Igor Larionov wants the Russian hockey program and the players to turn the page on the past. They don’t want to harp on previous losses, and they don’t want to talk about the last time they won gold in the U20 World Junior Championship. That was back in 2011, in Buffalo, and now it gets mentioned just for motivational purposes.
Having a number of these players playing in the KHL could be something that shows up early in the tournament. They should come out of the gate hot. Even though their defense is the weakest part of the team, Larionov doesn’t seem to be worried about that.
“We are fortunate the KHL is playing hockey, so some boys are getting some minutes playing for KHL teams. Once again, when you get to Edmonton, everybody is on the same page, no matter what happened yesterday so you have to be your best today and tomorrow,” Larionov stated.
Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-rounder, Rodion Amirov is expected to star for this team, but his coach has made sure to put it into the proper perspective.
“At some point, you have to make a statement about people judging you the past couple of years. That’s the big stage of World Juniors. There are high expectations,” Larionov said with clarity. “The players are still young, 18 or 19, there will be a lot of social media, they won’t be around at the rink, but still, in this generation of social media and the internet, the boys will be spending some time reading some stuff.
“Amirov had a great tournament in November in Finland (Karjala Cup). He played really well, and he’s played good hockey for his hometown team in Ufa. It’s all about being the best at peak time. When the time comes at the end of December, and the beginning of January, that’s when we expect our players to play their best hockey.”
One of the better picks of the 2020 NHL Draft might have been made by the Minnesota Wild when they selected Marat Khusnutdinov with the 37th overall pick. He’s good on draws but doesn’t give up on a loss to get it right back. And at 5-9, the same as Larionov, same position, I wonder if he doesn’t see some of himself in the youngster.
“It’s all about little details. The game of hockey isn’t just about scoring goals and getting assists. Face-offs are a very important part of the game, ”Larionov noted. “He was very, very good in that department. Still, it’s about being the best. I told the players we had a good November, but that’s history. We have set the bar quite high to hit that level. Don’t go below, but you can go higher. I like what I saw because I saw him play a couple of times before, at the U18s, a month before the tournament, I was able to see him quite closely, and he played a lot of minutes on the power play, even strength, and the PK, and crucial face-offs. Hopefully, he can continue that at the same kind of level. He can give us confidence as maybe the first, second, or third center on my team.”
In not so many words, the coach was saying he has a chance to be the top center on the team. Before the Karjala Cup, most would have scoffed at that, myself included, but he’s gotten hot at the right time, and his talent is shining through.
Yaroslav Askarov (Nashville) will be the #1 goalie to start. If his play falters, they won’t hesitate to pull him, but he has previous experience in this tournament, and that matters.
“You know what, it’s basically a fresh start because I’m the head coach,” said Larionov. “It’s nice to have someone who went through that experience in the past Askarov, and Podkolzin (Canucks) they’ve been around the last couple of years. The rest of the guys are good players, but they’re brand new.”
In the end, the Russians have a style that they plan on playing.
“Our goal is to play an offensive style of hockey,” Larionov said just before the end of the interview. “Trust each other and discipline plays a big role.”
Russia may have the second-best team in the tournament. There are still roster changes to be made for some of the teams, and already teams like the U.S. and Sweden have lost players, and in Sweden’s case, four coaches will be working from home, because of COVID-19.