International Ice Hockey Federation

Inside knowledge

Inside knowledge

KHL ace plots Russia's downfall

Published 04.05.2015 11:06 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Inside knowledge
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 2: USA's Dan Sexton #42 stickhandles the puck with pressure from Norway's Jonas Djupvik Lovlie #14 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Russia vs USA is one of the big battles in world hockey, and it’s perhaps the stand-out fixture in Group B this year.

It’s a rivalry steeped in history – sporting, cultural and even political – and it’s a game that guarantees a big audience whenever the teams meet.

But while it’s no surprise to see a Russian team line up with several players who ply their trade in America, team USA has seldom called up anyone playing in the Russian provinces. But that’s the story for Dan Sexton, who spent last season in Tatarstan with the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Now he’s preparing for battle against many of the stars he’s been facing all season.

“Playing Russia is always a big game,” he said. “They’re going to be a really strong team. Some of our guys might not know all their players but I know a lot of them from this season. They’ve got a load of great skill players and we’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game to shut them down.”

Sexton’s KHL experience could prove invaluable, both in terms of second-guessing some of his Russian opponents and getting practice on the bigger ice used in IIHF competition.

“Playing [in the KHL] is huge for me to develop my skills on offence,” he said. “I’ve been getting to play with a lot of good players, to play that Russian style of hockey where there’s lot of skill, a lot of puck possession. That really fits into my game well. And the team, the staff there couldn’t have treated me any better. The fans were just amazing, we have really great loyal fans in Nizhnekamsk. They were so nice to me and really made it fun for me to play there.”

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It’s also developed Sexton’s game. “When I left to go there I was used to smaller ice,” he said. “It’s been awesome being able to use my speed and skate a lot, to hang on to the puck for a long time and not have to get hit so much. That’s really helped to develop my offensive game and I think I’ve got more of a well-rounded game now.”

In recent seasons Team USA has begun to call up players from beyond the big North American leagues: Tim Stapleton, then of Ak Bars Kazan, made his second World Championship appearance in Minsk last year on the same roster as Peter Mueller of the Kloten Flyers in Switzerland, while Yan Stasny played in 2011 after a season at CSKA Moscow. This year Sexton is joined by Steve Moses of Jokerit Helsinki and the pair made a fine start, both posting 1+1 in the opening 5-1 win over Finland.

“They’re doing a great job of giving a guy like me or Steve [Moses] a chance,” Sexton added. “When guys have great seasons, even outside of the NHL, they recognize that and reward you for it. Now it’s up to us to reward them back by playing well and kind of keeping the pipeline open for other players in Europe or Russia.”

Moses found a passage back to the NHL after his success in Finland, signing up with the Predators for 2015/16. Sexton, meanwhile, is undecided on whether to return home or stay in Russia. “It’s 50-50 for me at the moment,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time there and if the situation is right I’d go back to Russia. Neftekhimik has been very fair to me and given me time to make my decision and I really respect them for that. I have to think about what’s best for myself but I wish them well and I might still be there next season.”


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