Russia’s head coach Ilya Vorobyov offered an unusually light-hearted view of the opposition.
“That guy wearing #88 doesn’t look bad,” he said of America’s star forward Patrick Kane. “We’re still looking over the videos and studying their game. Tomorrow we’ll show the guys everything we can.
“The Americans are a good opponent, that have a very strong roster. But we need to focus on playing our game.”
Vorobyov also confirmed that SKA defenseman Artyom Zub had been added to the roster, taking the last vacant spot on the team. The coach explained that this had been the plan from the start of the tournament, but he wanted to keep one space open in case of injuries elsewhere in the team.
Dmitry Orlov is one of the players who will be trying to slow Kane’s progress. “We can’t give him too much space,” he warned after Wednesday’s practice at the Ondrej Nepela Arena. “We need to get close to him. I don’t think he can be MVP if he doesn’t see the puck.
“We’ve all seen what he can do with the puck, it’s great to watch. But tomorrow we need to make sure that we have control of the puck and he doesn’t have the chance to hurt us.”
One of the quirks of the group stage, and particularly the battle between the four leading nations in Kosice, is that topping Group B is something of a mixed blessing for Russia. On the plus side, there’s no need to travel across Slovakia and back to play the quarter-final. “It’s a big advantage that we won’t be sitting on a train for five hours to get to another city,” Vorobyov said. “A couple of years ago we had to go from Cologne to Paris during the tournament and that wasn’t much fun. It’s great that we can get on with our preparations without any distractions.”
However, Russia also finds itself up against the USA, rather than Germany, the team expected to finish fourth in Group A. “We can’t do anything about that,” added Orlov. “In the group stage we just worried about playing our hockey and we need to continue that in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Italy or America, we still need to work hard and play as a team.”
Meanwhile, team USA is also getting ready for Thursday’s big game. Defenseman Zach Werenski, who made his first appearance in the 0-3 loss to Canada on Tuesday, is expecting a tough battle.
“We have to limit the chances we give,” he said. “Some of the goals [against Canada] were breakdowns in our end and they capitalized. We need to clean that up and when we get chances we need to bear down and finish them.
“We had chances early on against Canada and we were missing them, we didn’t pick our corner, that kind of thing. We need to make sure our passes are crisp and we get scoring chances.”
Russia plays the USA in Bratislava in the afternoon game. The face off is at 5:15 Moscow time. The other quarter-final in Bratislava will be Czech Republic vs Germany, while Kosice hosts Canada vs Switzerland followed by Sweden vs Finland.