Much of the crowd's attention was on the ice Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, where Canada and the United States competed in yet another epic matchup at the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championship. But for some area hockey fans in the stands, it was impossible to ignore the presence of a prominent figure in Ottawa hockey history.
In town serving as the general manager of Russia's women's national team, Alexei Yashin was at the game scouting his competition. It's a unique situation for the former Senators captain, but one that he is relishing so far.
"It was an available position where I could help Russian hockey to get to the point where they need to be," Yashin said. "Because I'm retired, I saw this opportunity and felt at this particular point I could get involved."
The Ottawa Senators' first draft pick after they were awarded an expansion franchise in 1992, Yashin was a star in Canada's capital before an infamous falling out with the team that ended with his being traded to the New York Islanders in 2001.
Despite how his tenure with the Senators ended, Yashin generally received a warm welcome in Ottawa as he attempted to downplay his history with the city. If nothing else, his work at the women's worlds gave Yashin an opportunity to spend time with his parents, who have lived in the area since 1994.
"There's nothing really I can say. It is what it is. We got a lot of press coverage for whatever reason, the right reason, the wrong reason," Yashin told NHL.com. "Of course, it's special. My mom and dad are here in Ottawa, so I can spend some time with them. It's the girls' time. It's time for them to shine and show what they can do."
Yashin's career may have started in Ottawa before moving to Long Island and winding down with five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, but right now the two-time Olympic medalist and three-time NHL All-Star is focused solely on the job at hand. And it's a big job at that.
At last year's world's, the Russian women failed to win a game and were outscored 28-5 by their competition. With the 2014 Sochi Olympics less than a year away, the program has rebounded nicely under Yashin's watchful eye. The Russian women won their first two matches of the 2013 tournament by a combined score of 7-1 before beating Sweden 4-0 on Friday to finish first in their pool and earn a quarter-final matchup against the Swiss on Saturday.
"The biggest thing is we want to be better, we want to be more competitive. The Olympics are coming to our home country so we want to put the best possible team on the ice to fight for a medal," said Yashin, who admits to a unique transition since retiring as a player last year. "It's a completely different situation. A completely different job. What I do is I skate with the girls, so I participate in every practice and try to stay in shape. So it's been an OK transition to something new."
If the Russian women earn a medal in Sochi next year, it will be a first for a nation that is a traditional hockey powerhouse. At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the Russian women went 1-2-0 and missed the playoff round. In the midst of a unique return to the city where his NHL career started, that goal of winning a medal in Sochi is first and foremost on Yashin's mind.
"I have a job I really like. Hopefully we can measure ourselves for what we have to do better for the Olympic Games," Yashin said. "Olympics are just a year away. In Russian people's minds, they want to have the best possible Olympics and present to the world how great our athletes are. I saw an opportunity where I can make them get better. It's what I wanted to do to help my country."
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