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This isn’t the Summit Series, it’s not Miracle on Ice or the various Canada Cups. It’s not even Rendez-vous ’87. But the hockey tournament at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi will have a political undertone, of sorts: the NHL vs. the Kontinental League.
That 40 percent of Team Russia’s lineup is comprised of players who hold day jobs in their home and native land sends a message, whether intended or not. The key power brokers behind the KHL have long stated they want their league to rival the NHL in terms of talent, a mission that includes growing the loop beyond its borders and into Western Europe and Scandinavia.
To wit, Jokerit, one of Finland’s pre-eminent clubs based in Helsinki, joins the burgeoning circuit next year.
In advance of that, before the eyes of the world, Russia is icing a roster in Sochi dotted with KHL names.
We’re less intimate with Alexander Eremenko, the agile 33-year-old Moscow Dynamo stopper who’ll likely be third string behind Seymon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky. The braintrust chose a pair of blueliners from Ak Bars, Evgeni Medvedev and Ilya Nikulin, the latter of whom was an Atlanta Thrashers second-rounder in 2000 and a close friend of Alex Ovechkin’s. Forwards Sergei Soin, Alexander Popov, Denis Kokarev and Alexei Tereshchenko are some of the names whose Google hits will spike in the coming weeks.
We’ll know by the end of February if the gambit by the Team Russia hierarchy, led by GM Alexei Kasatonov, was a wise one. The betting at The Hockey News is that it will be.
Before the final roster was announced, Russia was our pick to win gold and, despite some curious maneuvers, we stand behind the choice. While Canada has the best club on paper, the Americans are the fastest, the Finns are deepest in goal and the Swedes are solid all-around, we see the Russians and their uber-motivated leader Ovechkin leveraging the internationally-sized home ice advantage to pry themselves from the cluster.
If that transpires, it’ll be a not-so-subtle message to the NHL that it has company.