When it comes to criticism, Russian fans, media and pundits have no class — anything goes. Even by the lax standard, Alexander Semak's criticisms of Team Russia after its semifinal loss to Sweden went even farther than usual.
Sometimes reporters have to work their way around cliches they hear from the players and coaches. This is not the case. To put it in context, flash back to when Canada lost the world junior semifinal to Russia last season in Calgary. Imagine the following comments coming from a CHL coach who's also a legendary player, such as the Barrie Colts' Dale Hawerchuk or Quebec Remparts' Patrick Roy. That is who Semak, who coaches the junior team Tolpar in his native Ufa, is in Russia.
Here is what Semak said:
“There’s nothing to say. We started the tourney poorly and nothing has changed since. Our team was lucky they somehow passed Team Switzerland. Both defence and attack were hopeless. There was no ray of hope. It’s scary to think that our team’s limit is 3rd or 4th place. It’s sad that after this tourney the coaching staff won’t hear the criticism they deserved.
"I have no idea what the coaching staff was doing. If the head coach [Mikhail Varnakov] does nothing for the team, then at least one of his assistants has to step up. However, neither Evgeni Koreshkov, nor Igor Nikitin did. The played in exactly the same way throughout the championship. And here we are. Our team played poorly and didn’t achieve anything. [Mikhail] Varnakov was a no-show at this tourney. Alas, same goes for his assistants. It’s a really sad scene when there’s so little time before the Olympics,” said Semak.
Like it so far? It gets better. Much better.
“[Former Team Russia head coach] Valeri Bragin is a good coach. He’s smart and crafty. These guys aren’t crafty and aren’t smart. The team was coached by a lawnmower driver. Why would they put him in charge?
One mistake they did right off the top is that they let the team live in the city. I live in Ufa myself and I saw them in restaurant a bunch of times both before and during the tournament. What discipline can there be when these young guys are going to restaurants at nights during the world championship? They did what they wanted. Not a day passes by that my friends tell me they saw that guy in a night club and the other on the streets at night. Other players stayed up at the agents’ till 5 a.m. Discipline? Forget about it.
"Our teams don’t have any system. How should a team work? You gather the best available players, figure out their strengths and build your tactic and system around it. None of our teams do it. At the men’s world championship we had Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. They played super hockey. Now every Team Russia coach hopes he’s going to get his own Malkin. It’s just not going to happen,” continued Semak.
So far we have him calling Team Russia’s head-coach Mikhail Varnakov "a lawnmower driver," which is an interesting way of questioning his competence. Semak wasn’t done, though. Far from it, in fact.
Hammered Nail, Grigo
Here’s what Semak had to say about Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko.
“This is a whole other story. Both Nail on the bench and his father in the stands were sitting there with surprisingly uninvolved expressions. He’s is the goddamn captain! He had to lead his teammates by example, he had to push the tempo. What did he do? He was just sitting there with a sad face, looking at the floor. As for Grigorenko, he must put the team on his back. He’s two years older everyone on the team! However, even he didn’t do anything,” added Semak.
Yes, he actually said it. And then he continued.
“The team should have been locked at the baza (remote training facility, very common for Soviet hockey). The team must be managed by the head coach not some fifth in command administrator, who put them in a hotel because he thought it would be best. It never leads to anything good. They had to put the team outside of the city, like the Swedes and Canadians did. Yet, one of our team managers says it’s more comfortable for him to go to the rink from the hotel, so they’re staying at the hotel. You have to pay attention to these little details. It all boils down to them at the end,” said Semak.
Defended the goalie
There is one guy Semak is satisfied with on Team Russia — goalie Andrei Vasilevski. Perhaps, it’s because of his performance at the tourney. However, keep in mind Semak is Vasilevski’s coach in Tolpar.
“There was only one good thing about that team — Andrei Vasilevski. He played his heart out but he can’t win hockey games just by himself. Actually, both our goalies looked good. Unlike other guys,” empathized Semak.
That would be a good end to this rant, though, right? Here’s his prediction for the bronze medal game.
“I think we going to get the same result in the game against Canada we had in the round robin. We’re going to lose 4-1. I don’t see any coaching involved in the way our team plays. I don’t see anything that would help them to win. They started the tourney with just pushing the puck in front of them. They’re continuing doing the same thing,” said Semak.
Team Russia was heavily criticized by other former players, pundits, media and fans back home. However, Semak got the spotlight all for himself with these comments.
Still think Canadians are mean to their athletes? Think again.