(The Nations will also be bringing you some WJC coverage now and then this holiday season. Andrey Osadchenko starts us off with an in-depth look at Team Russia)
What is the first thing that pops up in your mind when you think of Team Russia? It’s their skilled and crazy fast offense, isn’t it? How often would you say it has worked for Alex Ovechkin’s compatriots? That’s right – not so often. Something needed to be added. As we learned last season – that secret ingredient was will to fight till the end.
After a devastating loss to Team Switzerland at the World Juniors in Saskatchewan in 2010, Russia fired head-coach Vladimir Pluschev (who by the way has been out of work ever since) and hired Valery Bragin. He’s been pointing out since Day 1 that he’d built his team on the power of will.
He managed to do so last year when with a combination of skill, luck and mostly incredible will Team Russia won their first WJC gold medals since 2003.
This season Bragin’s intent is to do the same. Unfortunately, he had to face some obstacles that weren’t really there in last year in Buffalo, NY. First of all, Russia has no obvious #1 goaltender.
Three goalies made the final cut that was announced on December the 23rd – Andrei Makarov (Saskatoon Blades, WHL), Andrei Vasilevskyi (Tolpar, Russia) and Sergei Kostenko (Kuznetskie Medvedi, Russia).
19-year-old Kostenko is the most experienced of the bunch but his performance at the recent Subway Super Series was average at most. Makarov, on the other hand, played better in the games against Team WHL, even though his stats wouldn’t suggest that.
After the tournament, Russian defenseman Mikhail Naumenkov admitted he was more comfortable on the ice in the games Makarov appeared in.
Vasilevskyi is whole other story. A Tyumen native is 6’3 and he’s only 17 years of age. The most interesting part of his biography is that he has already played at two U18 IIHF World Championships. If he continues at this pace, he’s going to set a record for Russian goalies – no one before him had appeared at three U18 and three U20 World Championships.
Vasilevskyi is very likely to go the distance.
Also, last year Russia had Dmitri Orlov providing some stability at the blue line along with a scoring touch. This time Bragin will be forced to live without such a guy. Besides, Russian defensive line lost 2 key players in Red Wings’ prospect Alexei Marchenko and Roman Rukavishnikov, who broke his collar bone at the end of the Subway Super Series.
Although Russian defensemen appear to be of a small stature, they are hard to intimidate. Au contraire, as they showed in a pre-tournament game against Team USA, which Russia won 6:3, Viktor Antipin and his fellow d-men can throw their bodies around. Shocking as it seems, it’s a fact. Just ask the Americans who finished that game with a fair share of bruises.
Russia’s opponents should be extra careful when Ildar Isangulov is on the ice. The Ufa native is 6’3 and weighs 227 pounds. He may not be a great skater, but when he lands a hit, you feel it. The other guy to look out for is Bolts’ prospect Nikita Nesterov. If there is anybody similar to Orlov on this team, it’s definitely him.
As for offense, Russia may have brought more skilled guys this season than they had previously in Buffalo. Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko will most likely go in the Top-5 at the next NHL Entry draft.
Ivan Telegin already signed with the Jets and is in his pick condition; Alex Khokhlachev one of the best players on the Windsor Spitfires this season and Evgeny Kuznetsov is definitely the next big Russian in the NHL and the only returnee from last year’s team. He’s also going to be a captain for Team Russia.
The only real loss that Russians have suffered up front is the reigning Memorial Cup champion Stanislav Galiev of the Saint John Sea Dogs. They almost lost Panthers’ prospect Yaroslav Kosov who was in a car accident early in November but he managed to recover quickly enough.
Yakupov is also reported to be fully recovered after injuring his back a few weeks ago.
It came as a big surprise that Bragin let go another Bolts’ prospect Vladislav Namestnikov, but it has been reported he came to camp with a minor injury and never told anybody.
As a result, he was put on some practice drills he shouldn’t have been in his condition and severed the injury. This was probably one of the reasons he didn’t look better than the other guys he was competing for a spot on the team with.
Nevertheless, doesn’t it look scary when a team can afford to lose a guy like Namestnikov with little or no regrets?
One can be fairly certain that this year’s edition of Team Russia is, at least, very much comparable to Buffalo’11 squad. They, too, have will. However, it looks like they have more skiil.
The Russians are going to begin the journey to WJC gold with this line-up:
Goalies: Andrey Makarov, Andrey Vaselivskyi
Defense: Antipin-Isangulov, Nesterov-Zheldakov, Arzamatsev-Sergeev, Naumenkov-Ozhiganov
Offense: Barbashev-Apalkov-Kuznetsov, Gusev-Grigorenko-Kucherov, Telegin-Khokhlachev-Yakupov, Zemchenko-Kulikov-Kosov.
– Russia has 6 reigning MHL (Russian Junior Hockey League) champions – Nikita Gusev, Nikita Kucherov, Mikhail Naumenkov, Igor Ozhiganov, Sergei Barbashev and Mikhail Grigorenko – Gusev-Grigorenko-Kucherov line was one of the best ‘young’ lines in the MHL last season.
-The Gusev, Kucherov and Ozhiganov played on Belye Medvedi three years ago, which is a Junior-B team in Moscow. Normally players of their caliber begin their careers on bigger clubs.
– Gusev and Kucherov led the Subway Super Series with 7 points in 6 games.
– Daniil Apalkov and Viktor Antipin were MHL champions in the 2009/10 season.
– Kuznetsov ascribed Russia’s win in Buffalo to a ‘fartozhopost’ factor. ‘Fartozhopost’ literally means ‘lucky ass-ness’. Ever since then the term became wildly popular in Russia.
– Daniil Apalkov was a captain for Team Russia at the Subway Super Series. Sergei Barbashev was a captain of Red Army that won the MHL championship last season.
– Barbashev’s name is pronounced as ‘Barba-SHOFF’. As he stated in one of his interviews, the guy who gave his grandmother her passport made a spelling mistake, which is hard to correct now.
– Ignat Zemchenko’s father – Sergei – was a well-known player in Soviet Union. He later immigrated to Spain where his older son – Igor – plays now.