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Ovechkin leads Russia's fight for gold

MOSCOW -- Alex Ovechkin will lead world champion Russia in the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament after being named to a preliminary 23-man squad on Friday.

The Washington Capitals left wing, voted the NHL's MVP the past two years, will be part of Russia's high-powered offensive unit, which includes fellow All-Stars Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

They will seek to end the country's Olympic gold-medal drought at the Vancouver Games. The hockey superpower has not tasted success since winning the last of their eight Olympic titles as part of the Unified Team in 1992 in Albertville, France.

Russia's coach Vyacheslav Bykov, who captained the 1992 Olympic team, also picked 40-year-old Sergei Fedorov, one of nine players from the domestic Continental Hockey League (KHL).

Fedorov signed a two-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2009 to return home after an 18-year NHL career, which included winning three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and capturing the Hart Trophy as the league MVP in 1994.

But there was no room on the squad for 39-year-old defenseman Sergei Zubov, who also came home in 2009 after a 17-year NHL career, or Alexei Kovalev, 36, captain at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, where Russia finished a disappointing fourth.

San Jose Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov, one of last year's finalists for the Vezina trophy as the NHL's top goaltender, likely will be Russia's No. 1 goalie in Vancouver, with Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes as his backup.

The 24-year-old Ovechkin is hoping for a Russia-Canada final. "That's the game everyone wants to see," he was quoted by local media as saying on Friday.

"No doubt, they [Canada] would be very motivated playing on home ice and also gunning for revenge," he said, referring to Russia beating their arch rival in the finals of the past two world championships. "But we'll be just as hungry as them."

However, Bykov said the squad named Friday was provisional and he could change players if their performance dropped.

"I wouldn't guarantee a place on the Olympic team to anyone. If my players can't perform up to the standards playing for their respective clubs, then how can I rely on them in Vancouver?" he told reporters after his club Salavat Yulayev Ufa lost 3-2 at home to lowly Severstal in a KHL game on Friday.