Colorado Avalanche: Four players headed to Sochi

Avalanche players to compete for gold in Olympics

While the Avalanche had reason to believe a few more players would be sent off to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month, Colorado will be represented by four players in the tournament.

Forwards Matt Duchene (Canada), Paul Stastny (USA), Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden), and goaltender Semyon Varlamov (Russia) will all compete for the gold medal in Sochi. The tournamentwill mark the first Olympics appearance for Duchene, 22, and Landeskog, 21, albeit international experience for both players in the IIHF World Championships and other amateur competitions.  Stastny and Varlamov represented their respective countries at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, 2014 will be the second appearance for both.

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Semyon Varlamov is a serious contender to start for Russia in the Olympics. (UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

The Avalanche forwards all find themselves mixed into a cluster of NHL stars on their Olympics rosters.  Canada, Sweden, and the USA, all legitimate gold medal contenders, and will bring loaded rosters to Sochi.  It is still to be determined what roles and contributions they will each play on these powerhouse rosters.

Varlamaov hopes to have a more definite role for his native Russia. The Avalanche goaltender has a healthy shot to be the start for the host country, but will have to compete with the  Columbus Blue Jackets’ goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Varlamov (20-8-5, 2.36 GAA, .926 SV%) has put together a better case this season than Bobrovsky (12-11-2, 2.60 GAA, .914 SV%), and has also stayed healthy.  Bobrovsky was out for a month with a groin injury suffered in early December. The Olympics span only two weeks, some teams choosing the hot goalie within the past few weeks over the one with the more solid resume over a few months. Barring any major lapse in his play and a late surge by Bobrovsky, Varlamov should be the starting net minder in the tournament.

LEFT OFF

Erik Johnson (USA) and Jan Hejda (Czech Republic) will both be spectating the Olympics instead of competing. The two defenseman were left off their countries rosters despite strong seasons in the NHL that many believe earned them shots to play in the tournament.

Team USA chose to go with a fast defensive core predicated on speed and the ability to quickly get he puck up the ice to the forwards, their primary strength.  Unfortunately for Johnson, Team USA brass felt that Johnson’s relative lack of speed, offensive deficiencies, and inexperience as a penalty killer were enough to leave him off the roster, according to an in-depth article by ESPN’s Scott Burnside. So, despite Johnson’s outstanding start to the season and his extensive experience with Team USA – which included a silver medal in 2010 – the team decided to go different directions (Cam Fowler, Justin Faulk, John Carlson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik).

There is less of an explanation available for Hejda. Second only to Johnson, Hejda leads the Avalanche in ice time with 22:33 minutes per game.  The Czech Republic didn’t have a log jam of premier defenseman to choose from in the first place, so it’s bizarre that a defenseman playing at the level Hejda is currently playing at in the NHL would be omitted. Czech Republic made some other peculiar decisions, electing to skip on NHL players Jiri Hudler and Tomas Fleischhmann and go ahead with aging Petr Nedved, 42, who no longer plays in the NHL.

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