MONTREAL – Alexei Emelin didn’t have much time to reflect on the 2015-16 campaign once it came to a close. That suited him just fine.
Less than a month after the Canadiens downed the Tampa Bay Lightning in their final regular season game of the year on April 9, Emelin was competing for his native Russia in the World Hockey Championship on home soil.
It marked the fifth time that he’d sported his country’s colors at the annual event, and the fourth time he’d managed to secure a medal. This time around, Emelin helped head coach Oleg Znarok’s squad come out on top in the bronze medal game with a 7-2 victory over the United States in Moscow.
“It was good to just play again and focus on other things. It was a very exciting tournament for me because we were playing in Russia. Every tournament is more and more experience and a new challenge. We wanted to play against Canada and we wanted that gold medal, but it wasn’t a bad result,” said the 30-year-old defenseman, who was fortunate enough to have his parents in attendance for the duration of the tournament in the nation’s capital. “I was happy to see them because I usually only get to spend time there once a year. I know everyone had a good time.”
Since then, Emelin has spent the better part of his summer in Montreal with his wife, Valentina, and two daughters, Lesya and Mila. He recently returned from a four-week stay in South Florida, though, where he trained alongside Alex Galchenyuk, who typically spends his offseason in the Sunshine State.
“We were doing a lot of work there together in Fort Lauderdale at a gym [Chamber Fitness] that’s pretty close to my place. We also went running and played football. I think it was better to train together than to train by myself. It made things a lot easier mentally,” said Emelin, who was eager to incorporate some new material in his offseason workout routine this year at the state-of-the-art facility. “I wanted to try something different. Maybe it will pay off. We did a lot of explosion and speed work. Alex pushed me and I pushed him. It was nice to have my wife and kids with me there, too.”
That work, in addition to the work he’s currently putting in daily at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, will ultimately be put to the test at the end of August when Emelin heads to St. Petersburg, Russia for training camp with his World Cup of Hockey teammates.
“It’s very exciting. I think it’s a bigger tournament than the World Championship because all of the best players in the world are going to be participating in it. It’s like the Olympics, just with different rules,” said Emelin, who could potentially be patrolling the Russian blue line with Andrei Markov when the squad opens the tournament on September 18 against Sweden at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. “I don’t mind the early start to the year with the World Cup. I’m looking forward to playing. We have a very good team.”
When Emelin is finally back with the rest of Michel Therrien’s troops to begin his sixth NHL season, he’ll have a few new faces to get to know in the locker room. He’s already familiar with one of the Canadiens’ newcomers, though, having spent his fair share of time playing with and against fellow Russian Alexander Radulov over the years.
“I played with him a lot because we’re the same age. We played together on the Russian National Junior Team. We won gold at the U18 event and two silvers playing U20. We also played against each other in the KHL, and we met many times in the playoffs,” recalled Emelin, a fan of Radulov’s qualities both on and off the ice. “He’s a very good guy, very smart. He has good hands and good moves. He’s quick and tough to play against. He changes direction every second. He’s also a leader in the room. I think he’ll help us, especially with the power play.”
On a personal note, the Canadiens’ No. 74 is looking to be more productive offensively after failing to light the lamp last season and generating just 12 points – matching his lowest point total since 2012-13.
“I want to score some goals this year. I know I need to do my first job, which is defense and playing physical, but if I have the chance to join the rush, I will do it to help out on offense,” concluded Emelin, who was held without a goal for the first time in his NHL career. “Every season is a new challenge. I worked even harder than last season because we lost and didn’t make the playoffs. That means that we needed to change the work we do to get back there.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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