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Top 5 reasons why Russia failed at WJC

Top 5 reasons why Russia failed at WJC (Photo © Reuters)

Team Russia‘s sixth place at the last WJC in Saskatchewan, Canada, was nothing short of a failure. It was the worst result of the team since 2001, when the team lead by Petr Vorobiev couldn’t get any better than the seventh place on the home soil.
That team, just like this one, wasn’t short of talent, considering that the team’s front men were the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Anton Volchenkov and Denis Grebeshkov. This year’s roster included many talented players as well, like Nikita Filatov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Dmitri Orlov and others, but the tournament didn’t really finish like expected and team Russia was left out of the medal round after five straight apparitions.

RussianHockeyFans.com offers you top five reasons why Russia failed at WJC 2010.

Reason 5: Underestimation of the opponents

It’s not the first time a top team gets upset by the likes of Team Switzerland or any other underdog, just let’s remember how 2002 Olympics ended for the Swedes at the quarterfinals against team Belarus. Team Russia was guilty of underrating the opponents already before the tournament’s start. Plyuschev got a warning when Russia lost to Latvia in the first and only test match heading to the WJC. But the 3-2 loss didn’t work as warning sign. It continued in the very first group stage game, against Team Austria. That game was won, but team Russia didn’t put on a good performance and despite winning by a four-goals margin it was closer than one would expect. Talent mattered at the end, but it really looked like team Russia was lacking the right inspiration to play at the next level. It was early, but it was a first indication about how things were starting. It was really surprising to see the Russians being dominated that way in the round robin match against Finland, a “W” nevertheless as the goals by Khokhryakov and Filatov were unanswered, but that was yet another poor display, probably due to the fact that the players thought to easily skate past the opponents.

In the quarters against team Switzerland, team Russia was guilty of the same sin, but it was a much more dangerous situation. It started as the game approached, with the players not forechecking hard enough and thinking that probably just a couple of rushes would have switched the moment in their favor. It did happen, but it wasn’t enough. While they were thinking that the game was already conquered the Swiss did work hard to get back on track and it worked. In the overtime probably it was the same as one could have spotted some conceit and the result was a deserved defeat against the tournament’s underdogs.

Reason 4: Some puzzling roster decisions

Maybe it wouldn’t have changed too much, but Vladimir Plyuschev made some roster decisions that seemed a bit hard to decipher. The first one was leaving home Dynamo Moscow’s Alexander Avtsin. The Habs draftee was in good shape right before the WJC start as he had just scored three points in two games, including a game winning goal. Maybe this team Russia had enough talent in the top-6, but why leaving out a skilled player with great skating and a not bad physical presence? All the more, in good shape.

Other two players were surprisingly left out the WJC roster: Alexander Pechursky and Dmitry Kugryshev. If Pechursky’s selection probably would have made much of a difference since the designated goalie was Igor Bobkov anyway, but why leaving out a talented, gritty player with much experience on the small ice surface like Quebec Remparts’, Washington Capitals prospect Dmitry Kugryshev? Throughout the whole tournament most of Russian players displayed lack of small ice practice, plus the presence of two talented players like Kugryshev and Avtsin instead of journeymen like Dedunov and Gimbatov surely wouldn’t have hurt the team.

Reason 3: Lack of attention

This point isn’t strictly connected with this year’s situation but surely played his role in the 2010 fiasco. One of the biggest differences between North American and European hockey (probably Sweden is an exception here, but only in the last few years) is surely the attention paid on the respective junior programs. For example, if team USA and team Canada – these year’s finalists – can always count on pro coaches like Willie Desjardins, who won a Memorial Cup in 2003 and was honored with CHL Coach of the Year award. Last year team Canada coach was Olympic champion and multiple times Stanley Cup finalist Pat Quinn.

Team Russia could never count on such characters. If Vladimir Plyuschev did won a WJC back in the times, in the 2002, most of the latest coaches were inexperienced like Sergei Nemchinov or not well fitting in the team, like Plyuschev himself.

It also speaks a lot the fact that the federation hasn’t really said anything, was this a bad result or if Plyuschev is still entrusted as coach. The Olympics are approaching, but a strong program emphasizes not only the senior team, but also the junior one, trying to get the best coach possible and definitely more attentions.

Reason 2: Lack of spirit among the players

This point might be tied with the underestimation of the opponents as it usually leads to lack of spirit. Determination is much more important in junior hockey and it looked like players didn’t have any throughout the whole tournament. Simply there wasn’t leadership and the top players underperformed. Especially Nikita Filatov, who scored only one goal and had a particularly poor performance against team Switzerland, despite assisting on Kirill Petrov’s goal. But giving all the fault to one player is surely wrong as the whole team didn’t look a true team during the tournament.

But not only they didn’t show any particularly good combination, team play or joint effort, they also showed no spirit. In the infamous match against the Swiss, they never looked in control of the game, not even during the third period when the team was up on the scoreboard. Arguably the coaching was poor, but if that’s the case the leaders should step up on ice and fight hard. Russia really liked this approach to the game, especially in the medal round.

Reason 1: Poor coaching by Vladimir Plyuschev

As already hinted in the third and in the second point WJC team Russia once again lacked good coaching. In junior hockey the leadership must come from the training staff and Vladimir Plyuschev didn’t really have a good job in this department, nor in the tactical area too. There was no team game and all this joined with the players’ lack of winning spirit meant the overall, disappointing, sixth place.

But not only Plyuschev didn’t manage to inject the right spirit into players, he also heat a conflict with team’s captain Nikita Filatov, guilty – according to the same Plyuschev – of not playing like a captain and thus being stripped off the “C” on the chest for the fifth place match. This was a true locker room war and Plyuschev didn’t always played it clean, mostly back talking with Filatov’s partners, probably not increasing his popularity among the team. It was obvious that Plyuschev lost the hand on the team and without it a short tournament like the WJC can only end with a failure.

4 Comments

  • Timbo

    While I can’t speak to some roster decisions – Russia seems to have an abundance of hockey talent, on any team they choose – it did seem puzzling that Kugryshev was left off the team, that guy is nasty.
    But, I think a bigger reason was that players like Evgeni Grachev were not allowed to participate by their pro clubs – he is potentially a world-class talent, and there simply aren’t enough of those, from any country. One of the Russian players acknowledged this publicly, IIRC.
    Russia always has a strong d-corps, but I was also surprised at the decision to not include the Caps’ Orlov.
    All that said, the Olympics are right around the corner, and I just hope Team USA doesn’t have to face Team Russia – well, until the Finals, anyway! Everybody’s talking about Canada, but talent-wise, Russia is just scary-good. Malkin and Ovechkin might not even play on the same line – yikes.

  • Alexander Zaitsev

    The more Plyuschev speaks the more I think it’s mostly his fault. Now I read that Plyuschev won’t quit because he thinks this failure is not his fault.
    There is a real war in the Russian media. Sport-Express came up with a “Filatov against Plyuschev” title. Filatov is blaming Plyuschev for poor coaching, Plyuschev is blaming Filatov for poor captainship.
    Soon we will have an interview with Filatov translated so you’ll be able to read yourself.

  • John

    I wholeheartedly agree with all 5 points that are made, with perhaps a heavy emphasis on poor coaching and lack of spirit. Sometimes it is difficult to know which creates the other – does poor coaching create bad team spirit, or the reverse? For example, on the television broadcasts, the analyst, former long-time NHL forward Dave Reid, repeatedly criticized Russian forwards for failure to skate back to the defensive zone to help out their defensemen partners. The result – often times 2 Russian defensemen having to fend off 3 or 4 opposing attackers! Those numbers didn’t work out well for Russia. Why don’t forwards come back to help out on defense? It is either poor coaching, a lack of effort, or both. You are right in saying that the junior program must be upgraded to give greater support to Olympic and World Championship programs. The talent is certainly available to Russian coaches!

  • John

    It should be noted that several players on the Gold medal-winning USA team were on loan from the AHL, including the guy (Carlson) who scored the Gold Medal goal in overtime against Canada. As for Canada, their best defenseman, Alex Pietroangelo, was on loan from the NHL. But when the Russian Federation requested the services of Grachev and Voinov from the AHL, and Kulikov from the NHL, those players could not be spared, for some reason. Could nationalism have entered into the decision? Clearly, Grachev and Voinov had a major impact last year in Ottawa, and there is no reason to believe that they might not have made a major contributrion this year as well.
    Also, I have never seen Avtsin play, but by all accounts, he is an outstanding player and an excellent goal scorer, and Russia would have benefitted from a few more goals in this tournament. Kugryshev had experience in the past two WJC tournaments, and is an extremely talented skater and puck handler, so it is puzzling why both players were not on the roster.

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