UFA, Russia — It wouldn’t be a world junior tournament in Russia without some controversy surrounding the host team.
The Russian media were all abuzz on Friday when reports surfaced that their world junior team had been partying in the days leading up to their 3-2 shootout loss to Sweden in the semifinal.
The source of the controversy was none other than former NHL Alexander Semak, a native of Ufa, Russia, who now coaches Ufa’s junior hockey team Tolpar.
“My friends tell me every day that they saw one [Russian junior hockey team] player in a nightclub and then met the others in the street during a night walk,” RIA Novosti quoted Semak as saying.
He also claimed that he personally came across several Team Russia members in Ufa restaurants.
Semak said that Russia's management made a mistake basing the team's championship headquarters out of a hotel in the center of the city.
Nobody was monitoring the players in their free time, so it was no surprise the youngsters flocked to nightclubs instead of resting and preparing for the games, he said. [RT.Com]
Earlier in the tournament, the Russians survived a shootout scare by beating Switzerland 4-3 in their quarter-final. No one expected the Swiss to give the powerhouse Russians such a hard time, especially with the likes of Edmonton Oilers first-overall pick Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, who was taken 12th-overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2012.
And speaking of Grigorenko ... Semak shared his thoughts on the Quebec Remparts forward as well, suggesting that the 18-year-old was two years older than everyone else playing at the under-20 tournament.
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) January 4, 2013
Of course these rumours are as old as time (or possibly even Grigorenko) for those who follow junior hockey and have been circulating since he came to the QMJHL where he plays for Patrick Roy. They surfaced again when he was drafted, but have since been laid to rest -- or so we thought.
As our very own Andrey Osadchenko pointed out before the 2012 draft, Grigorenko's former Russian club, CSKA, looked into the rumours and even had the FSB -- Russia's KGB successors -- investigate.
‘I want my son to be respected by the club he has been with since he was seven after we’d moved from Khabarovsk,’ said Mikhail’s father, Oleg Grigorenko, to Sport-Express last summer. ‘I don’t even want to bring up everything he had to go through here. Take, for instance, this ridiculous story about his alleged fake age. They even sent guys from FSB to Khabarovsk. They tried to find something illegal but they didn’t.’ [The LeafsNation]
Knowing how thorough and serious the local police force in Ufa have been during the tournament, there's no way the country's top investigative unit is going to let this slip past them. These guys are not messing around.
When told about the comments, Grigorenko said Semak was just bitter because he didn't the world junior job that went to head coach Mikhail Varnakov.
“Who is he? A coach? Of what club? Tolpar? Never heard of such!” Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko told Sportbox.ru when asked about Semak’s accusations.
“It seems that the man just didn’t get the job he wanted and he’s now happy that we’ve lost,” he added. “It’s sad to read such nastiness in the media. Nail Yakupov is bad. Mikhail Grigorenko is bad. The hockey is bad. I don’t know what game he was watching. All the guys are giving everything on the ice and can’t be blamed.” [RT.com]
Russia will face Canada in the bronze medal game on Saturday at 4 a.m. ET. As for the game itself, Grigorenko told the English-speaking media here in a separate interview that they're ready for Canada. The Canadians beat Russia 4-1 in the round robin portion of the tournament.
"I think it's not going to be the same as before (in the round robin)," said Grigorenko. "I think it's going to be a little bit easier for us.
"Now that we're playing for bronze it's less pressure than playing in the finals."