With the Vancouver Canucks on a break, VHN will still have NHL and Vancouver Canucks news, but we’ll also provide plenty of info for you Olympic junkies. This story first ran on Tuesday, January 31st in the Hockey Wanderlüst newsletter.
Olympics: Name of the Game is still “Goalie”
Juniors, senior men, beer league, KHL, NHL, and of course the Olympics … it doesn’t matter, the name of the game for the Vancouver Canucks or any team is still ‘Goalie’.
So let’s take a look at the netminding potential for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing for three countries that have consistently been producing goaltenders and will all be in contention for a Gold Medal.
That would be the defending champion Russians, plus the Swedes and the Finns.
Start with the athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee and their three goalies Ivan Fedotov of CSKA Moscow, Timur Bilyalov of Ak Bars Kazan, and Alexander Samonov of SKA St. Petersburg. Naturally with no NHL participation, all three crease guardians come from the Kontinental Hockey League.
By the way, Vasily Koshechkin, Russia’s number-one in winning the Gold four years ago, is now 38-years-of-age and nearing KHL retirement.
Fedotov is the only one with NHL ties at all, as the 7th-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 draft. The 25-year-old is 4th in the KHL with a 2.00 goals against average and has a save percentage of .920% in 26 games.
Bilyalov is a pretty strong option just two slots behind Fedotov on the goalie charts with a 2.06 GAA. Four of his KHL seasons have been with Kazan.
The big difference, and an advantage for the previous over the latter; Fedotov is 6’7” (201 cm), while Bilyalov is just 5’10” (178 cm), and let’s face it, we’re in the ‘big goalie’ era. Samonov splits the difference at 5’11” (180 cm).
All three are solid options. Samonov was outstanding for SKA in their recent playoff runs and also for his country as the back-up at the 2021 World Championships. He’s seen limited action this year backing up Lars Johansson
Oh gee, what do you know, there’s your likely starter for Team Sweden. Johansson is on top of the KHL goalie charts with a 1.63 GAA and a .93.2%. He’s won twenty of his 34 games and should be between the pipes when the Swedes open against Latvia on February 10.
The 34-year-old Avesta native developed in the Mora IK junior program and eventually took his talents to the KHL in 2017. After four seasons with CSKA Moscow he hopped to St. Pete. He’s been to the Gagarin Cup championship series three of the last four years, winning it once. Over his last six seasons in Europe, he’s finished with a GAA well under 2.00 and his average during the KHL years is 1.43.
Telling however might be his one American Hockey League season in 2017, his numbers popped to 2.75 and 90.7%.
Sweden will also be represented by Magnus Hellberg of HK Sochi and Adam Reideborn, who’s presently with CSKA.
Hellberg, the 30-year-old from Uppsala provides a nice option. He swapped places with Johansson, moving from St. Petersburg to Moscow this season. He has four total games of NHL experience with the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers dating back to the 2016-’17 season. He’s big, just a little bit shorter than the Russian Fedotov.
Meanwhile, Reideborn backs up Fedotov with CSKA but the appearances are almost even as are the victories this season, 12 compared to 14.
At this point one might surmise that Sweden has the goaltending depth advantage over Russia.
That brings us to Finland, and bit of a wild card in net. Again, all present KHL’ers.
Harri Säteri of Sibir Novosibirsk has nine games of NHL experience with the Florida Panthers. He and Olympic crease-mate Juho ‘Jussi’ Olkinoura combined to win a silver medal at the 2021 Worlds in Riga.
Säteri would seem to carry the most swagger. He’s a workhorse for a KHL team that’s not as strong as the ones skating in front of his Olympic rivals. Despite that, he’s the 5th best goalie in the league and his save percentage is particularly impressive at 92.6%, just behind the league leaders.
He was the 4th-round pick of the San Jose Sharks back in 2008 and twice represented his country at the World Juniors.
Olkinoura is with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and sits 23rd in the goalie rankings there with a 2.45 GAA.
The third option is Frans Tuohimaa of HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. The 30-year-old from Helsinki was the 7th-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL Draft. He played 37 games of minor league hockey in North America in the middle of the last decade with limited success.
Finland opens against Slovakia on February 10, the Russians the day before against Switzerland.
For whatever reason, this writer is giving 32-year-old Säteri and Finland the edge.
Soon we’ll examine Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko and his chances for Gold.