International Ice Hockey Federation

Tarasenko aims high

Tarasenko aims high

For St. Louis sniper, only greatness will do

Published 19.04.2016 15:58 GMT+3 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Tarasenko aims high
Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues had seven points in Russia's silver medal run at the 2015 IIHF World Championship. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
Someday, someone will supplant Alexander Ovechkin as the perennial top NHL goal-scorer among Russians. When that day comes, it might be Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fourth-year NHLer has set a career high in goals (40) with the St. Louis Blues for the fourth straight season. Known for his discipline, focus, and explosive style, Tarasenko is still only 24, and hasn’t hit his peak yet. The Yaroslavl-born right winger will be a key component if the Blues chase down their first Stanley Cup since entering the NHL in 1967. After three games in the first round the Blues lead 2-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

In case the Blues wouldn’t make it far, this former Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg star could make his presence felt at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Moscow. He chipped in four goals and three assists during last year’s silver-medal run in the Czech Republic, and also suited up at the 2011 Worlds and 2014 Sochi Olympics. World Junior fans still remember how Tarasenko captained Russia to gold in 2011 in Buffalo with a wild 5-3 comeback victory over the Canadians.

IIHF.com caught up with Tarasenko recently.

Vladimir, what do you think about this season? Did expectations meet reality?

Well, I think that expectations will meet reality at the end of the season. I hope so, at least. But I’m not really satisfied with my own performance. The team is doing great, though. Again, our main goal is to be successful in the playoffs, so the whole team is looking forward to fighting for the Cup.

You were recently named to the World Cup of Hockey roster. What were your emotions?

Of course, I was very proud that I got a chance to represent my home country on such a huge tournament. It’s always been of primary importance for me to put the Russian sweater on! I will be honest with you, I was very excited to see my name on the list! Now all I can do is to keep working hard and prove that I deserve this spot.

The last time Russia won the World Cup of Hockey, it was called the Canada Cup, and the 1981 team had Vladislav Tretiak and the KLM Line. What will it take for Russia to win the tournament this fall in Toronto?

The World Cup of Hockey is the kind of tournament where only the best players perform. Obviously, a lot of attention will be drawn to the World Cup, considering it is going to be in Toronto, Canada. Of course, we need to do a better job than we did at the last few Olympic Games. But at the same time, we should not think a lot about those terrible results for us. I think we have to analyze our mistakes again and see why we failed in the big tournaments.

We have a great coaching staff with Team Russia, great professionals. Their task will be to get us ready for something big. And we fully trust them, and will fight for them and for each other. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to see Oleg Znarok when he was in America, but we talked on the phone and it was positive.

What are your expectations for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Moscow and St. Petersburg?

I expect Team Russia to win it. That is my only expectation (smiles). It is great that it will be in Russia. I think it is a great event for the fans to attend. I played for St. Petersburg in the KHL, so I know how people love hockey there. It will be an amazing opportunity for them to see international hockey.

Here in St. Louis, what have you learned from Ken Hitchcock?

I’ve learned a great number of lessons from him. I’ve gotten a lot of useful information. You can learn a lot working with every coach. They all have something special for you. They all have their own type of behaviour, their own style. It’s really tough to pick only one lesson. Ken gives you a lot of knowledge about hockey in general. He is a very smart coach. Is he more of a motivator or a tactician? I guess a good coach should be a combination of both. Being just a motivator is not enough. The team needs to motivate you as well. Then success is possible.

You’re good friends with St. Louis teammate and U.S. Olympian Kevin Shattenkirk. Who would win an arm-wrestling match between the two of you?

I do not know (laughs). That is a funny and a weird question to ask (laughs). We have not tried yet. Try Kevin, he might give you an answer.

If someone came to St. Louis and simply wanted to relax and have a quiet time, where would you tell him to go?

Forrest Park would be a perfect place to have a good walk. You can have a great time there. There are lots of different restaurants in St Louis. You always have a choice. It all depends on what type of cuisine you prefer. Every year they open more and more decent places where you can relax and have a good meal. I spend most of my spare time at home anyways, so this variety does not really concern me (smiles).

Are you surprised by the way Yevgeni Kuznetsov has exploded this season in Washington?

I would not say he exploded this season. He has always been a great hockey player. Maybe last year he had a few problems, but I never doubted he would achieve success at some point. I’ve known him long enough to make such conclusions. I was 100 per cent sure he would be fine. Now I can only be happy for him. Actually, I’m also happy for my two other World Junior teammates. Dima Orlov and Artemi Panarin. They are having great years, and I hope they will keep it up.

From watching Ovechkin shoot the puck, are there any things you’ve learned about how to make your own shot even better?

Frankly speaking, I have never thought about it. Everyone has his own skill set, and you have to concentrate on your own skills. Of course, sometimes you watch great players like Ovi shooting the puck and try to learn. But for the most part, it is all about your own abilities to develop your own skills.

As a guy who is serious about his training, what did you think about Jaromir Jagr’s recent statement that he plans to play until the age of 60?

That is a great plan [laughs]. I cannot be any happier for him, he is a great player! I do not look that far ahead, though [laughs].

- With files from Alex Govorov

 

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