By Paul Krotz/CHL
Winning sure helps but regardless of the final outcome the SUBWAY Super Series provides Team Russia with many enjoyable experiences and opportunities.
“We are having fun here, an unbelievable experience,” says forward Valery Knyazev, the only member of Team Russia that speaks fluent English.
Knyazev currently suits up for Sibir, Novosibirsk of the KHL but learned most of his English when he spent four months in Canada during a brief stint with the Brampton Battalion in the 2009-10 season. He is familiar with Canada and some of the cities from around the OHL and has shared his experiences with his teammates who have enjoyed touring around scenic Ottawa, shopping, and most of all the overwhelming coverage of the NHL on television here in Canada.
Aside from the cultural experiences Canada provides, playing here in the SUBWAY Super Series provides the Russians with similar opportunities to their CHL counterparts who have common goals of playing in the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, AB, this Christmas.
“This series is a good experience for us to play in a small rink and find out who can play this style of hockey and prepare for our national team,” Knyazev explains. “Our coaches have said that right now we all have the chance to represent our country and to do our best.”
There is no question that the 2010 SUBWAY Super Series provided the right opportunity for Team Russia who used 17 players from that series later in Buffalo, NY, where they went on to capture gold medal in a stunning comeback win over Canada.
Knyazev says the national junior team is followed quite closely back in Russia and that includes the progress of this series.
“How we play and when we win is big news,” he says. “Last year fans were very excited in Russia and happy for the team.”
Although not surprised by the support back home, Knyazev has been happy to see some unexpected support here in Canada with several hundred Russian fans in attendance most recently in Ottawa who for the most part stuck around after the game to welcome and encourage them firsthand. In Sault Ste. Marie, the team was greeted by a Russian minor hockey team that was also in town for a tournament. The young Russian stars watched intently during Sunday’s practice before meeting some of their heroes (see accompanying video of minor hockey team touring the Essar Centre and meeting Team Russia).
“It is pretty special when you get fans over here,” Knyazev said. “It is not something we expect but when it happens it really is neat to see the flags and hear them cheer.”
Team Russia and Knyazev hope to give their fans in Canada and back home something more to cheer about not only as this series wraps up this week, but in their pursuit for a second straight gold medal.
The 2011 SUBWAY Super Series continues with Game 4 in Sault Ste. Marie on Monday night, before the series shifts west for Game 5 Wednesday in Regina, and Game 6 Thursday in Moose Jaw. All games can be seen live on Sportsnet, or free online through OHL Livestream and WHL WebTV.