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Russia's Nail Yakupov (R) celebrates his goal with Mikhail Grigorenko (C) and Pavel Koledov during the first period of their preliminary round game against Germany during the 2013 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, December 29, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Russia's Nail Yakupov (R) celebrates his goal with Mikhail Grigorenko (C) and Pavel Koledov during the first period of their preliminary round game against Germany during the 2013 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, December 29, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

WJC

Ahead of showdown with Canada, Russians talking but saying little Add to ...

And the gold medal for head games at the WJC goes to….Russia, of course.

There will be no silver or bronze awarded.

If Churchill had only known Vladimir Myshkin he might have said this country is so baffling it seems “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma – and further confused by a twinkle in the eye and a thin smile where the edges of the lips flap up and down like wings.”

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Myshkin is now 57 years old, his silver hair perfectly coiffed, his crinkling eyes partially screened by granny glasses – a far, far cry from the masked goaltender who, at times, drove Canada’s hockey best to distraction.

The greatest moment of his career, he says, came on Feb. 11, 1979 when, much to everyone’s surprise, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov tapped Myshkin instead of the legendary Vladislav Tretiak, to start against the NHL All-Stars in the Challenge Cup. The Soviets crushed the best of the NHL 6-0.

He had his other moments in the spotlight, some wonderful – playing a game in the 1981 Canada Cup that the Soviets won – and some painful: the goaltender of record during the U.S.A.’s “Miracle on Ice” victory in the 1980 Olympics.

He knows a bit about pressure; he knows a lot about hockey games that feature Russia and Canada.

“It will be war,” he says, bursting into a quick laugh and just as quickly biting it off.

“World championship game against Canada? It’s not like a game. It’s like a war.”

It doesn’t matter where or when, he says – World Championships, Olympics, Canada Cups, World Cups, summer exhibition series – it’s always the same. But this time, he predicts, it will be even better.

“Despite the time of year, whenever it is, whenever Canada plays Russia it is always a battle, always great hockey,” the goaltending coach for Team Russia says. “But even more so when in Russia, on New Year’s Eve – it’s going to be hit.”

A hit as well, certainly, in Canada, where Monday’s game is not scheduled until the sun is up in most of the country.

Not only that, but there is something quite unique in the game in that the captains of the two teams – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Canada, Nail Yakupov for Russia – are both No. 1 draft picks and both belong to the Edmonton Oilers.

And so, the day before this much-anticipated Canada-Russia meeting, Myshkin is happy to talk but really not saying anything in an interview that is more rope-a-dope than information.

Myshkin laughs when he is asked who will be the starting goaltender against Canada.

One goalie, Andrey Makarov, plays for the Saskatoon Blades and is therefore familiar with North American style hockey, he says. The other, Andrei Vasilevskiy, plays for Ufa, so he would be fired up to show himself in front of the home crowd.

He has no intention of tipping his hand. Canadians will know when the game is on.

What about the Russian captain, he is asked. Young Yakupov has taken “enigma” to new heights by refusing to meet with reporters from Canada who want to ask him about his knock against “dirty” Canadian hockey players.

“I read that,” Myshkin says about the Yakupov remark. “It’s his answer.”

Later, Yakupov finally did meet with reporters, albeit reluctantly, and with media handlers trying to control the questions.

“I forgot what I say,” Yakupov claimed, suggesting he had said something quite “different” and it somehow got misinterpreted – though being called “dirty” is hardly something that is going to reduce Canadian hockey players to tears.

Myshkin, at least, is willing to talk without handlers and for as long as people want. He is just not willing to tell anything. He has no opinion apart from a good laugh as to whether or not Canadian hockey players are indeed dirty. His expression suggests Is there any question?

He is asked about the Canadian counter argument to “dirty” that claims Russian and European players embellish their falls and injuries, that they “dive” as in soccer in the hopes of drawing a more severe penalty.

“That,” he says, “is a question for discussion.”

But, of course, he has no intention of discussing it in detail.

And one last word, he offers graciously, just in case you need something to fill that barren notebook.

The hugely anticipated New Year’s Eve/Morning match between Russia and Canada?

“It will be decided out on the ice,” he says.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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