Olympics-Ice hockey-Ovechkin leads Russian bid for gold in Sochi


MOSCOW, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Washington Capitals' captain Alex Ovechkin was named in Russia's squad for next month's Olympics in Sochi, but veteran defenseman Sergey Gonchar and forward Alexander Semin were surprise omissions from their 25-man roster.

Ovechkin is one of 15 NHL players named in the squad, but Russia's head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov is also banking on the strength of the domestic Kontinental Hockey League.

Ten players made the cut from the Russian-dominated competition, one more than Bilyaletdinov's predecessor, Vyacheslav Bykov, selected four years ago for the Vancouver Games.

Ilya Kovalchuk, a former NHL player who joined the KHL last year after signing with SKA St Petersburg, is among the top players taken from Russian teams.

Along with Ovechkin, those drawn from the NHL include Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, and Evgeny Malkin of the Pittsburg Penguins, both strong attacking players.

The Sochi Games are the first Olympics to be held in Russia since Moscow 1980 and the hosts will be under pressure to deliver.

Ice hockey is among the sports where Russia is seen as having a strong chance of winning a gold medal.

Russia's men's ice hockey team are number three in the International Ice Hockey Federation rankings behind Sweden and Finland, having been top for the previous four years.

The Soviet Union won seven men's ice hockey gold medals in the nine Olympics held between 1956 and 1988, but have failed to win an Olympic medal since 2002, when it gained bronze in Salt Lake City. (Reporting by Jason Bush and Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by Toby Davis)

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