UFA, RUSSIA—It will be war.
“It’s like a war,” said Russian goalie coach Vladimir Myshkin, a veteran himself of some huge international hockey clashes. “Despite the time of years, whenever Canada plays Russia, it’s always a battle, it’s always great hockey. Even more so, it’s a world championship, on New Year’s Eve, in Russia. It’s going to be a hit.”
The potential for war was made all the stranger by Nail Yakupov, the Edmonton Oilers prospect and last summer’s No. 1 overall pick. In a comment published by Russian media, Yakupov said Canadians play dirty.
Yakupov then went silent, declining all interview requests by Canadian media until Sunday, when he emerged during the third period of the Canada-U.S. game. He said he didn’t talk all week because the Russian media attache asked him not to. The Russian media attache said it was Yakupov’s decision to turn down requests.
When Canadians asked him to explain what he meant by the “play dirty” comment, Yakupov denied making it, adding he “forgot” what he said exactly. The media attaché — who was trying to be helpful — reminded him he did make the comment, that Canada “can play dirty.”
“The sense was lost in translation,” said Yakupov. “I don’t want to comment.”
Then Yakupov, bizarrely, attempted the same ruse — that he didn’t say it — with Russian media — the very people he’d made the comment to in the first place.
“I don’t know why we keep talking about this, I just want to focus on the game,” Yakupov told Russian reporters, interpreted by an IIHF official. “I don’t know who translated it. It’s not what I said.”
And what does it truly matter? Canada is one of the most penalized team in the tournament, a hard-hitting one that has been getting its sticks up too often for its own liking. So maybe Canada’s hard-nosed game is playing dirty to European sensibilities.
If it was meant as an insult, it didn’t bother Team Canada, more focused on the game than the Yakupov sideshow.
“You sign up for this because these are the stories you’ll tell your children and your grandchildren about one day,” said Canadian coach Steve Spott. “You have an opportunity to coach Team Canada in Russia. That’s exciting.
Canada will go with Malcolm Subban in net, hot off a 2-1 win over Team USA. Myshkin wasn’t tipping his hat as to which of his goalies would play — certainly not to Canadian media, who are treated as being spies for the Canadian team.
Myshkin was Vladislav Tretiak’s longtime backup in the days of the Soviet Union. Grey-haired and bespectacled now, he was a star in his own right in the Soviet system as the No. 1 goalie on Moscow Dynamo for 13 years.
“Madison Square Garden, six-nothing.”