SOCHI – Igor Kravchuk, now head coach of the Russian U18 national team, is a well-known figure in the hockey world. Two-time Olympic champion, a top defender for the Soviet and Russian national teams, Kravchuk played more than ten years in the NHL.
It has been a long path for Kravchuk in his international hockey career. He became World Junior champion (U-20) in 1986 and in the upcoming IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship tournament in Sochi he will move behind the bench and try to win gold as head coach of the Russian national team. In an interview with IIHF.com Igor Kravchuk spoke about his team ahead of the start of the championship.
How have the preparations gone for this tournament?
“Preparations for the World Junior Championship in Sochi started almost immediately after the five nations tournament which was held in Sweden in the beginning of 2013. We were successful and won first place. The national team is in excellent condition, everything was organized well so that players and the coaching staff can focus on hockey.”
Will hosting the U18 World Championship be a plus for the Russian team or does it make this more difficult?
“I suppose that our fans will be big plus for us. But from another point of view, it means that team will have big responsibility. Also, as the U18s in Sochi will be a test competition before the Olympics, this means that our team will be under big attention, everybody will want us to win.”
“However, Russian national teams always have one target – first place in any tournament. That's why, we go in Sochi, not to participate, but to win golden medals. Certainly, it will be difficult, but who will have easy walk? Many teams have approximately the same level: The Swedes, Finns, and the Americans, who won the highest number of victories in the championships U-18. Canadians with the Czechs also will be strong. So, everyone understands that we will have a close contest.”
After the "Five Nations" tournament you said that the defense line has caused you the greatest number of questions. Have you found the answers on them?
“Everything is decided. Of course, I would like to see Valiev Renat in the team. Unfortunately, he had no time to recover from the operation and go through the full training. He spent three days in camp, but we came to the conclusion that after the surgery on the knee he need more time than we had."
"I would like the team joined by Kirill Vorobyev from Portland Winterhawks and Nikita Zadorov from London Knights. But both of them were successful in the playoffs, so initially we understood that their appearance in our team will be a miracle. It's great that Ruslan Trubkin recovered after the operation. But unfortunately we have to state the fact that the leading defenders are out of action.”
How is your team captain chosen?
“It will be a voting. I'm sure that Valery Nichushkin will be captain. In Sweden, he was a leader not only on the court, but also on the bench and off the ice. Everybody agree with it.”
Opening match will be against Team of USA. On the one hand, you need to have best game shape closer to the decisive matches, and on other - in a game with such principle rival you have to win. How to decide this question?
“At our disposal all guys have come in a different time and physical conditions. For example, Tolchinsky and Barbashev arrived in Russia only in the beginning of April. So they need to adapt, to get used to the different time zone. When you train a lot, it's not so easy.”
The World Championship will be held in a new format first time - 8 teams will qualify to the quarter-finals. Do you like this format of competitions?
“For me, the tournament in Sochi will be the first as a coach of Russian national team, taking part in the U18s. Tournament format is not so important. It is important to get into every game and go with idea of step by step success. Yes, there are some exceptions, when you have to be in the best game shape in right time. But the most important thing is to prepare for every game.”
Will you tell us, in which style your team work – strictly in defense or in attacking manner?
“It depends on the situation, but the main thing is that we will act only with a desire to win and take the gold medal. That's it.”
As a head coach of Russian national team, do you feel excitement before the main start of the year?
“I was always nervous before an important match when I was a player. So, it is absolutely normal for a hockey player or coach to feel excitement before big tournaments. But when the tournaments begins it will be time just to do your job!”