“It is not pressure that we feel hosting the Games, but rather a great responsibility to the fans, programme members and all who have supported us in the Paralympic family around the world.”
Perhaps no ice sledge hockey team has ever entered their Paralympic debut with more expectations than Russia.
Just five years after starting up their national programme, the Sochi 2014 host nation are set to make their first appearance in the sport on the Paralympic level as the No. 3 seed.
The Russians have skyrocketed to the top stage in the sport after a surprising bronze-medal finish at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Goyang, South Korea.
“During the World Championships A-Pool, each of our players did his part so well that I had to just put my stick under the puck,” Russian star forward Dmitry Lisov said previously.
“We have many good players that are capable of turning the scale of the game, especially looking ahead to the Paralympic Games.”
Lisov has consistently been Russia’s go-to player since the national team started, leading Russia at the last World Championships with four goals and an assist in five games. He ranked eighth overall in point leaders at the tournament.
“A gold medal in Sochi would be the best reward,” Lisov said previously. “Before falling asleep every evening, I think of the things that I do well and things that I must improve on. Overtaking (Canada’s) Greg Westlake and making him give up the title of the best forward in the world is one of them.”
Vadim Selyukin’s contributions in Sochi will be just as important as Lisov’s, though his will come in a different form. The defenceman, Russia’s captain, has served as the programme’s anchor since helping it launch in 2009.
Selyukin, who lost both of his legs while serving in the military in Chechnya, built the team from scratch. He launched a sports club for people with an impairment in 2004, and from there the national team grew.
In the lead-up to Sochi 2014, Selyukin and his team has received tremendous support from the Russian Ministry of Sport, the Russian Paralympic Committee, the Russian Federation of Sports for Persons with Physical Impairments and its sponsor, Megaphone.
Expected to join Lisov and Selyukin in the Sochi headlines are defenceman Ivan Kuznetsov and forward Ilia Volkov, who are two of Russia’s most underrated players according to head coach Sergey Samoylov.
Mikhail Ivanov, named Best Goaltender at last year’s World Championships, will lead Russia’s reliable defence, and Samoylov said how well his forwards convert on their scoring chances will determine whether they can give the hockey-loving nation the performance they expect.
“It is not pressure that we feel hosting the Games, but rather a great responsibility to the fans, programme members and all who have supported us in the Paralympic family around the world,” said Samoylov.