BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 15: Alexander Ovechkin (L) of Russia looks dejected after losing the IIHF World Championship bronze medal match between Czech Republic and Russia at Orange Arena on May 15, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It's only two-and-a-half years until Sochi. Are we ready for the Olympics?
"Not yet. We need to take a lesson from the Canadians, who painstakingly prepared for Vancouver. They not only wisely selected their players, but they also thoroughly studied their opponents, both NHL and every KHL player who was on Team Russia."
"Canadian GM Steve Yzerman personally studied how many Russians played. He knew us inside and out."
Maybe we should go to the Canadian system, where the GM is responsible for everything, and under him are the coaches and players?
"I don't know as far as the system goes. But I don't see anything wrong in this if we copy the Canadian system in preparation. There has to be a video trainer, we need a concise plan for each game. "Run and gun and we'll meet at the net?" That's not going to work in Sochi."
Why does the national team have such a hard time attracting young players? We don't have our own Stamkos's?
"If we didn't have talented youth then we wouldn't have won the junior world championship. But I remember when the last time we took gold at the juniors with the class of 1983 team. Right now, how many guys of those guys are playing at the highest level?"
"Well, you count them up."
...I brought up the archives and I counted. As far a goaltenders you have Konstantin Barulin, defensemen Kirill Koltsov, Fedor Tyutin, Konstantin Korneev, Denis Grebeshkov, Maksim Kondratov, forwards Igor Grigorenko, Yuri Trubachev, Alexander Perezhogin, Andrei Taratukhin, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexei Kaigorodov, Timofey Shishkanov, Evgeni Artyukin, Nikolay Zherdev.
15 players, two-thirds of the team.
How many of them are in the NHL right now? Two and a half. Tyutin, Ovechkin and Zherdev, who is unlikely to renew his contract with Philadelphia.
Why are the youth so poorly exposed?
"Because they don't trust in them. It is easier for a Russian team to sign a contract with an NHL player than grow their own star. Why are so few of the 2011 world championship players playing in the KHL? That is something to think about."
"You have to give the youth a chance. When I was coming up in Russia I always had the chance to play. I was on the third or fourth line. I got 10-12 minutes a game. That was enough to gain experience and become a real hockey player."
Is it a good or bad thing that fewer and fewer Russians are coming into the NHL?
"I understand why guys are coming from abroad to Russia. It's a financial issue. But I don't think that you can really compare the quality of the games with the NHL. Is the national team weaker for this? Figure that one out for yourself."
Recently you flew to Chelyabinsk to attend the wedding of Traktor forward Evgeni Kuznetsov...
"Yeah, Kuzi invited me. What a classy guy! I met his wife and parents. What nice people. I went for two days and ended up staying for four. I have a lot of friends there, like Sanya Budkin who played for Dynamo."
"I even became friends with the OMON and the head of the local police there! I was greeted with enthusiasm in Chelyabinsk. I really enjoyed it there."
Kuznetsov decided to stay for another year with Traktor, even though he had been drafted by Washington. Did you talk to him about the NHL?
"I simply told Kuzi ‘If you want to grow as a hockey player, the best thing is to go abroad'."
But he's only 19! Remember what they said about Ovechkin: it's a good thing he went to the NHL when he was 20, when he had already matured.
"I had a quite different situation. At that time there was a lockout in the NHL. And I was late, they couldn't select me in the draft in 2003. I don't know what my fate would have been if I had gone abroad a year or two earlier. I might have even won something."
Should the head coach of the Russian National team be free to often come to the NHL? Or is it superfluous to once again come and see Ovechkin and Semin? It is understandable that you have to get them for the Olympics.
"After the last world championship I was told that the national team didn't need me."
Who said that?
"Everyone. Including the reporters."
Did they say that in the mixed zone?
"Nobody would say something like that to your face. Right? But hearing stuff like that behind your back is unpleasant."
My question was about something else.
"Of course, the coach needs to fly abroad often. To study his players and his opponents, to prepare specific lines and power play and shorthanded combinations, and to seek tactical schemes. It's not very long until the Olympics, and in Sochi we need to be firing like a bullet out of a rifle. So that we go right to the target and knock down everyone in our path. Don't we want to win gold?"
But how can you figure out your power play ahead of time, if the players come to the team two days before the tournament? By the way, the power play itself failed us in Bratislava, it didn't work at all.
"The national team has top level hockey players who know how to play. But you have to study video of how your opponent plays. When are they active, when are they passive. From this you decide which of us will play in which position."
"Does your opponent play the rhombus? Okay, then we'll do this. A different combination? We'll push the forward behind the net."-Ovechkin is drawing plays on a napkin.
"But what do we do? ‘My team plays the PP like this. So on the national team we will do the exact same thing'. And we start garbage skating . The puck is low, the puck is high, we wait for the hit. So we spend two minutes on the PP and we don't make any shots."
There are two approaches tor hockey. First is that we are strong and we overpower with our tactics. The second is that we are strong and we study our opponents and exploit their weaknesses.
"I'm talking about the second variation. This is what has been lacking in Team Russia."
The FHR (Russian Hockey Federation- TH) is planning to bring a psychologist onto the team. Do the players really need that?
"Maybe they can find a psychologist for the fans?"
So the time has come for this?
"It's all nonsense. What the hell do we need a psychologist for? It would be better if we could get a good masseuse for the team."
Are the chances good that the NHL will release its players for the Olympics?
"I don't know. But I will not recant my words. I think that all the Russian players from the NHL will go to Sochi."
So they will go AWOL or what?
"In agreement with the team."
Have you talked about this with Ted Leonsis, owner of the Capitals?
"It's still early. I haven't started scaring him yet" smiled Ovechkin.