While the NHL playoffs are just starting to heat up, the rest of the world is busy preparing for the IIHF World Championship, which gets underway in Germany on May 8th. For Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, the final opportunity to audition players and gear up for the championship comes in the form of the LG Hockey Games, a round-robin tournament that serves as the culmination of the season-long Euro Hockey Tour.
Two New York Rangers forwards, Artem Anisimov and Enver Lisin, earned invites to play in the games on behalf of Russian national team, which opened its schedule with a game against Team Finland on Thursday in Helsinki. Both players participated in Thursday’s tournament-opener.
Lisin made his national team debut, serving as a spare forward who was inserted up and down the line-up throughout the game. The 23-year old soon-to-be restricted free agent even spent some time on Russia’s top line, but didn’t factor on the scoresheet.
Anisimov, meanwhile, made a strong bid to remain with the team when it travels to Germany. The 21-year old center set up Russia’s first goal, feeding Sergei Mozyakin in the slot with a pass from the corner. His play earned positive reviews by commentators and reporters alike and his line with Mozyakin and Maxim Shushinsky, which finished with two of Russia’s four goals, was widely considered Russia’s best.
Their performance wasn’t enough to earn Russia a victory, however, as the team fell 5-4 in a shootout. Eighteen year-old draft-eligible Finn Mikael Granlund, the top ranked skater from Europe, scored the winning goal in the shootout.
The Russians will regroup on Friday and take on tournament hosts Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday before finishing the tournament with a game against the Czech Republic. Russia’s final roster for the World Championship is expected sometime after that game concludes.
Before he left Russia’s training center in Novogorsk on Wednesday, Anisimov chatted with Sportsdaily.ru about playing for the country’s national team, his rookie season in the NHL, and who he wants to win the Stanley Cup (Hint: his pick was on the wrong end of the biggest upsets in recent NHL history.) A translation of the interview is below.
- “I was pleasantly surprised that they called me to the national team,” the 21-year old forward admitted. “I’d already met with Andrei Nazarov overseas. Our conversation passed very pleasantly. Naturally, no one promised me anything. But I’m not thinking about the World Championship for now. The immediate plan is to win the Euro Tour. More specifically, the first game against the Finns, that’s what I’m thinking about. After that I’ll begin thinking about what’s next.
- Talk about the exhibition games with the Italians.
- I think that the difficult road trip has affected us a little. There was a lot of travel. In addition in the third period of the second game we started to relax a bit, and they scored on us. Their second goal was good, but the third was a softie. As a result it was 3-3
- These games were canceled, then put back on the schedule. Did the uncertainty prevent you from preparing?
– No, absolutely not. Personally, I was sure we’d go. And we prepared for them purposefully.
- It’s your first time with the country’s national team. How do you feel?
- Great! The best players in the world play on the Russian national team. And if you’re invited here, it means you have the opportunity to work side by side with these professionals. Everything is going very well. I’d forgotten how it was on the junior team, but here there’s a very high level.
- Did you watch the Gagarin Cup final?
- When I had time, I watched. What a battle. Not for life, but to the death. HK MVD simply amazed me. There are no star players there, like on other teams. They play as a single group, as one team. It’s always very difficult to play against such an opponent. Each of their five man units are at the same level.
- Why did you decide not to live in the center of New York?
- Because it’s very noisy there and it’s a long way from the training rink. I don’t want to spend 30-40 minutes on the road in the morning, to be honest. It’s better to sleep longer.
- How would you evaluate your season on the Rangers?
- Very average. Because there were sharp ups-and-downs. Good times alternated with bad. Everything went in waves. I need to gain some consistency.
- Nevertheless, you took a step forward?
- Of course I did. I’m proceeding gradually. Every day I learn something new. But I can’t say yet that I secured a place on the main team. If you don’t play, you’ll quickly be sent down. Competitors breathe down your back. You need to be on guard and prove your right to be on the team, to keep that spot.
- What was missing for the Rangers, that they didn’t make the playoffs?
- One point! The season is very long. We lost [games] in overtime. If we had taken those games to the shootout, chances are we’d have more. Our goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is very successful in post-game penalty shots.
The last game with Philadelphia was very interesting. It was nice to play in it — even now I think about it with pleasure. The pressure was huge.
- Is it true that your great goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a fan of luxurious cars?
- Yes, he loves cars. But everyone does. Though I drive an old car. I still haven’t gotten the one I want. I dream of a Nissan GTR or an Audi A8.
- Who can we expect from the NHL for the World Championship?
- The playoffs are a completely different game, any team can win. I personally really want Washington to get through. I want our guys there to win the Stanley Cup.
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