Team Russia could use some assistants
Saturday, 8 September 2007
When the Russians flopped with a tenth-place finish at the 2004 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic, head coach Viktor Tikhonov blamed it on “the mistakes of the players” and “the lack of time” to prepare for the tournament.
Tikhonov, predictably, refused to acknowledge that his 1984-style methods just hadn’t worked, and that his troops had had as much time to get ready as the other big hockey nations. In fact, his Super League-laden roster had more instant familiarity than most of the opposing teams, with five players from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, four from Avangard Omsk, and three from AK Bars Kazan.
Refreshingly, Alexander Ovechkin didn’t resort to such facile excuses in a recent discussion with Sovetsky Sport journalists and readers about the horrendous showing of Russia’s national U20 team versus Canada in the eight-game Super Series:
“It is obvious that the Canadians are better than us right now.”
“If people in Canada think that our hockey is in a deep hole, it’s their right [to do so]. Do they remember Turin? You know, they don’t. What makes them different from us is that they remember only their victories. And we, unfortunately, are fixated on our defeats.”
Yes, the gloom is as thick as Vladimir Krutov’s waist at a 7-11 after a 1989 Canucks practice.
What’s stood out in the Super Series, on the whole, is Russia’s continuing inability to adapt to Canadian tactics.
Apart from Alexei Cherepanov, who was not impressive before Brandon Sutter’s Game Two hit put him out with a concussion, did the Russians bring anyone whose stick skills compared to those of Sam Gagner or David Perron? Frankly, no. They weren’t going to outskill or outskate Canada this time around.
But with more structure in their defensive game down low and better goaltending, they might at least have a win or two heading into the Vancouver finale, instead of one tie in Game Seven, which was attributable largely to Canada’s worst goaltending of the series.
It’s a lot easier to keep your spirits up when you know that not every mistake you make will end up padding your opponents’ stats.
Now, Sergei Nemchinov has been thoroughly outcoached in this series by Brent Sutter. And for Russia, the same pattern has mostly held true at the senior level in recent years, Slava Bykov’s solid work at the 2007 Worlds notwithstanding.
It’s time to think seriously about looking abroad.
The Russians didn’t want to name Larry Robinson as their head coach for the 2004 World Cup when Igor Larionov suggested it. If national pride dictates that the main man must be Russian, then consider hiring a Finnish goalie coach like Arto Koivisto or Urpo Ylonen, or a Canadian like Marc Habscheid or Trent Yawney to oversee line matchups and penalty-killing.
If Lokomotiv can afford to pay Alexei Yashin $2.7 million for 2007-08, there must be enough money available to persuade a savvy foreign expert or two to team up with Team Russia, whether we’re talking about the ’08 World Juniors in the Czech Republic or the ’08 Worlds in Canada.
It would make just as much sense as Finland’s decision to install Wallaceburg, Ontario’s Doug Shedden behind its bench for the latter tournament–probably more.