International Ice Hockey Federation

Looking to make up

Looking to make up

Kovalchuk wants more than in Sochi 2014

Published 07.02.2018 22:19 GMT+10 | Author Juraj Hudak
Looking to make up
Two Olympians in PyeongChang 2018: Norway’s Patrick Thoresen and Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the stars on the Olympic Athletes of Russia men’s ice hockey team. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
With the NHL players missing at the 2018 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament, the Olympic Athletes of Russia’s team is often seen as favourite in Korea.

The NHL not sending its players to the Olympics is not necessarily a bad omen for the Russians as they have never won the Olympics when the NHL players had the chance to come in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

The last time Russians won the Olympics was 1992 during the break-up period of the Soviet Union when the team participated as the Unified Team. All but two players (Darius Kasparaitis in Lithuania and Alexei Zhitnik in Ukraine) were born in Russia.

In PyeongChang 2018 the circumstances will again be special as the International Olympic Committee suspended the Russian Olympic Committee after doping investigations while paving the way for clean athletes from the country. An IOC commission decided who would be invited to participate under a neutral flag as “Olympic Athletes of Russia”. The procedure eventually meant little changes for the men’s ice hockey team.

After two consecutive Olympic gold medals by the Canadian men’s national team in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, could this be the year for the team coached by Oleg Znarok?

“We beat them even though they had NHL players,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, who will be one of the biggest stars of the tournament, about Canada’s dominance in the past. “We did it in Turin 2006 so we can beat them even when they have their best players. But I think every team will miss the NHL guys. They should be there, because the hockey is the main sport in the Olympics and the whole world is going to watch it.”

Kovalchuk has had a good season so far with KHL leader SKA St. Petersburg. With 15 of the 25 players coming from the club, it builds the backbone of the team at the Olympics almost like CSKA Moscow during the Soviet era. (CSKA accounts for eight players, the remaining two come from Metallurg Magnitogorsk.)

Kovalchuk will be joined by other SKA teammates such as fellow veteran Pavel Datsyuk and Vadim Shipachyov.

“We just prepare ourselves for every game and we’re focusing on victory. We have a great group of guys who really care about each other. You can see it in the statistics, which shows how many blocked shots we have. Also, we are good in penalty killing and that's the key,” said Kovalchuk about his club.

There were rumours before the season that Ilya Kovalchuk could return to NHL, that SKA would lose one of its biggest stars. But also with the Olympics on the horizon he decided to stay in Russia although nobody knows what will happen afterwards.

“We'll see. I don’t like to think much ahead. I prepare myself the best I can,” he said. And that’s now in Gangneung where Kovalchuk and his teammates hope to make up for the early exit four years ago on home ice in Sochi.

 

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