MOSCOW – The formidable and dynamic trio of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk headline Russia’s star-laden, 23-man provisional hockey roster for the Vancouver Olympics unveiled Friday.
Other stars on head coach Vyacheslav Bykov’s club include forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Semin, defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov, plus goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Russians, who head into the 2010 Winter Games as two-time defending world champions, will be one of the teams to beat. They last won Olympic gold at the 1992 Albertville Games.
Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals’ superstar winger, is arguably the best player in the world, neck-and-neck in that regard with Canada’s Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Malkin, Crosby’s Penguins teammate and sometimes linemate, also ranks up there in that discussion while Kovalchuk, of the Atlanta Thrashers, is one of the game’s most dangerous snipers.
Detroit’s Datsyuk and Washington’s Semin are similarly dazzling.
Like Canada, which announces its roster Dec. 30, the Russians faced many tough decisions. Notable omissions include Ottawa Senators winger Alexei Kovalev and fellow forwards Alexei Yashin and Nikolai Zherdev, who both play in the KHL.
Russia’s team is made up of 14 players from the NHL and nine from its own Continental Hockey League, or KHL.
Many of the KHL players will be familiar to NHL fans and will play key roles on the deep squad. They include forwards Sergei Fedorov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk), Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Radulov, plus defenceman Dmitri Kalinin, the latter three of Salavat Yulayev Ufa.
Rounding out the forward core are: Maxim Afinogenov (Atlanta), Sergei Zinoviev (Salavat Yulayev Ufa), and Alexei Morozov and Danis Zaripov, both from Ak Bars Kazan.
Joining Pittsburgh’s Gonchar, Montreal’s Markov and Kalinin on the Russian blue-line are Denis Grebeshkov (Edmonton), Anton Vonchenkov (Ottawa), Fedor Tyutin (Columbus), Konstantin Korneyev (CSKA Moscow) and Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan).
Nabokov (San Jose) and Bryzgalov (Phoenix) are joined in goal by Washington’s Semyon Varlamov.
The Russians are the second country to name their Olympic hockey team, following Belarus which announced its squad Wednesday.
Sweden is scheduled to name its club Sunday, Latvia, Norway and Slovakia follow Tuesday, with the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Switzerland joining Canada on Wednesday.
Last up is the United States, which unveils its club Jan. 1 during the NHL’s Winter Classic in Boston.