Ovechkin leads Russia hockey team in Vancouver

By Gennady Fyodorov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Alexander Ovechkin will lead world champions Russia in the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament after being named in a preliminary 23-man squad on Friday.

The Washington Capitals left wing, voted the National Hockey League's MVP for the past two years, will as expected lead Russia's high-powered offensive unit which also includes fellow All-Stars Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

They will be seeking to end the country's Olympic gold medal drought at the February 12 to 28 Vancouver Games.

Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov, who captained the 1992 Olympic team, also picked 40-year-old Sergei Fedorov, one of nine players from the domestic Continental Hockey League (KHL).

Fedorov returned home in 2009 after an 18-year NHL career, which included winning three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and capturing the Hart Trophy as the league MVP in 1994, signing a two-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

KOVALEV MISSING

But there was no room in the squad for 39-year-old defenseman Sergei Zubov, who also came home in 2009 after a 17-year NHL career, or Alexei Kovalev, 36, captain of the 2006 Olympic team, where Russia finished a disappointing fourth.

San Jose Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov, last year's finalist for the Vezina trophy as the NHL's top netminder, will likely be given the job of Russia's number one in Vancouver, with Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes as his back-up.

The 24-year-old Ovechkin is hoping for a Russia-Canada final. "That's the game everyone wants to see," he was quoted as saying by local media on Friday.

"No doubt, they (Canada) would be very motivated playing on home ice and also gunning for revenge," he said, referring to Russia beating their arch-rivals in the final of the last two world championships. "But we'll be just as hungry as them."

However, Bykov said the squad named Friday was provisional and he could change players if their performance dropped.

"I wouldn't guarantee a place on the Olympic team to anyone. If my players can't perform up to the standards playing for their respective clubs, then how can I rely on them in Vancouver?" he told reporters after his club Salavat Yulayev Ufa lost 3-2 at home to lowly Severstal in a KHL game on Friday.

Squad:

Goaltenders: Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks), Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix Coyotes), Semyon Varlamov (Washington Capitals)

Defensemen: Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadians), Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa Senators), Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins), Denis Grebeshkov (Edmonton Oilers), Fyodor Tyutin (Columbus Blue Jackets), Dmitry Kalinin (Salavat Yulayev Ufa), Konstantin Korneyev (CSKA Moscow), Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan)

Forwards: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov (both Atlanta Thrashers), Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals), Alexei Morozov and Danis Zaripov (both Ak Bars Kazan), Sergei Zinovyev, Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Radulov (all Salavat Yulayev Ufa), Sergei Fedorov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)

(Editing by Ken Ferris)