The super trio of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk headline Russia's star-saturated, 23-man provisional hockey roster for the Vancouver Olympics, just unveiled.
Other stars on head coach Vyacheslav Bykov's club include forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Semin, defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov, and goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Russians, who head into the 2010 Winter Games as two-time defending world champions, will be the team to beat. They last won Olympic gold at the 1992 Albertville Games. Kovalchuk, in the midst of contract negotiations with the Thrashers and several trade rumors, has participated on several gold and silver medal teams.
Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' superstar winger, is arguably the best player in the world. Malkin, Sidney Crosby's Penguins teammate and frequent linemate, also ranks up there with the best, while Kovalchuk, of the Atlanta Thrashers, is one of the game's most dangerous marksmen.
Detroit's Datsyuk and Washington's Semin are also dazzling puck magicians.
Like Canada, which announces its roster Dec. 30, the Russians faced many tough decisions in selecting their lineup. Noteworthy omissions include Ottawa Senators winger Alexei Kovalev, who played on the last gold medal squad.
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 defenseman Dmitri Kalinin (the latter three of Salavat Yulayev Ufa). Fedorov played for the Detroit Redwings and Washington Capitals prior to joining the KHL.
Rounding out the forwards selected 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).
The Russians were the second country to name their Olympic hockey team, following Belarus.
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