Russia’s latest Euro Hockey Tour exploits ended in disappointment after the team lost all three games in the Czech Hockey Games. After Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to Sweden in Yaroslavl, the team flew to Pardubice. But a change of scenery brought no change of fortune: Russia lost to Finland and the Czech Republic, each time by the same 2-1 scoreline.
However, the results were of secondary importance for head coach Ilya Vorobyov as he took a closer look at several candidates for Russia’s World Championship campaign in Copenhagen next month.
“We got a look at several guys who haven’t had many chances with the national team, or maybe haven’t played here before,” Vorobyov said during the tournament. “We’ll be asking questions of the guys, and they themselves need to step up to a new level. This isn’t club hockey, it’s the national team.”
One of the players who seemed to struggle with his first chance to impress at this level was Dmitry Kagarlitsky. The Severstal captain arrived on the back of a strong season in the KHL and good form for Russia’s B team, but found it hard to make an impact here. Vorobyov reinforced his message about the difference between the domestic and international scene. “Here, everything happens half a second faster,” he said. “The players move quicker and everyone makes decisions faster.”
Throughout the tournament, Russia’s defense was solid. Igor Shestyorkin was arguably his team’s best player against Sweden and Finland before Vasily Koshechkin started against the Czechs. On offense, though, it was a different story. Vorobyov tried to shuffle his pack and try out new combinations, but the goals would not come.
Evgeny Dadonov, back on the national team following an early end to his NHL season, said: “It’s hard to say why we’re not scoring. I guess we’re not getting enough pucks to the net, not putting enough traffic in front of the goalies. We got better at it after the Sweden game, but we didn’t really create enough. We more or less controlled the play, but we didn’t have all that many clear-cut chances.”
Alexei Kruchinin, scoring of the Russian goal against the Czechs, urged his team-mates to play with more invention. “It was a lack of skill that cost us,” he said. “Their goalie read everything today. We need to be more cunning.”
The Traktor man, fresh from an eye-catching KHL playoff campaign, has not been heavily involved with the national team before – and he left this tournament looking at where he could improve further.
“I’m rarely happy with my game,” he said. “There’s always something new to learn. I got another look at the international game and, compared with last year when I was just feeling my way on the ice, I felt I was more effective this year. I was more confident, but I’ve still got a lot to learn. And, like we saw in these games, that starts with converting more chances. At this level teams can’t miss so many chances, you need to be scoring at least half of them or it’s going to be hard to win games.”
The Czechs finished the four-team tournament on top, winning all three games. Finland beat Sweden 7-3 on Sunday to take second place ahead of its neighbor, while Russia finished last. Among the 44 KHLers involved, Neftekhimik’s Andrej Nestrasil led the scoring with 3 (2+1) points, while his Swedish clubmate Dennis Everberg also got two goals.
Russia’s World Championship preparations continue next week with the final stage of the Euro Tour in Sweden. The Russian Hockey Federation has called up 14 players who were involved in the Gagarin Cup Final to add to the roster for that competition. From CSKA, Vorobyov has selected goalie Ilya Sorokin, defensemen Bogdan Kiselevich, Nikita Nesterov and Mikhail Naumenkov, and forwards Ivan Telegin, Sergei Andronov, Valery Nichushkin, Maxim Shalunov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Kirill Kaprizov. From Ak Bars come blue liners Albert Yarullin and Vasily Tokranov plus forwards Vladimir Tkachyov and Stanislav Galiyev.