Think Canada has a monopoly on player selection controversies? Or is the only country immersed in discussion about who will play where during the men's 2010 Winter Olympics hockey tournament?
It's just as bad - and maybe worse - in Russia, which has the added complication of balancing players from its own domestic league (the Continental Hockey League or KHL) as well as its stars in the NHL.
Politics is the stepchild of modern international hockey, and so for the Vancouver Games, the Russians opted for nine players from the KHL, and the rest from the NHL. If Washington Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov is dropped for injury reasons, the third goalie to play behind Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes and Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks is expected to come from the KHL.
Even though Russian coach Slava Bykov is considered a progressive leader, he adopted one of the principles from the old Soviet days and will play four five-man units.
In that end, Bykov selected eight defencemen and just 12 forwards for his team, which includes one entire line from the KHL's Salavat Yulayev team based in Ufa (Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Radulov and Sergei Zinoviev). Two-thirds of Kazan's top line also made it (Alexei Morozov and Danis Zaripov). They will likely be joined by Sergei Fedorov, currently playing for Magnitogorsk, to round out the unit.
Among Bykov's NHL forwards, Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov of the Atlanta Thrashers will bookend one line and Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin of the Capitals will play on the other.
Defensively, the Russians have a nice blend of skill (Sergei Gonchar, Andrei Markov) and grit (Fedor Tyutin, Anton Volchenkov). Gonchar and Markov will be especially important as the defensive linchpins of the two NHL-based lines, given how the Russian forwards like to fly the zone and sneak behind the defence. Their passing skills will be front-and-centre.
Gonchar will likely play in the same five-man unit as Evgeni Malkin, his Pittsburgh Penguins teammate, but from there it gets scrambled. In the Olympics, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a potential opponent, while two of Pittsburgh's NHL archrivals, Ovechkin and Semin, will line up beside Gonchar on Russia's team.Report Typo/Error