Russian down to fourth or fifth choice goaltender

Updated: April 28, 2006, 4:08 PM ET
Reuters

MOSCOW -- Russia goaltender Maxim Sokolov will miss next month's world ice hockey championship in Latvia after undergoing knee surgery on Friday.

The 33-year-old will be out for at least four weeks after doctors operated on his meniscus, which he hurt in the European championship game Wednesday against Finland.

Sokolov was Russia's third-choice goalkeeper at this year's Torino Olympics behind the NHL duo of Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov, but would have moved to a starting role after both Nabokov and Bryzgalov became unavailable.

NHL All-Star Nikolai Khabibulin, who backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to their first Stanley Cup in 2004, also refused to play at the world championship, which starts on May 5 in Riga.

Sokolov was Russia's top goaltender at the 2002 world championship in Sweden, where the Russians won a silver medal -- their best showing at a world tournament for the last 13 years.

In his absence, the Russians will have to rely on the inexperienced Alexander Fomichev and Sergei Zvyagin.

Sokolov's injury is the latest setback for Russia, a major hockey superpower in the old Soviet days who have struggled in recent years.

Most of Russia's best players, with the exception of NHL rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin, have turned down the chance to represent their country in Riga following a fallout with national team coach Vladimir Krikunov at the Winter Olympics.