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2022 Olympics Preview: The Olympic Athletes from Russia

Will Russia challenge for a medal?

Anna Shokhina at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games
Getty Images

The Olympic Athletes from Russia finished fourth at the 2018 Olympics but did it with only one win in six games.

After losing all their preliminary matchups, they made quick work of Switzerland in the quarterfinals scoring six of their nine tournament goals the win. A 5-0 loss to Canada in the semi-finals sent them to the bronze medal game against Finland. The Russians made it close, but they ultimately lost 3-2 for fourth-place, their best ever at the Olympics.

The Russians are perpetual finishers of fourth and fifth place. At the world championships, they have three wins in six bronze medal appearances since 1997. They have lost in the quarter-finals or earlier in their other 11 appearances. More recently, Russia is always strong enough to qualify for group A but rarely strong enough to compete with the best teams. Russia has elite talent in their key players but lacks the depth and skill to keep up with Canada and the USA.

Roster

Forwards: Lyudmila Belyakova, Polina Bolgareva, Oxana Bratishcheva, Yelena Dergachyova, Fanuza Kadirova, Veronika Korzhakova, Viktoria Kulishova, Ilona Markova, Valeria Pavlova, Anna Shokhina, Olga Sosina, Alexandra Vafina

Defenders: Angelina Goncharenko, Yekaterina Nikolayeva, Maria Pechnikova, Nina Pirogova, Yelena Provorova, Anna Savonina, Anna Shibanova

Goalies: Diana Farkhutdinova, Darya Gredzen, Mariya Sorokina

Key players

Anna Shokhina: Shokhina is one of the brightest stars in Russian hockey. At the age of 8, she began training with the Dmitrov program and in 2012, at 15, she joined their pro women’s team, HC Tornado. Shokhina was named team captain at 18 years old and remains their chief today. At just 24 years old, she is the franchise leader in games played, goals, and assists with 621 points in 312 games. Her elite goal-scoring has translated to international play with three high-scoring years at the world U18s between 2012-2015. She led Russia in goals and assists at the 2018 winter Olympics and will likely do so again this year. With quick playmaking abilities and a sixth sense for finding the net, Anna Shokhina will be Russia’s deadliest offensive weapon.

Nina Pirogova: Nina Pirogova is another top ZhHL player under 25 and is a longtime teammate of Shokhina’s at HC Tornado and the national program. Pirogova currently leads all ZHhL defenders with 30 points in 22 games and will lead Russia’s defence in Beijing. She is a talented player at even strength and special teams, making her an asset when she isn’t in the box herself. At one time, she most heavily penalized players in the ZHhl, but those numbers have improved in recent years. Pirogova is maybe best remembered for starting a brawl with the Czech Republic at the 2017 world U18 tournament.

Olga Sosina: The second most experienced team member, 29-year-old Sosina, will attend her fourth Olympic games. Sosina had her break-out year in her second season of pro hockey with a 34-goal campaign in 2009-10. She hit a career-high in 2013-14 when she scored 129 points in 36 games, the same year she won her first ZHhL championship. Sosina is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 812 points in 358 games played, a whole 190 points ahead of Anna Shokhina, her next closest competitor. Sosina is a strong power forward with excellent puck protection skills and a deadly wrist shot. She nicely rounds out a trio who will pose a tremendous challenge for opponents.

Story to Watch

The Russian crease will be a fascinating saga to watch in Beijing. The team has elected not to bring back their goaltenders from the 2021 world championships or previous Olympic games. Mariya Sorokina is the only goalie with national team experience, playing in three world championships between 2014 and 2017. A stellar season with Ufa in the ZHhL this year has earned her a spot on the Olympic team.

Neither Diana Farkhutdinova, aged 21, nor Daria Gredzen, aged 17, has played a single tournament game for the Russian senior team. Both, however, played under head coach Yevgeni Bobariko when he led the U18 and U16 programs. Starting their pro careers before age 15, Farkhutdinova and Gredzen have developed into top goalies of the ZHhL over the last few years. Gredzen became Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s starter last year, posting a .922 save percentage in 21 games and leading the league in shutouts with six. This year, Farkhutdinova has taken over a starting role and has started all 20 games for Dynamo Neva.

If I had to guess which goalie would start for the Russians, I would think Sorokina. Not only is she the top ZHhL goalie this year with a .955 save percentage, but she is also the only one with games played at the top international level. And with a season in the PHF, she has experience against top-level North American talent. All that said, the picks are so unexpected that I really have no insight as to who will start.

Success, hopes & dreams

Russia will struggle to compete with Canada and the United States in the preliminary round. However, their team should compete well with other similarly structured teams like Switzerland and Finland. With a bit of success, Russia will have a favourable elimination round matchup and look to make the semi-finals once again. A bronze medal game appearance would be a success story for the Russians, but they’ll be on the hunt for the medal, having come so close to winning it in 2018.

Schedule

· Vs. Switzerland – Preliminary Round – Friday, Feb. 4, 12:10 p.m. China Standard Time (Thursday, Feb. 3, 11:10 p.m. Eastern Time)

· Vs. USA – Preliminary Round – Saturday, Feb. 5, 9:10 p.m. China Standard Time (Saturday, Feb. 5, 8:10 a.m. Eastern Time)

· Vs. Canada – Preliminary Round – Monday, Feb. 7, 12:10. p.m. China Standard Time (Sunday, Feb. 6, 11:10 p.m. Eastern Time)

· Vs. Finland – Preliminary Round – Tuesday, Feb. 8, 9:10 p.m. China Standard Time (Tuesday, Feb. 8, 8:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time)