Andrei Markov and Yannick Weber will be taking to the ice today for their respective countries with very different goals in mind. Weber will be looking to help an up and coming Swiss program make a mark in Vancouver. Markov, on the other hand, will be quarterbacking a Russian team which is not only a contender for the gold, but is one of the expected favourites to win it all.
Weber is one of Montreal's most exciting prospects, and should have a chance to shine as one of Switzerland's three NHL caliber defensemen. The young defender has already shown the ability to handle the limelight, having played admirably well on a Canadiens team which struggled in the first round of last year's playoffs. Despite the Habs' difficulties with Boston, Weber recorded his first NHL goal, an assist and had an even rating after 3 playoff matches.
Weber's struggled a bit with the big club this season, going -5 with no points in five games. He's been very solid for the Hamilton Bulldogs though, playing in 45 games, with 2 goals, 21 assists and +11 rating. The Olympics will give Weber a chance to show his stuff against some stiff competition in the form of team USA and team Canada, and should be a positive experience for the 22 year old Habs prospect.
The Swiss may be surprisingly stubborn. Ex-Hab Mark Streit (New York Islanders), Weber and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Luca Sbisa will be anchoring the blueline. Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller is no sieve between the pipes. Their biggest problem, however, will be scoring goals. Nothing against Hnat Domenichelli, but when he is your most recognizable forward, that spells trouble for your offense. Given that the Swiss are seeded in the same group as the hyped Canadian and American teams, however, they will not have lofty expectations or scrutiny. It'll be interesting to see what their quickly emerging defense corps and stellar goaltender can pull off.
Andrei the Great will likely be the number 1/1A defenseman for team Russia, alongside the offensively savvy Sergei Gonchar. They'll be joined by familiar faces Denis Grebeshkov, Dmitri Kalinin, Fedor Tyutin and the hard-hitting Anton Volchenkov. The forwards include some of the biggest stars in the game, such as Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. However, Russian aspirations may hinge on the ability of Markov and company in keeping opposing forwards from running rampant around their net. However, with Evgeni Nabokov starting in net, and Ilya Bryzgalov backing him up, there seems little reason for much stumbling by the Russians.
Somewhat surprisingly, Andrei will not be reunited with ex-teammate Alexei Kovalev, who was not chosen to represent Russia this year. The logic behind dropping one of the most highly skilled players with the puck is somewhat baffling. Some say it is because he's struggled at times with Ottawa this season. Others argue the Russians are desiring to give the reins over to a younger generation of players. However, Kovalev's absence is also linked to speculation that the Russians are perhaps trying to prove a political point by getting a significant number of 'home grown' KHL players in the tournament.
Andrei Markov (#52, left) celebrates a goal at the Turin games.
What it Means for Habs Fans:
Yannick Weber has a great opportunity to step up his game on the world stage. He's having a solid, if unspectacular year in the AHL, and his game seems to becoming more rounded in terms of defensive responsibility versus offensive production. The Olympics offer him a chance to test his mettle against some of the world's best in Group A (Canada, USA, Switzerland and Norway). He'll also have the opportunity to play with Mark Streit, who he has often been compared to, and who provides an excellent role model to both Weber and Sbisa. In short, Weber's got everything to gain and nothing to lose, and the experience should serve the 22 year old well when he returns to the Bulldogs.
There has to be some concern for Markov. He's already had a tough year, with the freak laceration to begin the campaign, to the toll he takes night in/night out as Montreal's number one defenseman. Given Russia's choices for defense, it seems plausible that Markov will play 20-25 minutes a night, if not more. With the compressed schedule of the Olympics, that's a lot of wear and tear. Group B is no cakewalk either. Russia will first have to deal with an underrated Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the manageable Latvia squad before moving on. If they do come out of group play, they'll likely face Canada, the USA, Finland or Sweden, all tough draws. If there's a weak link to the Russian squad its the blueline after Markov and Gonchar, and the other teams know it. Markov will be skating a lot of ice, with a bullseye on his back in the eyes of opposing forwards. Here's hoping Andrei puts up a great, injury-free Olympic campaign.
Markov will need to keep his head up in Vancouver against some skilled and physical opposition.
- Kovalev joins other notable Russian snubs, such as Sergei Zubov (D, Russia), Alexander Frolov (LW, LAK), Sergei Samsonov (LW, Carolina), Nikita Filatov (LW, CBJ, currently Russia), Vyacheslav Kozlov (LW, Atlanta) and Nikolai Kulemin (LW, Toronto).
- On a note of extreme frustration, Habs fans may finally get a look at D Konstantin Korneyev in North America. We drafted him in the 9th round (275th overall) in 2002, but were never able to persuade him to come to Montreal. At the World Championships in 2008, Korneyev tallied a goal and five assists in 9 games as Russia won the gold. Maybe Markov and the Kostitsyns can talk him around...
- A brief article from RT news regarding Aleksey Morozov's status as team Russia's captain. The article is very supportive, but his captaincy as well as selection is somewhat controversial, as it seems to confirm the bias team builders had for 'at home' players versus those in the NHL. On a personal note, I think Aleksey's as deserving a choice as any.
D Konstantin Korneyev, wishing he was in Montreal:
Yannick not looking intimidated: