BY: Brian Willey (@BrianWilley78)
Let me first stand up, and in a strong and proud voice exclaim, “I am Canadian”. I have the maple leaf (that’s singular and lower case) firmly tattooed on my heart.
But with that said, despite my love of my country and trust that Team Canada will always strive, well I am sorry folks but the Gold Medal in Mens Hockey in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is destined to go to Team Russia.
Before I get into the 23 players who will help win this medal, let’s talk about the extraneous variables that will come into play.
First, the living conditions. Russia is not exactly known for it’s top notch accommodations when it comes to sports. Yes the KHL throws out a huge amount of money to lure top end talent but the housing, the travel, the food is less than desirable. Team Russia will certainly have a competitive advantage in this domain whereas other nations will have to learn to cope and adjust to having a less than usual experience in preparing for the tournament.
Second the climate. It is one thing to hoist a gold medal in Vancouver or Salt Lake City while taking in the weather and the city. Players were able to unwind, take in a good restaurant, enjoying the athletes village and bask in the beauty of some major metropolis areas. Now they turn to a small Russian city with a population slightly larger than the Bell Centre with a climate which, although not harsh, is still colder than of more recent Olympics.
Third and perhaps the most important, home field advantage. I am sure we all remember the images of the tens of thousands of fans both outside and within the arena screaming “Go Canada Go”. Well that support that Canada once shared will now be solely on the backs of the knowledgeable Russian hockey fans. Sure you’ll see the 50-100 Canadians in the audience but there spectators will be Russian.
With that said, here is the line-up that will be bringing home the GOLD medal.
Alexander Ovechkin-Evgeny Malkin-Alexander Semin
Alexander Radulov-Pavel Datysuk-Ilya Kovalchuk
Nail Yakupov-Artem Anisimov-Alexei Morozov
Sergei Mozyakin-Andrei Loktionov-Nikolai Zherdev
Nikolai Kulemin, Evgeny Kuznetsov
If there is a team that can put together a better group of top end talent on the top two lines then I would like to see it. This group consists of Hart, Rocket Richard, Art Ross, Selke, Con Smythe trophy winners who excel at both the offensive and defensive side of the puck.
Combine that with the speed, youth and familiarity of the country, they are without a doubt the best collection of forwards that any team will put together.
The list of players who make the team will include 4 players who are currently playing in the KHL. Including the top point getter in Sergei Mozyakin who some may remember from the 2010 Olympics, young Evgeny Kuznetsov as well as former NHL players Alexei Morozov and Nikolai Zherdev and
Watch for KHL standouts like Igor Mirnov or Andrei Subbotin to at least have a chance at making the club should injuries be a factor.
Player to watch out for,Alexander Radulov. He’s a big game player who loves to keep his best for international play. Watch for “Radu” to be named on of the tournament All-Stars
Sergei Gonchar-Fedor Tyutin
Andrei Markov- Alexei Emelin
Renat Mamashev-Slava Voynov
Illya Nikulin-Evgeny Medvedev
If there is a weakness for the favorites then it has to be on defense. Sure there are some young, up and coming players who look to make an impact but on a whole the Russian blue line is again, battered and bruised.
None the less, as a collective, this 6 man unit will help in keeping the puck out of the net and ensuring that the high flying Russian transition game be a factor against whomever they are playing.
Assuming that injuries are not a factor, this group will consist of 5 NHL players and 3 players currently in the KHL.
Player to watch out for, Renat Mamashev. You likely do not know much about the guy but the 30 year old Defenseman from the Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk is an offensive superstar. He’s a point per game producing river gambler who takes chances and jumps in the rush at the expense of his own zone. Watch for him to make an impact.
Sergei Bobrovsky-Evgheni Nabokov- Stanislav Galimov
Goaltending has long been a question mark for the Russian team however the emergence of Sergei Bobrovsky as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL has solidified a position of weakness.
“Bob the goalie”, who I will argue should have not only won the Vezina this year but also had my vote as the Hart Winner, will be backed up by the KHL stand out goaltender Stanislav Galimov.
If “Bob” should struggle then Galimov has proven more than capable of leading a team. Galimov is the catalyst of a strong CSKA Moskow team who completed the 2012-13 season with a 1.76 GAA and .932 save %. Together they will form one of the best 1-2 punches in this tournament and will be supported by the veteran leadership of the aging but still effective Evgheny Nabakov.
When you combine arguably the top 2 lines of this tournament with the superb goaltending and the stand out play of an offensive minded D-core with the extraneous off ice variables, you have the makings of what looks like a Russian gold medal victory.
I am still hoping and preying that our Canadian boys prevail victoriously, but they will be in tough for what I predict will be a Russian Gold Medal victory.