Monday, December 28, 2009

Russia's Worst Ever Team

With the recent selection of the 2010 Olympic hockey team for Russia, I was looking back at Russian rosters of the past. Of course, the Russians have generally sent stacked teams to the Olympics, but their early 1990 teams would have to be considered their weakest. In my estimation the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway was the site of the worst ever Russian hockey entry.

1994 was the first time Russia would finish out of the medals in fourth place. They were coming off a gold medal finish in 1992 at Albertville playing under the banner of the Unified Team. 1992 was by no stretch their best entry, in fact it was perhaps one of their weakest as well but it was infinitely superior to the '94 Russian squad.

Team Unified in 1992 featured future NHL stars Alexei Kovalev, Alexei Zhamnov, Darius Kasparaitis and Sergei Zubov. The also sported Canda Cup veterans Vyacheslav Bykov and Andrei Khomutov. In addition to this they had serviceable future NHLers Igor Kravchuk, Vladamir Malakhov, Dmitri Mironov, Nikolai Borchevsky, Dmitri Yushkevich and Alexei Zhitnik. In the net was Andrei Trefilov and Mikhail Shtalenkov who would play 54 and 190 NHL games respectively. Overall, hardly a stellar hockey team but enough to beat Canada 3-1 in the gold medal match. Canada was a relatively weak squad with really only an 18 year old Eric Lindros, Sean Burke, Joe Juneau, Dave Hannan and Dave Tippett as their "stars".

On to 1994 and the memorable Forsberg shootout winner for Sweden over Canada in the gold medal game. Russia that year made the 1992 Unified Team look like the Red Army. Their only recognizable future NHLers were Sergei Berezin, Andrei Nikolishin and if we really stretch it, Valeri Karpov who would play 76 rather uneventful games for Anaheim in the mid '90s and Pavel Torgayev, he of 55 career NHL games mainly with Calgary. One other future NHLer would be Alexei Kudashov on whom the Maple Leafs wasted a fifth round pick in 1991. Kudashov ended up playing 25 games for the Buds in 93/94 notching a single goal. He somewhat surprisingly is still playing in the KHL with Balashikha MVD HC...whatever that is.

During this era, (post Vladislav Tretiak) the Russians often had some rather non-descript goaltenders. Even in the best-on-best Canada Cup they would parade out the likes of Vladamir Myshkin and Evgeni Belosheikin. The presence of the aforementioned Trefilov and Shtalenkov as the main goalies during the 1991 Canada Cup, somewhat explains their putrid fifth place finish in that tourney. With pretty much the same team the Russians (Unified Team) would win the '92 Olympic gold further illustrating the lack of top notch calibre in the Olympic field in those days.

The 1994 Russian team however would die to have the names of Trefilov or Myshkin. The duties were shared by the dynamic duo of Andrey Zuyev and Valery Ivannikov. Perhaps with slightly better goaltending in '94, and more production from the likes of Oleg Shargorodsky, Aleksandr Vinogradov, Vyacheslav Bezukladnikov and Georgy Yevtyukhin the Russians would have finished higher than fouth. That brings to mind an old SCTV skit called "Hey Georgy" featuring John Candy....but I digress.

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