MOSCOW, October 24 (R-Sport) – Ilya Kovalchuk is to suit up for the Russian national hockey team next month for the first time since leaving the US’s New Jersey Devils, giving him time to gel with his prospective Olympic partners after the coach put him on the roster Thursday.
Kovalchuk headlines a 28-man roster for the second round of the Euro Hockey Tour, the Karjala Cup, where Russia will play Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Kovalchuk has scored eight goals and 11 assists in 15 Kontinental Hockey League games for SKA St. Petersburg since walking out on his Devils contract in July. He has spent much of this month recovering from a chest injury sustained in a collision with his teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The Euro Hockey Tour is a rolling four-stage event that is held among Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden and is usually used to introduce younger Europe-based players to the national team. With coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov unable to call upon Russia's contingent of players in the US-Canadian National Hockey League, the Euro Hockey Tour is in effect a trial for backup players for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, where nothing less than gold is expected of Russia.
Russia's team is also weakened by injuries to players including Kovalchuk’s SKA teammate Evgeny Ketov and former Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov.
“Unfortunately, there are certain unpleasant incidents connected with injuries,” Bilyaletdinov said on the Russian Hockey Federation website. “That’s a pity, because we wanted to look at candidates for the Olympic Games."
Dynamo Moscow goaltender Alexander Eremenko, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the last two KHL playoffs, returns to the national team for the first time since 2010.
The Russian team lost two of its three games in the first stage of the Euro Hockey Tour in August, going down 2-0 to Finland and 2-1 to the host Czech Republic but beating Sweden 2-0.