After four days of round-robin games at the U18 Championships in Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN, Russians Vladimir Tarasenko and Kirill Kabanov are the top two scorers. Tarasenko has 10 points (five goals, five assists), while Kabanov is second with seven points (two goals, five assists).
While Russia has played three games, and Sweden, USA and Canada just two, the fact that Kabanov is an underager, and Tarasenko just days from being one, makes what their presence on the leader board impressive. Both are eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, a year which looks very good for Russians.
"We are doing our best to do what we can — not what we want — to do what we can,” Kabanov said after the third game. “Everything’s going OK and we’re trying to win the tournament."
Tarasenko said, "There were some difficult problems in the game with Finland, but we try not to think about it. We’re working hard and will do our best to win the tournament."
The Russians had a rough start against Finland, a 7-4 loss, in which they took a lot of penalties. The 6’2 Kabanov described the difficulty of playing against the smaller Finnish team.
"They are little, fast and furious," he said. "They play attacking hockey, forechecking. It’s difficult. We lost because we started to win and felt relaxed."
The outgoing Tarasenko and Kabanov both speak English. Kabanov’s English is better, and spoken with a British public school accent. The two are playing on the top Russian unit with forward Sergei Chvanov and defensemen Dmitri Orlov and Andrei Sergeyev (all 2009-eligible).
The small rink is not friendly to the Russian style of play. Tarashenko said “it’s hard because small arenas don’t have enough space to make plays.”
And yet talent shines through. Tarashenko has scored at least one goal in each game. The second goal of the game against Norway was originally credited to Orlov, who took the shot from the blue line, but at the end of the period Tarashenko had a conversation with the referee, and the scoring was changed.
Tarashenko was generous in his comments afterwards though.
"Every guy can shoot. We have a very good line of defensemen and forwards,” he said. “Some games [Kabanov] will pass to me and some games I will pass to him."
Kabanov passing to Tarashenko has happened a bit more often lately though, thanks to a pre-tournament injury to Kabonov’s hand. He broke a bone at the base of his right hand in an altercation with former NHLer Vitaly Vishnevski in Moscow while playing for the first Spartak team. He suffered both a concussion and the hand injury. The bone is healed, but he said it is "hard to shoot right now."
Tarashenko piped up and added that Kabanov has a very good shot, lest that be forgotten.
Kabanov’s shot isn’t making the score sheet quite as much this week, but may be hitting a score sheet somewhere in North America in the fall, as he said he is interested in coming to play in the CHL. Tarasenko plans to stay in Russia, signing a new contract with his team Sibir Novosibirsk when he returns from the U18s.
Looking out towards the ice, where a USHL playoff game was about to start, Kabanov said, "I don’t know, maybe next year I will go to North America or maybe I’ll stay in Spartak. I like how people live here. It’s not money, it’s sport. People live hockey."