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8 in NHL on Russian 2002 team

Russian hockey federation president Aleksander Steblin announced the first eight players who will represent his country at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games on Thursday. And while doing so, he also said Russia will be "ready to go and ready to win" the gold medal.

If that's to come true, the Russians will rely heavily on an elite group of nominees, which includes the likes of: Pavel Bure (Florida), Alexei Kovalev (Pittsburgh), Alexei Yashin (Ottawa), Darius Kasparaitis (Pittsburgh), Dmitri Yushkevich (Toronto), Sergei Gonchar (Washington) and Oleg Tverdovsky (Anaheim).

Two surprises came with Russia's first batch of announced names. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, absent for most of two NHL seasons while in a contract dispute, was picked. On the other hand, Detroit superstar Sergei Fedorov, one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, was not among the nominees. He has agreed to play in the Olympics, but the official announcement will come at a later date.

The United States will announce its first group of players — due by Sunday — on Saturday during the second intermission of the nationally broadcast (ABC, 11 a.m.) Detroit Red Wings-New York Rangers game.

Finland, Canada and defending gold-medal champion Czech Republic will also be announcing the core group of their teams, as required, this weekend.