Russia hasn’t won the Gold in Olympic hockey since 1992, and now that they are playing at home, the pressure to come out on top is unbelievable. An article from the Washington Post likened the team’s first practice to the entrance of the Beatles, calling the players the “rock stars” of these Olympic games.
The KHL stopped playing for the Olympic Break over two weeks ago, and practiced twice yesterday. The KHL squad has been practicing in Kazan, Russia for the past week, and even skipped the opening ceremony in favor of practice away from the media and public eye.
Team Russia held another practice today once the NHL players started to arrive in Russia. The KHL players have been practicing in Kazan for the past week, and now they are holding multiple practices a day in preparation for the start of the tournament Wednesday. For comparison, before leaving for Russia, U.S. assistant coach and Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards told the media that once he arrived in Sochi, team USA will only have two practices before it’s first game. It’s fair to say the Russians are feeling the pressure to perform this year.
The Blue Jackets Sochi Blog detailed some interesting moves in the Russian lineup. Going into the first practice with the NHL players, the expected defensive pairings included two sets of linemates who play together in the NHL. These include Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin of the Montreal Canadiens and Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin of the Blue Jackets. It was only natural to assume these players would play together, but that wasn’t the case in practice today. Instead, Tyutin played with the KHL’s Ilya Nikulin, and Nikitin was with Edmonton’s Anton Belov. This is probably because head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov wants to try to get the most out of his team, and since Team Russia will have many practices, he can afford to mix up the lines and see what works best.
The New York Times summed up the feeling going around Russia: ” A common sentiment among Russians is that the Sochi Games will be remembered as a triumph or a disaster based purely on the outcome of the men’s hockey tournament, and only first place will suffice.”
I, of course, will be rooting for Team USA, but if they lose early (hope not) and it comes down to Canada and Russia, the favorites this year, I’ll be rooting for the home team and the four CBJ men on the ice (and not for Canada’s Jeff Carter of course!)