Beginning about a year ago, FanHouse has had the regular privilege of working with Dmitry Chesnokov, the Washington correspondent for Sovetsky Sport, Russia's answer to Sports Illustrated. Over that time, Chesnokov has supplied us with a wide variety of original material, consisting mostly of English translations of interviews with Russian NHL players, supplemented with an occasional surprise.
Today, we've got the pleasure of working with Chesnokov once more, as he brings us an interview with Vyacheslav Bykov and Igor Zakharkin, the coaches for the Russian National Hockey Team. With the World Championships just around the corner and less than a year to go before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Bykov and Zakharkin are toruing North America to get familiar with the NHL players who will make up a good portion of the squad.
Last week, Chesnokov met up with Bykov and Zakharkin while they were in Washington to talk with the Russian players on the squad. His story appears after the jump.
Ever since the times of the Soviet Union and the mighty Soviet national hockey team, a lot of attention is paid in Russia to the success and failures (up until last year) of the national team on the world stage. Players who grew up influenced by the attention the national team was receiving, know that for the fans back in their own country winning the World Championships and the Olympics means a lot. For us, Russian hockey writers, writing about the national team is a privilege and an honor, especially when you are presented with a unique opportunity of hosting the Russian national team coached Vyacheslav Bykov and Igor Zakharkin in Washington.
It is the second year in a row that a lot of special attention is given to the Washington Capitals from Bykov and Zakharkin. In an exclusive interview with Sovetsky Sport, which is the only Russian outlet given this privilege during their 4-day trip, Bykov and Zakharkin spoke to us about their vision of the Russian team that cannot be complete without the Capitals' Russian contingent.
"It is important for us to dive into the atmosphere that our NHL guys live in. We get closer that way. We do have to be delicate with the players. But when you see their smiles when you meet - it means a lot," - the coaches told us.
While we were walking together on the National Mall and then up the 6th street towards the Verizon Center, the coaches spoke about the veteran presence on the national team. Sergey Fedorov was the one providing it. If Fedorov is the same presence on the Capitals, fans have nothing to worry about.
"Fedorov helped a lot at last year's World Championships. He didn't have to say anything: from the way he played, the way he acted in the locker room you could feel the sense of calmness and you got faith that everything would be alright. But veterans like Fedorov do not just appear out of the blue. You need big victories. We have the one in Quebec. Until that day not one of our players, except for Fedorov, had won the World Championships or the Olympics."
"Only now do we see the new generation of players who master the science of winning. These boys become men. Kovalchuk is the captain of the Atlanta Thrashers, Ovechkin is getting better every year... These guys are maturing, they are the leaders of their team and are the backbone of our national team," Bykov said.
Sergei Fedorov brought all of his experience on and off the ice to the locker room. If he can be such a big factor in the national team, he is surely one of the reasons the Capitals feel and play as a team.
Lately I have heard a lot of comments from all over the place about Ovechkin being a puck hog, or Semin not being a team player. Well, according to the Russian national team coaches, this is simply not true.
"It is important to read players' interviews correctly. When they say that we're all one team, it is not an empty sound. Not just words. Kovalchuk exploded [with two goals in the final in Quebec], but without the team work his goals would be meaningless. Without Semin's two goals... A lot of people want to see just one architect of a victory. To put a crown on his head, and to sit him on the throne. But this is not a monarchy, but a team sport." Couldn't agree with these words more.
I will tell you more about Semin. Alexander was missing the most recent home game against the Lightning with the flu. For all of those who might think he was "faking" I can tell you that he was not. He came up to the press box to meet with the coaches. Alexander also watched the game from the press box sitting right next to me for the entire time he was in the press box.
He was the one who was really rooting for Brian Pothier to score. "Why him?" I asked Semin. "The guys hasn't scored in such a long time. He has not played in a very long time. He deserves one," Semin told me in the first period. Alexander rooted for his team from the press box. "Tom, shoot!" "What a beautiful play by Brooksy!" "What a pass by Backy!" Semin is a team player. "Man, I really can't wait for the playoffs," Semin told me with a lot of energy in his voice. "I really loved it last year."
We also watched Alex Ovechkin get his 100th point of the season. Alex is really pushing to secure his second Art Ross trophy in a row. The player he is chasing? Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Another Russian. And Bykov and Zakharkin provided an interesting take on the recent Ovechkin-Malkin feud.
"Players are also great artists. Malkin and Ovechkin get a great pleasure from hockey. Their relationship is not difficult, but it had a little envy. But in a good way. It's one of the elements of self-evolution. A rivalry, that pushes both of them to develop rapidly," said Zakharkin. "A positive rivalry, we have to stress. Malkin and Ovechkin are showing that the most important thing for them in hockey is professionalism. One of them is playing for Pittsburgh, the other is playing for Washington. And they will fight for their team, fight each other. It is honesty. Each wants to show their character, wants to win ... We see their conflict as a positive."
Russian National Team to Rely on Washington's Core in International Play originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Tue, 31 Mar 2009 22:45:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.