In addition, a handful of rising stars from the KHL earned their call-up, perhaps with an eye to seeing another youngster reprise Kirill Kaprizov’s trailblazing performance on the global stage four years ago.
However, while there is enough in this roster to justify ROC’s status as a favourite for gold, there are also some eyebrow-raising absentees after head coach Alexei Zhamnov returned from isolation in time for the big announcement.
The defending championsAlthough several key players from 2018 have since gone to the NHL – most notably Kirill Kaprizov and goalies Igor Shestyorkin and Ilya Sorokin – Team ROC has plenty of players who know exactly what it takes to win Olympic gold.
Nikita Gusev, who had four points in the gold medal game four years ago and scored the last-minute goal that took the Olympic Athletes from Russia into overtime, is back to help defend that title. After Korea, he went to New Jersey where he enjoyed a good rookie season in the NHL but struggled to follow it up in 2020/21. This season, he returned to SKA St. Petersburg and has 35 points in 31 KHL games to date.
The 2018 top scorer is joined by three other forwards from the 2018 roster. Centre Sergei Andronov continues to play a hard-working, often unheralded role for club and country; the 32-year-old isn’t the flashiest player for CSKA or ROC, but his grit is a key component of both teams’ success. Fellow CSKA man Mikhail Grigorenko, like Gusev, spent time in the NHL after PyeongChang. However, his second attempt to secure a slot in the show at Columbus ended in disappointment and, after a good World Championship in 2021, he returned to CSKA in the summer.
Then there’s Vadim Shipachyov. Four years ago, he was scratched after the loss to Slovakia in the opening group encounter. Since then, the 34-year-old centre has moved to Dynamo Moscow and continued to score heavily: 68 points in 2018/19, followed by 65, 67 and 67 so far this term. He’s on course to lead the KHL in scoring for second season running and looks an unmissable part of this roster.
On defence, too, Team ROC has golden know-how. Vyacheslav Voinov has missed two full seasons since PyeongChang but the two-time Stanley Cup winner is in impressive form with Dynamo Moscow this season and at the age of 32, he’ll be the oldest blue liner on Zhamnov’s team in Beijing. Fellow returnees Yegor Yakovlev and Nikita Nesterov bring further experience of competition for big prizes in both domestic and international hockey.
Behind the scenes, there are roles for two more key figures from 2018. Ilya Kovalchuk, tournament MVP in PyeongChang, serves as GM while the winning head coach, Oleg Znarok, is working as a consultant in 2022.
Young gunsPyeongChang announced the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov as a fully-fledged star of the international game. This year, ROC has four potential break-out players to watch. SKA’s Kirill Marchenko is probably the best known of these; the 21-year-old Columbus prospect owns two World Junior medals and is in his third season in the KHL. Another potential future Blue Jacket, Dmitri Voronkov, is progressing well for Ak Bars and made his World Championship debut last season, compiling 6 (2+4) points in eight games in Riga.
However, Arseni Gritsyuk might be the player who leaves a lasting impression. The 20-year-old broke into Avangard’s team late last season and got a taste of the big time with three appearances in the Hawks’ run to the Gagarin Cup. This term, the pacey winger has secured his place on Bob Hartley’s team, producing 28 (16+12) points in 39 games to place second in team scoring. The Devils prospect could lift his status to a new level in China.
Another 20-year-old, defenceman Alexander Nikishin, is also enjoying a rapid ascent. At junior level, he stood out for his 193cm frame but since moving to Spartak Moscow he’s been steadily introduced to adult hockey and has emerged this season as a key part of the Red-and-White D-core. This will be his first ever international tournament: as a youngster, he was not allowed to play at IIHF events due to concerns over a heart condition. Meanwhile, at club level he has worked with Zhamnov and Oleg Znarok, who was his head coach at Spartak for the last two seasons. That connection, plus a successful international debut at the Channel 1 Cup convinced the Russians to trust him at the Games, where he will be closely watched by the Hurricanes, who drafted him in 2020.
But one notable name will not be involved for Team ROC – at least, not yet. Matvei Michkov continued to burnish his stellar credentials in his brief taste of World Junior action last month. He also became Russia’s youngest ever goal scorer earlier this season and has impressed in his KHL rookie season with SKA. However, the 17-year-old is not on Zhamnov’s roster: “He’s a talented guy with his whole life ahead of him, he has a great future,” said the head coach. “I hope he’ll keep progressing. But right now I don’t think it would be right to take him. He would have been in our camp, but it’s a different situation right now with the pandemic and we decided not to call him up. Life goes on, and he will have other chances to play at the Olympics.”
The surprise absenteesWhenever the Red Machine assembles for a major tournament, 140 million Russians are quick to share their opinions on who should be involved. SKA’s Andrei Kuzmenko, second in KHL scoring behind Shipachyov, is on the reserve list, while Salavat Yulayev’s Andrei Kadeikin, whose +17 is the best plus/minus rating of any forward to feature for the national team this season, is also kept in reserve.
Others have pressed the claims of Sergei Tolchinski, playoff MVP last season as he helped Avangard win the Gagarin Cup. He did not even make the long list, while SKA’s experienced forward Anton Burdasov was cut from the 34-strong party originally summoned to camp at Novogorsk.
The team will travel from Moscow to Beijing with six reserve players on top of the 25-man roster in case a late-athlete replacement would become necessary due to medical or Covid-related reasons.
Head coach Zhamnov explained that the roster was built with a view to assembling four lines and warned against stacking the team with players used to forming their club’s main strike force. “We have guys who we see as top six players, and the third and fourth lines have a different task. We need to preserve that balance. It’s a short tournament, so we’ll be relying on everyone to play a part. We need players who will fit into the system we’re going to play.”
Timur Bilyalov, Ak Bars Kazan
Ivan Fedotov, CSKA Moscow
Alexander Samonov, SKA St. Petersburg
Artyom Minulin, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Nikita Nesterov, CSKA Moscow
Alexander Nikishin, Spartak Moscow
Damir Sharipzyanov, Avangard Omsk
Sergei Telegin, Traktor Chelyabinsk
Vyacheslav Voinov, Dynamo Moscow
Yegor Yakovlev, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Alexander Yelesin, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Sergei Andronov, CSKA Moscow
Artyom Anisimov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Andrei Chibisov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Mikhail Grigorenko, CSKA Moscow
Arseni Gritsyuk, Avangard Omsk
Nikita Gusev, SKA St. Petersburg
Pavel Karnaukhov, CSKA Moscow
Artur Kayumov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Kirill Marchenko, SKA St. Petersburg
Sergei Plotnikov, CSKA Moscow
Kirill Semyonov, Avangard Omsk
Vadim Shipachyov, Dynamo Moscow
Anton Slepyshev, CSKA Moscow
Dmitri Voronkov, Ak Bars Kazan
Dmitri Shugayev, Severstal Cherepovets
Semyon Chistyakov, Avangard Omsk
Stanislav Galiev, Dynamo Moscow
Alexander Kadeikin, Salavat Yulayev Ufa
Andrei Kuzmenko, SKA St. Petersburg
Vladimir Tkachyov, Traktor Chelyabinsk