Every time there is an international hockey tourney…..such as the Winter Olympics, World Championships, World Cup of Hockey and the World Juniors, there’s always two teams us die-hard American hockey fans look forward to see play our Country. Canada of course is only natural considering how dominant Canada has always been when it comes to hockey. Hockey has been Canada’s most appreciated sport and hobby. Actually, its more than that. It’s also a lifestyle for them. Besides Canada however, there’s only one other country that has been one of Team USA’s greatest rivalries in hockey championship games. That Country is non other than Team Russia. Russia (Or I should say its former state known as Soviet Union/USSR) has been an extremely dominant force when it comes to hockey throughout the years. Producing former great players that ended up with amazing NHL careers such as Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Alexander Mogilny, Evgeni Nabokov, Alexie Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar & Sergei Zubov among many others. Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlomov may not have been stars in the NHL but were highly regarded & influential players in the Soviet era of Russian hockey.
Currently, Russia has some of the most ‘All Star’ elite and talented players that can be seen in both the NHL and KHL leagues. Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Tarasenko, Markov, Radulov, Anisimov, Bobrovsky , Kucherov, Nesterov, Panarin, Yakupov, Kuznetsov and Kovalchuk are all prime examples of players that have proven to the world hockey is their sport as well. And many of these players got their start on the world juniors stage.
My friend Alex who you can follow on twitter @OnlySpartakM is from Russia. He loves hockey, and he loves the world juniors. His team may be one of USA’s biggest rivals throughout history, but he provided some great insight about team Russia prior to the start of the 2017 World Junior Championship games. I asked him a few questions and he gave me his honest answers. So if you enjoy reading about the World Juniors tournament, please enjoy hearing some things from a Russian fan’s perspective 🙂 (Editors note: Please keep in mind the language barrier and differences when read Alex’s answers. They’re not typo’s.)
1. How do you think Team Russia will perform at this years World Junior Championship games?
Alex: “Actually I think Team Russia have to perform well at this World Junior Championship. There are several reasons to make such a prediction. For example, we have a pretty strong golie I. Samsonov who has experience in KHL regular season’s games this year (GP 19, W 12, GAA 2.06, SP .936, SO 1) and in KHL play-offs 2015-2016 (GP 6, W 2, GAA 2.29, SP .916). Also he took part at World Junior Championship 2016. And that’s not all also we have a pair of defs (Rykov and Voronkov) with World Junior Championship 2016 experience and forward Kaprizov with good stats in KHL this season (GP 37, P 30, G 15, A 15, +/- 8). Someone can say we had to pick Sokolov, Smirnov, Popugaev but I don’t any reason not to trust head coach Bragin who has a huge experience as a head coach at World Junior Championship.”
2. Do you think overall the hockey fans in Russia are just as excited as fans elsewhere such as Canada when it comes to this tournament starting? Do they watch every Team Russia game or do the majority just wait it out to see if Russia is in the medal round?
Alex: “I think World Junior Championship fans are a special caste. It’s minority among hockey fans. I guess it’s because most the championships take place in North America and time difference doesn’t allow many fans to watch games live. That’s why the rating of World Juniors is small therefore media don’t spend time as much as they spend on the Worlds.”
3. What is your opinion of Russia when it comes to developing professional hockey players? The last time they won a gold medal in the Olympics was 1992…..however Russia has led the rest of the world in medal count when it comes to the World Juniors over the past 10 years. They won their most recent gold medal in 2011 so do you feel as if Russia is doing everything they can to be better in the future?
Alex: “Oh, it’s such a big question). This is the question of a system. The hockey system. I think for sure Russia is not doing everything we can to be better in the future. We could win using Soviet hockey system when Team USSR was the main team in the country and all clubs had to prepare player for the Team and there was a special club CSKA which could take any player from across the country. But I’m glad it’s impossible now. Now we don’t have an effective hockey system to compare with Canada or USA.”
4. Do you feel like there is one major rival of Team Russia regardless of whatever the international hockey tourney is? With the Olympics, World Juniors, World Championships, and most recently the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey…..is there one country in particular Russian hockey fans just anticipate their team to hopefully be victorious over every time they meet? Hockey fans all over the world know of the Canada/Russia long-lasting feud given the dominance of both countries in hockey history. (Although that was USSR and not the current state of Russia). And of course in America we consider 1980 to be our biggest victory in the history of USA olympics. Also, is their any European nations Russian hockey fans look forward to seeing their country play? Finland has been an up and coming threat when it comes to their development of hockey players and their medals and championships they’ve won. Overall what do Russian hockey fans look forward to in this tournament?
Alex: “Of course there is one major rival of Team Russia regardless of whatever the international hockey tourney is. You know it’s Canada. It’s like a derby among national teams. it’s not matter what tournament it is we must defeat them! Also the US is rival for many Russians. But I guess it’s mostly because of politics but not because of hockey and I don’t like it. Actually it’s hard to me to call a rival for Russia among European nations. As I know we are a rival for Czech Republic. Overall Russian hockey fans look forward to see Team Russia in the final and we hope our leaders Bragin (head coach), Samsonov, Kaprizov will help to make the dream come true.”
Alex also had one last thought to share with me regarding his opinion on the future state of Russian hockey:
“When we talk about Russia and hockey the first thing turning up is KHL. The league wants to compare with NHL but there are fundamental features that don’t allow this happens. For example KHL has a cap hit but it doesn’t work because teams can exclude stars (like Kovalchuk or Datsyuk) from that officially. Second you can sell a player for money not only by trading for another player. Another thing is existing draft system doesn’t work as it works in NHL because most hockey schools belong to KHL teams and they can reserve their alumnus. Also there are rich teams and poor ones and poor team doesn’t have any chance to win a cup cause rich ones buy their best players. So there is lack of competition in Russia and I think that system doesn’t allow to be better.” .