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Кубок Мира по хоккею 1996 года

August 25, 1996
Russia knows the enemy

Toronto Sun
MOSCOW -- The Swedes, Czechs and Americans may have a good chance to win the World Cup of Hockey.
But fans in Russia only see one possible outcome -- a mid-September best-of-three final between the sport's two great super powers, Canada and Russia.
That eight countries are involved in the tournament universally is regarded by Russians as a nuisance.
Despite their own prodigious successes, Russians still often defer to Canadian hockey. In fact, for many years the sport was called "Canadian hockey."
Ordinary Russians continue to refer to the competition which begins tomorrow in Sweden as the Canada Cup. They ask again and again why the name was changed.
Whatever it is called, the impending hockey showdown has generated more interest here than any international event since the legendary 1972 and 1974 Canada-Soviet series.
The attraction of the tournament is simple. The string of Soviet and Russian world championship titles were hollow victories because Canada's best pros didn't play. This is the first time in years that the best players from Russia and Canada will compete against each other.
And millions of Russians fans intend to stay up all night to find out who's best.
With Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny, the Russians are formidable, even frightening on paper. This Big Red Machine dominated play throughout an exhibition game against Finland in Moscow last weekend and will be a constant threat in the World Cup.
But serious questions are being asked in Russia about the depth of coach Boris Mikhailov's team, its weakness on defence, its lack of size when it matters so much on the smaller North American ice surface and, perhaps most crucially, whether Russia's hockey mercenaries can or will still want to play "Soviet" team-oriented hockey after years of improvising in the NHL.
The first five or six Russian forwards that Mikhailov will put on the ice are as good or better than the first five or six forwards from any other country. However, once you get past Fedorov, Bure, Mogilny, Alexei Zhamnov, Alexei Yashin and, perhaps, Vyacheslav Kozlov, the Russian offence drops off a steep cliff.
This is Igor Larionov's last hurrah. Though still highly skilled, the 36-year-old home-crowd favorite probably was included in the team only as a sop to the old guard.
As NHL watchers already know, players such as Andrei Nikolishin, Alexander Semak and Alexei Kovalov are reliable, but they are not great forces capable of winning many games by themselves.
Valeri Bure has still not lived up to expectations. Sergei Berezin, who hopes to make the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, has until now proven that he can score only in Germany.
Others, such as Andrei Kovalenko, weren't even good enough to hold a regular job with middle-of-the- pack team like the Montreal Canadiens.
With Vladimir Konstantinov of the Detroit Red Wings out with a severe Achilles injury, the 38-year-old Russian captain, Viacheslav Fetisov will probably anchor the Russian defence. Fans here still regard "Slava" as a God, but he is a sluggish shadow of the player who quarterbacked 11 Soviet world championship teams.
Darius Kasparaitis, Alexei Zhitnik and Sergei Zubov are exciting offensively and Kasparaitis loves to mix it up. But none of them is regarded as more than average defensively. Sergei Gonchar is improving, but is not yet a major force. Montreal's Vladimir Malakhov and Dimitri Yushkevich of the Maple Leafs are serviceable journeymen.
Nikolai Khabibulin may be the best Russian goalie since Vladislav Tretiak.
His failing is that he doesn't yet have much of a track record. Only 23, Khabibulin played well for Winnipeg in the playoffs last spring, but during Russia's training camp in Moscow earlier this month, he played behind Andrei Trefilov, who has never been a No. 1 goalie through four NHL seasons.
There also is the matter of style. Mikhailov has made much of his dreams of resurrecting Soviet hockey collectivism. But during practice at Spartak's rink, Fedorov, among others, seemed to prefer dumping the puck in like Mark Messier or Brendan Shanahan might, rather than doodling around with it before passing off to a teammate willing to wait forever for the perfect scoring chance before taking a shot.
True to his Soviet roots, Mikhailov hopes to play his players in three groupings of five, rather than four units of three forwards and three units of defencemen. One of the advantages of this is that it will get Russia's top line on the ice more.
The down side is that several marginal players such as Kovalenko or Yushkevich will get almost as much ice time as Fedorov or Pavel Bure.
Russia's fortunes in the World Cup depend almost entirely on whether its big line can play well enough that its third line doesn't matter.


Источник - "Toronto Sun "




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