Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Phil Davies on 10/05/10 at 02:10 PM ET
The Russian National Team has taken great strides towards regaining past international hockey glory in the last few years. Spurred on by back-to-back World Championship victories with two straight wins over Team Canada in 2008 and 2009 (including a win on Canada’s home ice in 2008), Russia had seemed to finally regain their duo-superpower status with their longtime Canadian rivals. That is until the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where the Russians were soundly thumped 7-3 by the home side in their quarterfinal matchup. Perhaps, Team Russia goalie; Ilya Bryzgalov, summed up the debacle best by stating that Team Canada played like “gorillas coming out of a cage.”
On the heels of their defeat in Vancouver, many of Russia’s Olympic core squad vowed to gain a measure of revenge at the 2010 World Championships in Germany three months later. Although Russia defeated a relatively undermanned Canadian squad, their efforts, once again, ended in failure with an upset loss to the Czech Republic in the championship final.
The once mighty Russian hockey program had suffered for many years after the fall of Communism in the late 1980’s, due a lack of funding. However, due to the fledgling oil and steel industries and the resulting private sponsorship from these magnates, Russia was able to slowly turn itself around through the creation of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), an increase in public hockey rinks and stronger coaching and player development programs.
The election of goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak, to the position of President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the addition of Slava Bykov as Head Coach, also precipitated change in the atmosphere surrounding the National Team. As always, speed and youth were emphasized by team management, but now the coaching staff sought to recreate the chemistry found among the great Soviet teams of the 1970-80’s, by instilling the importance of re-establishing Russia as a pre-imminent hockey power.
In order to attain this goal, the KHL has strived to keep their domestic players at home in favour of playing in the NHL or AHL. The KHL has not only benefited from the influx of oil money into their league, but from the lack of a cap on rookie salaries (unlike the NHL), which has allowed them to pry younger players such as the Nashville Predators Alexander Radulov back to the motherland. In addition, many Russian players, who through either lack of consistency or health, have been unable to land long term deals in the NHL this summer, have returned to Russia for lucrative KHL deals, most notably Evgeni Nabokov, Maxim Afinogenov, Denis Grebeshkov and Slava Kozlov.
In addition to a growing domestic league, Russia boasts some of the most impressive individual talent in the world, led by Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin, Andrei Markov and the previously aforementioned Radulov. If the National Team can come together as a unit as they did in 2008 and 2009, Russia may indeed find Olympic Gold at Sochi in 2014.
Filed in: Non-NHL Hockey, International Hockey, | KK Hockey | Permalink
Tags: alexander+ovechkin, alexander+radulov, alexander+semin, andrei+markov, denis+grebeshkov, evgeni+malkin, evgeni+nabokov, ilya+bryzgalov, ilya+kovalchuk, khl, maxim+afinogenov, nashville+predators, pavel+datsyuk, slava+bykov, slava+kozlov, vladislav+tretiak
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