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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taking on the World at Home

MTBykov's team has had success in Europe this year, but he said that only a medal at the World Championship will put a smile on his face.
Vyacheslav Bykov was the star for the last great Soviet team to win the World Hockey Championship. Now, he is being counted on to coach a strong new generation of players to the same level of success.

Staff Writer Thomas Rymer talked to Bykov about the new job and the team's prospects.

MT: You yourself played in the World Hockey Championship and, in 1989, were voted to the all tournament team. Is it exciting for you to come back to the tournament as head coach of the Russian squad?

VB: There is, of course, a certain degree of excitement. It's just normal for anyone, and not just the coach, to feel this way. What's interesting for me as well is that it's my first tournament of this type as a coach. Being in charge of the national team in this kind of situation is prestigious and important. I'm actually kind of curious what it's going to be like.

MT: Will this year's success with the Eurotour team and the experience gained there help?

VB: I certainly hope so. Igor Zakharkin has been on the staff of national teams in the past, so we have a lot going for us in this way, and I think that it gives us an excellent chance to win.

MT: How does it help your chances that the tournament is taking place in Moscow this year? In what ways does it make it harder?

VB: The plus is that our fans will be there to support us. On the negative side is the kind of pressure and nervousness that creates. You always want to play your best in front of the home fans.

MT: The last time the World Championship was held in Russia, in St. Petersburg in 2000, it was, for lack of a better word, a disaster. Russia didn't even qualify for the quarterfinals. Have you taken a look back at that experience?

VB: No, not at all. We're only concentrating on what's ahead.

MT: After all of the medals in the World Championship for the Soviet National team, the last 15 years have seen much less in the way of success. Many blame this on the fact that the players aren't used to playing together because they play for different National Hockey League teams. There has been a lot of talk that Russia would have a better chance going with a lineup made up completely of players from the domestic league, who are more familiar with one another other. Is this realistic?

VB: This is the wrong approach. We put the team together in line with different considerations. We try to put together a well-balanced team, and it doesn't matter whether a player plays in the National Hockey League or here in Russia. What's important for us is that the player has a strong desire to wear the national team uniform and play for his country. Of course, the player's skills and game have to be of a certain level as well.

MT: You also coach CSKA in the Russian Superliga. How does your work with the national team differ from what you're used to doing there?

VB: The thing is, we have created two separate structures that function absolutely independently from each other. My assistants and I decide what should be done with regard to CSKA and what with the national team. We put together a plan at the beginning of the summer and, although circumstances have meant we have had to alter some things, we have pretty much stuck to that plan. There are assistants who fill in for us from time to time in running CSKA, and we give them specific instructions regarding what to do while we are not there. With the national team, we also have [former NHL player] Sergei Nemchinov, who keeps track of things.

MT: Clubs often leave a few roster spots open at the beginning of the tournament, with the hope that they can fill them as talented players become available when their teams are eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Are you planning to do the same?

VB: Right now, we're paying close attention to what is happening in the first round and are trying to determine what players might become available. We will see whether there is the kind of talent there we are looking for and if they are better options than the players we have now, then we'll add to the roster. If those players aren't available, then we will wait longer.

MT: Alexander Ovechkin is already here in camp. He is an extremely talented young player who offers an unusual combination of pluses because he also has a lot of experience playing internationally, including in the World Junior Championships and in the Olympics. How important does that make him as a part of this team?

VB: On one side, he does have a lot of experience in international competition. On the other hand, he is a young player from the same generation as a lot of the other young players on our team. I hope that this experience will help us develop cohesion and spirit inside the team.

You understand, Ovechkin is a great goal scorer and players like that are important for the team. Both his experience and the fact that he is so young demonstrate the kind of potential there is on this team. Of course we're going to be depending a lot on players like him.

MT: So what kind of prediction do you have for the club in the tournament?

VB: It's very difficult to predict. It will be a successful tournament for us if we come away with a medal.