Led by five-time Olympians Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, the Olympic Athletes of Russia form the most experienced ice hockey team in PyeongChang. Their entire roster currently plays in the KHL, and comes almost exclusively from just two teams: SKA Saint Petersburg and HC CSKA Moscow. So not only do they have the two of the greatest Russian hockey players of a generation, they’re all teammates in their domestic league as well.
In a year in which the competition, particularly from the United States and Canada, is weaker than it’s been in decades, the Russians have the best shot they’ve had in a while to find themselves atop the Olympic podium.
Needless to say, Russian NHL star Alex Ovechkin will be watching with a heavy heart as his countrymen compete without him. The 32-year-old Washington Capitals winger and captain is missing the chance to compete in a fourth consecutive Olympic Games due to the NHL’s decision to withhold their players from participating.
“Of course, I want to play,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s the biggest event. You can see how emotional it is when you play in it. It’s an incredible feeling.”
There are a lot of reasons for Ovechkin to wish he were in PyeongChang, not the least of which is a lost opportunity to help the Russians avenge their nail-biting loss to Team USA four years ago at the hands of current Caps teammate, T.J. Oshie.
Ovechkin and the Russian squad were on the wrong end of the thrilling shootout in which Oshie, then a member of the St. Louis Blues, scored four times – becoming one of the stars of the Sochi Games in the process. Team USA went on to lose in heartbreaking fashion to Canada in the semifinals and were then routed by Finland in the bronze medal game, but they still finished fourth – one spot ahead of Russia.
Per USA TODAY, Ovechkin doesn’t care to reminisce about that game. “We lost and I don’t like to talk about it,” he said with a smile.
Fair enough. The Soviet Union dominated Olympic hockey in the 1970s and 80s, and the Unified Team (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia) took home gold in the 1992 Albertville Games. Since then, no team featuring Russian athletes has won Olympic gold. However, they’ll have a chance to make their first big statement of the Games when they take on a USA roster that features four college players. The longtime rivals face off in the preliminary round on Saturday morning.