At the World Junior Championship, Team Russia will march to the beat of feisty St. Louis Blues prospect Ivan Barbashev, who’s a North American-style body-banger
Don’t think of Moncton Wildcats center
Ivan Barbashev as being trapped between two cultures. It’s more accurate to say he’s enjoying the best of both worlds. The St. Louis Blues second-rounder is plying his trade in the Quebec League, but he also loves suiting up for his country. For a player who has been described as atypically Russian in style, that makes a lot of sense. “He plays more of a typical North American game,” said Moncton coach Darren Rumble. “He goes in straight lines. When he’s banging bodies out there, that’s when he’s at his best.”
And while Barbashev has been an offensive leader for the Cats, his role with Russia’s junior team last year was different, highlighting his defensive side instead. Playing on a shutdown line with Edmonton pick Bogdan Yakimov, Barbashev was tasked with forechecking hard and keeping the other team off the board.
“The fact he was used in that role doesn’t surprise me,” Rumble said. “He projects as a good third-liner in the NHL, a guy who has sandpaper in his game.” The Russians ended up winning bronze thanks in part to Barbashev’s efforts, including important victories over Team USA and Canada. “Those were huge memories for me,” said Barbashev, who turns 19 Dec. 14. “I was the youngest guy on the team, and I learned a lot. I’ll be a different player this time – more of an offensive player and more of a leader.” For a Russian team that won’t have a loaded lineup, that will help. Barbashev is still filling the net for Moncton, but he has also been studious in rounding out his game. Rumble noted the teenager often pops into the video room between periods to see how his faceoffs were, and he has improved on that skill a great deal since last season. His defensive zone coverage down low has also been noteworthy. Overall, consistency is the final thing he needs to master. Barbashev has also been paying it forward in Moncton by helping dynamic and diminutive winger Vladimir Tkachev get used to North American life. Rumble said the transition would have been “virtually impossible” without Barbashev, and the two might even be teammates at the world juniors. If the Russians, who have owned Canada at the holiday classic lately, can pull off the trick again, Barbashev will have more ammunition when he’s joking around in the Moncton dressing room. As it is now, he has already shown off the bronze he won at Canada’s expense, and he recognizes the realness of the rivalry. “It’s kind of big,” he said. “I was chirping a little bit last year. This time I’ll try to grab the gold, and I can do some big chirping.” To do so, he and his mates will have to conquer their opponents on Canadian ice. And as the powerful Barbashev has shown time and again, if he has to go through someone to get his medal, he’ll do it.
This feature appears in the Jan. 5 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.