Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Russia begins its World Junior Championship campaign today in Ostrava – and one coach will be following the action more closely than most. Oleg Tauber, currently in charge of the U18s in Khanty-Mansiysk, has had a hand in the development of dozens of promising youngsters and several of them are expected to form part of Valery Bragin’s team at the World Championship.

Tauber, 38, hails from the small town of Nizhnyaya Salda, 200km from Yekaterinburg. He never played the game professionally but started out coaching kids. In 2011 he gained greater attention when he was named top coach at the fifth edition of the Gazprom Neft Cup after leading Gazovik Tyumen to fifth place; later he moved to work with junior players in the Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk system.

Along the way, he coached no fewer than seven player who represented Russia in the recent Super Series in Canada or the Four Nations competition in the fall. All of them made it on to the long list for Valery Bragin’s World Championship roster – making for a happy coach.

“I’m proud that seven of my players have played for Russia this season,” he told “From SKA there are Danila Galenyuk, Kirill Marchenko, Ivan Morozov and Nikita Zorkin; there’s Pavel Dorofeyev and Gleb Babintsev at Magnitogorsk and Sergei Telegin from Mamonty Ugry.”

KHL experience

Of that group, Danila Galenyuk, Kirill Marchenko and Pavel Dorofeyev are already earning a reputation in the KHL. In Magnitogorsk, Dorofeyev has become a regular for Metallurg, notching 7 (4+3) points in 34 games in the big league. If there’s a sense that Metallurg is in a transitional phase, Dorofeyev looks like one of the players for the future.

In Petersburg, meanwhile, Galenyuk and Marchenko have attracted plenty of attention as they established themselves in Alexei Kudashov’s team.

Galenyuk is emerging as a trusted defenseman, getting around 15 minutes a night and standing third among his team’s blue liners in terms of productivity. Physically developed beyond his years, he’s also attracted plaudits for his attitude: not just a fierce will to win, but also an ability to play aggressive, competitive hockey without regular visits to the penalty box.

Goals from Petersburg

Marchenko, named the KHL’s top rookie for November, enjoyed a run of 6 (3+3) points in seven games earlier this season, and added a shoot-out winner for good measure. On the international stage, he looks to have booked his place in the WJC team with a hat-trick in Saturday’s warm-up win over Kazakhstan. The 19-year-old reckons the Petersburg connection – he plays on a line with clubmates Ivan Morozov and Vasily Podkolzin – makes a big difference when he pulls on the red Russian jersey.

“I got some great feeds and all I had to do was put them in the net,” he told after that game. “On our line we’re getting a good feeling for who will skate where, who will get open. But we can and will keep improving that chemistry. We need to take more of our chances – we had a lot [against Kazakhstan].”

Podkolzin, meanwhile, is looking to the Worlds to kickstart a season that hasn’t quite hit the expected heights. Goals have been hard to come by for the 18-year-old, prompting some to suggest that he has failed to kick on as hoped after making his KHL debut last season. According to head coach Bragin, though, the issue is with others; the experienced boss reckons the storm of attention around the youngster has distracted him this season.

Podkolzin himself, meanwhile, was blunt in his assessment of the season so far: “I’m not quite getting that final touch right. People try to calm me down, they point out that it would be worse if I wasn’t getting chances, but I understand that I need to work on finishing off those opportunities.”

Strong defense

One of the most frequent criticisms levelled at Russian teams – at all levels of international hockey – is that the defense has a soft underbelly. Too often, the perception goes, Russia can be devasting on offense only to be devasted by an opponent able to go toe-to-toe. This season, though, the defense looks to be powerful.

In addition to Galenyuk, the likes of Alexander Romanov, Daniil Misyul and Daniil Zhuravlyov bring plenty of KHL experience to the line-up. Romanov is very much a part of CSKA’s roster and has an enviable hockey pedigree. He’s the grandson of legendary coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov – himself an uncompromising blue-liner in his playing days – and some of that laser-like focus is visible in the youngster’s game. He’s played 34 games for CSKA this season, averaging 12 minutes on the ice and collecting four assists. With 22 blocked shots and 23 hits, he’s not afraid to go where it hurts; at junior level he also brings more of a two-way game, contributing 8 (1+7) points to Russia’s bronze medal campaign last year.

Misyul, also 19, has built on last season’s progress to make himself a regular at Lokomotiv. The Devils prospect is preparing for his first WJC campaign, having previously represented Russia at U18 level, and he’s coming off the back of 28 games and 2 goals in the KHL for Yaroslavl this season. That’s the kind of high-level experience that should make a difference when the competition gets to the sharp end.

Zhuravlyov, meanwhile, has benefitted from the opportunities afforded to young defenseman at Ak Bars this season after years of head coach Bilyaletdinov keeping faith with the old guard in Kazan. Like his first line partner Romanov, he’s making a name for himself with calm, reliable performances in the big league. He’s not the only Ak Bars man involved this time: Dmitry Voronkov’s progress under Kvartalnov has been encouraging and he is set for his first taste of World Junior action.

Goaltending choices

There’s also an embarrassment of riches between the piping. SKA’s Yaroslav Askarov has been the headline grabbing young goalie of the season, grabbing a win on his KHL debut at the age of just 17. But he faces competition from Daniil Isayev of Lokomotiv and Ak Bars prospect Amir Miftakhov.

Isayev has the most KHL experience; he made his debut last season and has eight appearances in the big league while spending the bulk of this season with Buran in the VHL. Miftakhov, meanwhile, took his KHL bow this season. Like Askarov, he faced HC Sochi, but his debut ended in a 0-1 loss despite 20 saves in a low-scoring game.

The two 19-year-olds might expect to get the bulk of the gametime in the Czech Republic. Head coach Bragin tends not to promote players above their age group and the 17-year-old Askarov will have plenty of other opportunities here. But the buzz around the SKA youngster is compelling, with some identifying him as the best Russian goaltending prospect since Andrei Vasilevsky. Whoever gets the nod is likely to pose a formidable test for opposing forwards.

The schedule

Russia begins its campaign contesting Group B. Based in Ostrava, the Red Machine begins on Dec. 26 against the host nation, then faces Canada on Dec. 28 and the USA on Dec. 29. The group stage, and the year, comes to an end against Germany on Dec. 31.

The quarter-finals are scheduled for Jan. 2, with the semis on Jan. 4 and the medal games on Jan. 5.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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Ak Bars (Kazan) Ak Bars (Kazan)
Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl)
Metallurg (Magnitogorsk) Metallurg (Magnitogorsk)
SKA (Saint Petersburg) SKA (Saint Petersburg)
CSKA (Moscow) CSKA (Moscow)
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