Prior to Thursday’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Sport Express correspondent Vasily Osipov caught up with a jovial Tom Renney to ask the Rangers bench boss about the three Russians still playing for jobs on his team, the Blueshirts’ upcoming trip to Europe, and his thoughts on his team’s participation in the inaugural Victoria Cup, set to take place in Bern, Switzerland this Wednesday. The coach, who’s entering his fourth full year behind the bench New York, made it clear that while he and his team take the Victoria Cup seriously, the coaching staff won’t alter the way the team plays or prepares for this one game.
“Naturally, everyone on the Rangers recognizes that special interest is being paid to this match in Russia,” Renney conceded. “We respect that. Rest assured, my guys will play to win.” But he added a caveat: “At the same time you have to understand that we don’t plan to change our style of play to try to adapt to the larger ice surface for the sake of winning one — although important — game.” Quite simply, Renney explained, “Because before us is the fight for the most prestigious trophy in club hockey — the Stanley Cup.”
The Cranbrook, British Columbia native is comfortable with the information he has collected about his team’s Victoria Cup opponent, last year’s European champions, Metallurg Magnitigorsk. “I have sufficient and diverse information available about Metallurg, a large part of which was given to me by my friend [Canadian Dave King] who trained this Russian team in the past.” Renney added, “So I know roughly what to expect from our opponent.” But it will be his own team’s play that is of greater importance to him. “The bigger concern to me will be how the Rangers play in light of our preparation for the NHL season.”
The team is approaching the trip with one goal only. “The purpose put before the Rangers is to come back home with four points in the NHL regular season standings,” the coach states bluntly. “It is important to us to achieve the best possible result, which is why we will try not to lose a lot of time to meetings with politicians, actors, players of youth teams and other local celebrities.”
Renney, who has plenty of experience in taking teams overseas from his days spent coaching Team Canada, was asked to share his secrets for helping his players combat the effects of jet lag. After jokingly recommending that one should “take a small bottle of whisky as soon as you step on the plane, and sleep the whole way” — assuring the reporter that “two days after arrival you’ll be in top form” — Renney became more serious. “First of all it is necessary to make sure that players do not get dehydrated. Since I prefer to hold an intensive practice the day of the flight, it is necessary that the body be fully stocked with fluids.” The pre-flight practice is meant to help the players sleep on a long flight. “After the hard practice the guys will involuntarily want to sleep on the plane because of the accumulated fatigue,” Renney explained. Upon landing, it’s right back to work. “Right after getting settled in the hotel I take the team to the rink, or if one is not available nearby, a soccer field, where we generally work for about an hour. After that, dinner and a short tour, or simply a walk.”
Still, the coach is less concerned about the teams physical condition in Europe, expecting that the excitement of playing in an unfamiliar country will give his charges an emotional boost. The coach is more focused on how the team will fare after their return flight to New York. “What worries me more is when we need to return to America after the Czech Republic to play in the first regular season NHL games,” the coach admitted.
Renney was asked to discuss the three Russian players expected to play a roll in this year’s team, and spoke about each one in turn. Regarding 20-year old prospect Artem Anisimov, the coach shared “Arts [Anisimov] is a good young player who’s growth we follow very closely. At present he has quite a good chance of earning a place on the team. And in general this hockey player has a long career in the NHL ahead of him, which will begin as soon as he is completely ready.” Anisimov was demoted to the Rangers farm team in Hartford the day after the interview, but could factor as a mid-season call up should injuries require.
On free-agent defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, Renney noted the former Buffalo Sabre’s vision and passing. “Kalinin, certainly, has added depth to our defense,” he explained. “We searched for a long time for such a strong defenseman who reads the game well and possesses an excellent pass.”
And finally, Renney suggested there could be big things ahead for 23-year old winger Nikolai Zherdev in his first season in New York. “He is a very talented, creative player, and recently he has improved his defensive play noticably,” Renney shared. “All I ask of him is that he utilize his speed and the quickness of his hands as much as possible.” Renney went on to suggest a 30-goal season is not out of reach for the presumed top-line winger. “Nik has the potential, as a first line player, to score 30 goals this season. The main thing for him is to not dwell on what he’s attained and to continue to make progress.”
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