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Metallurg excited about Victoria Cup challenge

by Dan Rosen

It's been 17 years since an NHL team matched up against a Russian club, but history will be made Oct. 1 in Switzerland's capital city of Bern when the New York Rangers and Metallurg Magnitogorsk play for the Victoria Cup.

Although the Kontinental Hockey League season was about to begin, Metallurg Magnitogorsk coach Valery Belousov was kind enough to take the time to answer questions from via e-mail.

If you're wondering about the Rangers' opponent in the historic Victoria Cup game, the team that just happens to be the reigning champions of Europe, Belousov has your answers in this exclusive Q&A: How will you go about preparing your team to play the Rangers?

Valery Belousov: "We can't change the tactics and the schemes of our playing fundamentally in two days, of course. So we're going to play mostly the same like we'd play in our home league regular season. But our guys should be ready to constantly pressure, forechecking, etc. Any player should be well-concentrated every second on ice. He shouldn't lose control and relax even after he gets rid of the puck. Good concentration -- that's what we'll try to exhibit." Have you done any scouting on the Rangers, and will their game the night before against SC Bern give you an indication as to what you are up against?

VB: "We're lucky to have an opportunity to watch the Rangers' game against SC Bern. Sure, it'll give us some indication as to what we are up against. As for the scouting, I just watched some of the Rangers' matches last season. It's always interesting for me to watch players I've coached. Jaromir Jagr played for the Avangard Omsk (Oblast) in the NHL lockout season and I coached the team that year, so I've watched him play since then. Jagr is not with the Rangers now, but my indication of the New York team is they have very many good players on the roster including those from Europe, and their style is in some ways similar to European with good passing and smart combinations. They are used to thinking on ice, not just checking, running and shooting." What do you think playing in the Victoria Cup against the New York Rangers means to the players on your team?

VB: "One of the main goals is to find out where we are -- what our level is, compared to that of the New York Rangers and the NHL in particular. Teams from our country haven't played against the NHL ones for a long time, so that's going to be a great challenge, especially if we take into consideration that Metallurg is the reigning champion of Europe." Will you treat this game as if it was a regular season contest, or will you treat it as the exhibition that it is, meaning will your players go all out and try to win or really just try to put on a good show for the fans in Bern?

VB: "When a player goes on ice the coach can't say to him, 'Save your effort, you needn't show your best, this is just an exhibition game.' Any professional player starts a game with a motivation to win. We can not foresee, of course, what will come out of the game Oct. 1, but for many of our players it'll be a good chance to try themselves and, probably, to find an answer to the question, 'Do I meet the standards and the requirements of that league and could I play for one of its teams?' " The IIHF wants the Victoria Cup to become an annual tradition. Do you agree that it could be and will it add value to the global game of hockey?

VB: "It's for both hockey continents' sake to have good communication and cooperation. Such traditions -- if they happen to be -- will add big value to the global game of hockey. It would be of great interest for the fans, I guess, to have the Stanley Cup winner play against the champion of Europe or the Gagarin Cup holder (Gagarin Cup is the trophy of KHL). There can be many new traditions."
Do you think your players can compete at the level of the New York Rangers, or the NHL in particular?

VB: "The Victoria Cup match will give us the answer. Much will depend, of course, on how the Rangers' players will treat the event. They say it's just an exhibition game, but we know North American teams hate to lose. They are professionals, so, for them there's probably something to gain as well." Can you give us some insight as to what type of team you will put on the ice?

VB: "We have four balanced lines; each can become the leading one. We try to play traditional Russian hockey: passing, seeking our chances in the offensive zone." What is your schedule like directly before and directly after the Victoria Cup game?

"Before playing the Rangers, we'll have played 11 games in the KHL season -- seven home and four away. On Sept. 26 we play against Traktor Chelyabinsk (Chelyabinsk is about 200 miles away and is the capital of the region where Magnitogorsk is located). The team is coached by ex-NHL player Andrei Nazarov. Sept. 28 we play home against Salavat Yulaev Ufa -- the reigning champion of Russia. Directly after the Victoria Cup game, Oct. 3, we play home against Traktor."

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