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World junior championship: In Russia, Nail Yakupov comments barely raised ripple

Edmonton Oilers No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov (Getty Images)Nail Yakupov refuses to speak to the media at the world junior championship in Ufa, Russia. Yet, he still managed to get sucked into a media-scrutinized scandal.

Two weeks ago Yakupov told R-Sport that ‘Canadians play dirty’ but Team Russia is ready for it. After going unnoticed, untouched and basically just ignored by both Russian media and fans, the story blew up on the first day of the world junior when it was translated and published in English.

Canada's beloved Don Cherry making borderline chauvinistic comments on it was expected. Say what you want about Cherry — he gets his job done day in and day out. It’s not the first time he has made an insulting comment about a Russian hockey player. He is yet to offend one. He did make many laugh, though.

Cherry addressed sentiments of many hockey fans in Canada. For generations Canadian fans have thought it is the Ruskies who play dirty and get wimpy. In Russia, it’s been the other way around since the 1972 Summit Series.

It’s more of a cultural thing than anything else, really. Ever since Alex Ragulin — a big Russian defenceman from the 1972 Summit Series team — was offered to drop them and stared at his opponent all perplexed, it’s been on. The biggest part of it is the difference between the North American and European games, with everything that involves.

There’s nothing wrong with what Yakupov said. That was an insult or chirping. That’s something he genuinely believes in both personally and culturally. He said it before the recent Subway Super Series. His predecessor as Team Russia captain, Evgeni Kuznetsov, said it umpteen number of times, including several instances last year.

Grit and dirt sometimes are difficult to tell apart. Keep that in mind. Especially in a physical game like hockey.

What’s more intriguing, though, is that the story became a story without being a story. A Russian player said Canadians play dirty? What else is new? Russia sold Alaska to the United States?

This fuss occurred while Canada's Boone Jenner is still suspended for a mindless hit in a pre-tournament game. Yes, it is the same Boone Jenner who was tossed from last year’s semifinal game against Russia for spearing — arguably the dirtiest thing in the sport.

Now Yakupov is refusing to talk to the media. He was not like that a few months ago. Would you hold it against him now that he takes all this heat for nothing?

Leave the kid alone. We have enough players we have sucked out all the fun from.

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