The World Cup of Hockey starts on Saturday, Sept. 17. While pre-tournament games have begun, the xHockeyProducts team is excited for the tournament to begin. That’s why we are breaking down every team and providing the chances every roster has to win it all.
Although Russia has not medaled in the Winter Games since Salt Lake City in 2002 (bronze), they have continued to be a powerhouse in international hockey. The World Championships have produced multiple medals for the motherland, as Team Russia has finished third or better in nine of the past 12 years. This includes four gold and two silver medals.
The Russians were considered contenders in each of the past two World Cups. However, they were knocked out by the eventual silver medalists, the Americans, in the semifinal round in 1996. They were again defeated by Team USA in 2004, but it was a quarterfinal knockout, placing the Russians in sixth among tournament standings.
|Group A||Group B|
|Team Canada||Team Finland|
|Team Czech Republic||Team North America|
|Team Europe||Team Russia|
|Team USA||Team Sweden|
|Artem Anisimov – CHI||Evgeny Dadonov – SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL)||Alexei Emelin – MTL||Sergei Bobrovsky – CBJ|
|Pavel Datsyuk – SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL)||Nikita Kucherov – TBL||Dmitry Kulikov – FLA||Semyon Varlamov – COL|
|Nikolay Kulemin – NYI||Evgeny Kuznetsov – WSH||Alexey Marchenko – DET||Andrei Vasilevskiy – TBL|
|Evgeni Malkin – PIT||Vladislav Namestnikov – TBL||Andrei Markov – MTL|
|Alex Ovechkin – WSH||Artemi Panarin – CHI||Dmitry Orlov – WSH|
|Vadim Shipachyov – SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL)||Vladimir Tarasenko – STL||Nikita Zaitsev – TOR|
|Ivan Telegin – CSKA Moscow (KHL)|
Russia seems to always have the craftiest players in tournaments. With offensive powerhouses such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko, Team Russia could easily score upwards of three goals per contest.
Outside of the obvious offensive weaponry, Russia also has a blue line that can jumpstart an offense with one outlet pass. Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Andrei Markov, to name a few, are reliable NHL mainstays who have made a career out of quick passes and finding lanes to exit the defensive zone.
Along with Canada and the United States (and Sweden if Henrik Lundqvist plays the entire tournament), Russia will rely on steady goaltending to get the job done. The projected starter, Sergei Bobrovsky, has proven to be calm under pressure in the past (with an exception being the beginning of last season). If he does falter, though, Russian head coach Oleg Znarok can turn to 2013-14 Vezina finalist Semyon Varlamov.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, the NHL’s greatest backup netminder, wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.
While goaltending may be a strength, the team’s defense may suffer to a small degree.
Defensemen Alexei Emelin and Dmitry Orlov will prove to be steady in matches against Sweden and Finland, but the defense as a whole may struggle against the pure speed that Team North America is expected to bring. Although this will be a hurdle for all teams that face off with the under-23 team, it may be the Achilles’ Heel for Russia.
Having reliable defensive forwards, such as Pavel Datsyuk, will help, but may not be enough to contain the vivacious North American forwards.
However, if the Russian offense can control the puck for the better part of each game, this may not be much of an issue until the semifinal round.
Player to Watch
If you live in North America, you may not be familiar with Vadim Shipachyov. The 29-year-old native of Cherepovets, Russia, has won three World Championships medals, a Gagarin Cup ring (2015), while participating in two KHL All-Star Games.
The star for SKA Saint Petersburg helped his club win the Gagarin Cup in 2015 by scoring 22 points in 22 playoff games. Last season, the crafty center finished first in the KHL in assists (43) and fourth in points (60).
This summer, he was rumored to be joining the NHL, either with the Montreal Canadiens or Florida Panthers. However, he appeared at St. Petersburg’s training camp in July.
What It Will Take to Win
The Russians’ top forwards are expected to be top forwards. Ovechkin & Co. will need to play at an elite level if they are to surpass Teams Finland, North America and Sweden as the best to come out of Group B.
This is not a guarantee. Heavy favorites to battle Canada for the gold medal in Sochi, Team Russia scored just seven times in their final four games (not including shootout). This included a 4-0 win over Norway in the qualification playoffs. A 3-1 loss to Finland in the quarterfinals locked Russia out of competing for a medal.
Obviously, Russia is hoping for a more favorable result this time around. If the Russian squad can be motivated to win outside of the World Championships, they can be a dangerous threat to the other seven teams.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Team Sweden vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN
Monday, Sept. 19
Team Russia vs. Team North America, 8 p.m., ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports
Thursday, Sept. 22
Team Finland vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports
Feature photo courtesy Len Komanac| Flickr
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