dmitry Kulikov Dmitry Kulikov
Yevgeny Medvedev Andrei Markov Andrei Markov
Ilya Nikulin Yevgeny Medvedev Nikita Nikitin
Fedor Tyutin Ilya Nikulin Fedor Tyutin
Anton Volchenkov Fedor Tyutin Anton Volchenkov
Slava Voynov Slava Voynov Slava Voynov
Konstantin Barulin Konstantin Barulin Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky Sergei Bobrovsky Ilya Bryzgalov
Semyon Varlamov Semyon Varlamov Semyon Varlamov

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