Russia finished the 2009-10 Euro Hockey Tour in second place, having lost two of their three games in a disappointing final stage in Sweden.
After the tournament Russia head coach Vyacheslav Bykov named five more players who will not make the squad for the World Championship in Germany: Enver Lisin, Oleg Saprykin, Denis Kulyash, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Ryasensky. The latter is perhaps the most surprising, as the Neftekhimik defenseman was named the best defender of the tournament by the organizers.
The team conceded far too often in Sweden. Alexander Yeremenko was beaten on five occasions, if we include the shoot-out series against the Finns, and the Czechs struck three goals past Anton Khudobin, plus one more into an empty net.
Only Vasily Koshechkin gave us some comfort with a superb performance against the hosts. Granted, he conceded two goals, and one of these was the fault of the Magnitka keeper, but these occurred when Russia was cruising after storming to a 4-0 lead.
“All the candidates for the number one spot still have an even chance. We will carefully weigh up all our options, analyze their form, see how they work in training, and then make our choice,” was Russia coach Igor Zakharkin’s comment on selecting a goaltender.
Washington’s Semen Varlamov’s arrival at the Novogorsk training center is expected soon, but Ilya Bryzgalov has confirmed that his back injury rules him out of competing in Germany.
We may also have serious trouble in defense. While talking about the match against the Czech Republic Zakharkin mentioned other problems to add to the ones which are obvious to the spectators.
“Firstly, we’ve had lapses in concentration, not enough focus. And secondly, we’re lacking in stamina. The first match took a lot out of the players. If you look at the match with the Czechs, we had a bit of luck with the goal we scored in the first period then in the second we took our foot off the gas. We tried to get back into the game in the third but we came to life far too late.”
In other words: none of the mistakes we are seeing are systemic; they can be put right.
In all three games Russia constantly found themselves playing short-handed, and not because of the competence of their opponents. There is a lack of freshness about the side, and the majority of the Russia squad are at different levels of form and fitness – a worrying symptom to appear when you are preparing to compete with the best in the world. Still, bringing all the players to optimum fitness levels is well within the powers of our coaches.
Of course, as well as a sporting contest we can regard the matches in Sweden more as a training exercise before the journey to Cologne. It is up to the players to prove they are worthy of representing their country in the World Championship. However, both Ryasensky and Lisin seemed to have achieved this in no small measure, yet there has been no official comment on why they were not selected.
The Sweden games also gave valuable experience to Sibir's young attacker Vladimir Tarasenko. The chances of him booking a place on the trip to Germany were always slim, but the rising star of the KHL will have enjoyed getting the feel of playing at international level.
Veterans Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov played as well as ever, although Dmitry Kalinin plainly has not shaken off the effects of a less than successful season at Ufa. At the very least, he is not defending with his usual consistency.
Second place in the EHT may provide the necessary motivation to spur the coaches and players on to victory in Germany. Otherwise, this season will only be remembered for the failure in Vancouver.
Russia start their world title defense with a game vs Slovakia on May 9th in Cologne.