The Russians Are Coming Part 3: Anton Volchenkov

By Eugene Belashchenko

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The Russians are coming:

Now that the 2001-02 Russian Super League and Upper
League seasons have come to a close, the post season dust of transfers and
roster cuts is starting to settle.  Some players find out their services are no
longer needed with their current clubs, while others leave their teams on their
own initiative.  There are also a select few who, at the end of their contract
with their Russian team, are eyeing intently across the ocean towards North
America thinking – “Am I strong enough?”  For many it will be a short visit to
North America for the training camp and back to Russia.  Some have already been
there and returned to Russia after their unsuccessful first, second or just
another one of many attempts to make it in the NHL.  For several, it will be
their first trip to North America and first impressions go a long way.   Not
just first impressions the team’s management and coaches have of the player, but
also the impressions the player has of North America.  Here are a few of the
more notable players who will make their way to North America from Russia and
likely make a notable impact. 


Anton Volchenkov – Ottawa

Anton Volchenkov’s anticipated
arrival in Ottawa Senators ’01 training camp was spoiled by the inability of the
team’s management and Anton’s agent to reach a contract agreement.   Coming off
a solid 00-01 season, Anton felt his market value was that of an NHL caliber
defenseman.   During the season, he played on the Soviet Wings second defensive
pairing and helped the team ascend from the Russian secondary Upper League into
the premier Super League.  


After failing to reach an
agreement with the Ottawa Senators, he returned to the Soviet Wings, which now
faced a challenging task of surviving in the competitive Super League.  That
year the Soviet Wings not only survived, but made a long awaited appearance in
the playoffs.  During the season Anton was the team’s top defenseman, logging
over 25 minutes almost every game on the top defensive pairing with Buffalo
Sabres prospect Denis Denisov.   Offensively, his production more then doubled
from the previous season, which is impressive considering the level of
competition in the Super League.   He quarterbacked the Soviet Wings’ top power
play unit and had his hand in many of Alexander Frolov’s, the team’s top sniper,


In the Super League
quarterfinals, the Soviet Wings were pinned against the top Russian team and the
eventual Super League champion, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.   The Wings attempted to
compensate for the team’s clear disadvantage in talent with physical hockey,
seemingly attempting to eliminate Lokomotiv’s best players.  The tactic did not
accomplish much beyond creating a wave of outrage in the world of Russian
hockey.  The Soviet Wings were eliminated in three games and all Anton had to
show for the series were 29 penalty minutes and no points. 


In December ’01, Anton was
awarded by his peers the honor of captaining the Russian National Team at the
2002 U20 World Junior Championships in Czech Republic.   Anton led the team on
and off the ice.  Russia’s head coach, Vladimir Plyuschev, used the
Volchenkov-Grebeshkov defensive pairing in all situations.   Anton quarterbacked
Russia’s top power play unit, showcasing his great hockey sense and hard shot. 
Anton’s individual performance did not go unnoticed and he was named to the
tournament’s second all star team.  Anton’s was instrumental to Russia leaving
the Czech Republic with gold medals hanging from their necks, vindicating
themselves from the team’s poor ’01 showing. 


During the 01-02 season Anton
Volchenkov showcased his ability to dominate his own end of the ice, contribute
offensively and lead by example. In June, 2002 the Senators signed him to a
three year deal.   He matured significantly and will make an impact in Ottawa’s
training camp.  When he attends the camp, a roster spot in the Ottawa’s lineup
is his to lose, unless Ottawa’s management will make an upfront decision to
develop him in the AHL for a season.


– Eugene


  Russian Correspondent