Ovi to soccer ball: “I must stop you.” (All photos taken by Pavel Lysenkov of Sovietsky Sport)
Ahead of its quarter-final matchup Thursday with Canada, Team Russia assistant coach Igor Zakharkin ordered his players to abandon the team’s scheduled morning practice and instead play soccer at Rapid Stadium in Bratislava. Much like former Capitals head coach Ron Wilson, who would arrange team-building bowling outings when the Caps were struggling, Zakharkin is looking to take pressure off of his team.
Russia, who has lost two straight games and is 3-3 overall in the tournament, has not gelled at any point during their time in Slovakia and has played in five straight one-goal games. The dominant team that had won 27 straight World Championship games last year has not appeared. If they lose against Canada, Russia will be eliminated.
Zakharkin spoke with Sovietsky Sport’s Dmitri Ponomarenko and Vitaly Slavin about his decision to avoid the rink today and also discussed the shirtless soccer goalie above, Alex Ovechkin. Fedor Fedin has your translation.
Question – You’re going to play soccer…
Zakharkin – It’s not like we just go play soccer. We’re not a soccer team. We need the ball to generate team interaction and improve speed and force. On the field we form the team we want to see on the ice. Aggressive, fast, winning the battles, making quick decisions!
Question – What is missing from our leaders? Is it self-confidence?
Zakharkin – It’s not about confidence. Opponent doesn’t outplay us [big, big sigh], doesn’t move the play into our zone. Does our team look embarrassed recently? No! But we have to admit, we have problems with finishing offensively. Who are the best scorers in our team? Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Radulov — they don’t play their game. They try not to offend each other and avoid comments about being selfish.
Question – Speaking of Ovechkin…
Zakharkin – Alex, in the games against the Czechs and Finns, was two different players. He progresses fast. In these two days off, Ovechkin will acclimate completely. In the game against Canada, he’ll show his best. We’ll ask for more aggressiveness out of him. Both with and without the puck. Because it’s what he’s good at. And, of course, finishing shots.