Canada is likely to be Russia’s main opponent at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships starting Wednesday and Russia’s captain Nail Yakupov says he knows how to beat them.
With last year's shock winners Sweden depleted by injuries to several key players, hosts Russia and Canada are regarded the main contenders for gold.
Both squads are strengthened by the two biggest stars of their age as Russia is led by NHL No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov and Canada by center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has an NHL season under his belt, notching up 52 points in 62 games.
“Of course, I’m ready for the leading role morally, physically and by all other criteria,” the R-Sport agency quotes Yakupov as saying. “I feel great and I’m ready to play my heart out."
Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins will reunite at the Edmonton Oilers once the NHL lockout is resolved, but now they are the biggest rivals; each dreaming of winning the event.
“As I grew up, I always dreamt of playing at the junior world championships," Nugent-Hopkins told R-Sport. "Now I have a unique opportunity to play here.”
The Canadians are known for their rough physical style of play, but Yakupov says his team is ready for that.
"I understand that I will have to keep a cool head and ignore provocation, especially against the Canadians. These guys play dirty. We got used to that, we played a few games in North America, so our team is ready," he says.
This year the two teams go into Group B along with Germany, Slovakia and the United States. Russia and Canada clash on New Year's Eve knowing the group winner will directly go to the semi-finals.
The other group includes Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.
The final is scheduled for January 5 and will be played at the 8,000-capacity Ufa Arena, the home venue of the KHL team Salavat Yulaev.