Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia, competing on its own for only the second year, was hammered 9-1 by Canada at the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden. Previously, about 25 per cent of the players on Soviet national junior teams came from other republics.
Writers were forecasting the end of a dynasty, claiming that the talent pool in Russia was not adequate to produce medal-winning teams.
But since the 1993 tourney, where they finished sixth, the Russians have finished out the top three places only once, winning two gold, three silver and three bronze medals.
Moreover, the greatest rivalry in world junior hockey has been renewed. Canada and Russia have met 11 times in the tournament since 1993, with each team winning five games and one ending in a tie.
During the days of Communist government in the country, the Soviets were reluctant to send any players below the age of 16 to North America. But now visits by Russian players as young as nine years of age are becoming a regular occurrence during the hockey season.
Their coaches say it would be cheaper to take the boys to Finland or Sweden, but they are interested in seeing that they get the best competition available, and they believe that that exists in North America.
The defending champions would likely be considered heavy favorites to repeat in Halifax, except that their brilliant winger Ilya Kovalchuk won't likely be released by the Atlanta Thrashers after scoring 29 goals in his rookie NHL season, despite missing 17 games.
Returning goaltender Andrei Medvedev has excellent agility and reflexes for a big goaltender. The Calgary Flames, who drafted him in 2001, believe that he has potential.
Defenseman Igor Knyazev, who captained the Russians to a gold medal victory in 2002, also returns along with talented winger Stanislav Chistov, who has been compared to Paul Kariya of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the team that drafted him. Knyazev's rights are owned by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Defenseman Fedor Tyutin had a big year with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, contributing 19 goals and 59 points in just 53 games. The New York Rangers selected Tyutin in the 2001 draft.
Denis Grebeschkov, a blueliner who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2002, will be competing in his third WJC tournament.
Alexander Semin, who had eight goals and 15 points as Russia won the silver medal at the World Under-18 Championship, defenseman Anton Babchuk and winger Vladislav Evseev are three of the better graduates of the Under-18 team.
Evseev, who might be the most talented of the trio, did not play in the Worlds because of an injury.
Rafail Ishmatov, former coach of the St. Petersburg Army Club in the Russian Hockey League, will be Russia's Head Coach at this year's IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.