QUEBEC CITY Ė With the Detroit Red Wings, teammates nicknamed Igor Larionov ďThe ProfessorĒ, and itís not hard to see why. Not only did the canny Russian centre bring a profound understanding of the game of hockey, but his thoughtful responses also made him a favourite with reporters.
After being inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame on Thursday, the 47-year-old Larionov held court with the media at the VIP tent outside the Colisťe Pepsi.
On his induction
Itís a big honour to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. After playing hockey for 27 seasons, itís a special day in my life. Thereís no doubt itís a highlight of my hockey career.
On todayís young Russian NHLers
I can see lots of raw talent coming out every year. You look at guys like Malkin, Ovechkin, and Kovalchuk. Itís amazing. Russia can still produce some great talent. They play kind of a different style than we played, but I guess, what can you do? Theyíre making their own names in the world of hockey, and hopefully one day soon theyíre going to bring some glory. I hope it will happen this Sunday.
On Russiaís 15-year gold medal drought at the Worlds
Thereís no one explanation. Itís a whole bunch of things. When a generation of players left our country in 1989, there was no great tradition left. When I came into the Russian league, I was 18 years old, and I was playing hockey with great players like Kharlamov, Mikhailov. Those guys had been playing year after year after year, and they knew how to be champions. But when the KLM Line and other guys left in í89, that tradition was lost. We started losing at the World Championships and the juniors, and we couldnít get any gold medals there or at the Olympics. At this point now, weíre starting to bring in some young talent. Hopefully they realize itís a team sport. When you step on the ice, your personal ego should stay in the locker room. Thatís the best advice I could give them. When you have such talent, itís a wasted opportunity not to be successful. When you look at the NHL scoring leaders, guys like Kovalchuk, Datsyuk, Malkin, and Ovechkin, those guys should be able to help Russia to win a World Championship or Olympic gold medal.
On the potential impact of the new Open Russian Hockey League
Itís really hard to say. Itís a really ambitious project, so itís not easy. Itís easy to put it down on paper, but hard to fulfill. Itíll take a while, no matter how much money you have. Itís got to be true talent, with competition for the spots on any team. I guess 24 teams is way too many. Weíre still looking for coaches that can develop the young talent in Russia.
On how long he originally thought his NHL career would last
About three years. I was 29 years old. In those years, in Russia, players would typically go until they were 30 or 32 years old. Then it was time to retire. When I signed my first contract with the Vancouver Canucks, I felt like it was my last one. I was fortunate enough to not have any injuries and play for 15 more years.
On the sparsity of great Russian goalies since Tretiak
Well, weíve got some talented goalies now, like Bryzgalov, Nabokov, and Khabibulin. So those are three high-end guys. But I guess weíve got to use people whoíve been very successful in goaltending, like Tretiak, and hire them into goalie schools. How can you develop otherwise? You can have raw talent, but that talent needs to be nourished and polished. Thatís why you need people like that to help the kids prepare themselves for the season, learn how to train. Thatís what weíre lacking in the Russian hockey system.
On Detroitís Stanley Cup prospects this year
The big thing about Detroit is that they know how to select players who can think the game, who can play the game, not only with their muscles but also with their heads. They keep the core players together. It was 11 years ago I won my first Cup there, and I think they still have six or seven guys from that team who are still there. Thatís like what I was saying earlier about the Russian hockey tradition. So now, the young players get to play with guys who have been around and know how to win championships. They learn from the leadership of the veterans. It looks like everythingís going very smoothly for Detroit, and I wish them all the best for the next game.
On whether Larionov saw Vyacheslav Bykov as potential coaching material when they played together
I never realized that. He kind of left for Switzerland  - he chose more of an easy path than the Russian hockey league. But now heís back, and heís doing a really good job with the team. I guess the players like his system, and his attitude. I just wish him all the best for the next couple of games.
On his winemaking business
Iíve had a passion for wine for a long time. Itís been 15 years since I went to Switzerland to play for Lugano. It was at that time I developed a respect for winemakers and good wine and good companies. So why not? Itís good for you and your health. I have my own brand with six labels. Itís been selling really well in Russia and the United States and Sweden.
On his motherís recent passing
It was 10 days ago. I was in Australia for my wine business. I got a phone call from my wife, and I had to cancel my trip and I went back to Moscow. I spent five days with my dad. Itís a big loss. It would be nice to have your parents here on this kind of special day.