No matter when you talk to Kootenay Ice defenceman Rinat Valiev, hard work always comes up in conversation.
It’s no secret the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect focuses on putting forth his best effort each and every day he is at the rink, whether that be in practice or during a game.
Last Friday, that effort landed the 19-year-old native of Nizhnekamsk on the selection camp roster for Team Russia ahead of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“I have been waiting for that roster for the last two weeks,” Valiev said Thursday afternoon on the concourse of Western Financial Place, taking a pause from his pre-practice warm-up with Tim Bozon. “I’m so excited to go there.”
Valiev was one of 14 defencemen named to the 38-man roster for Team Russia’s World Junior Championship selection camp, so he still has a ways to go before solidifying a spot for himself.
“I have to work so hard everywhere,” Valiev said. “I don’t know if there’s something special I have to do. I just work hard and show my best game.”
Valiev has quietly put forth a strong performance to start the 2014-15 WHL campaign. After missing the first 12 games of the year with a lower-body injury, the Russian rearguard is chugging along with 19 points in 16 games since his return.
Though he doesn’t claim to have any insight into the approach of Russian management, Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill believes his defenceman’s familiarity with the North American ice surface will provide a leg up when it comes to making the final roster. After a year in Malmo, Sweden, the World Junior Championship returns to Canada, hosted in Toronto and Montreal later this month.
“It’s a smaller ice surface, which he has tremendous experience on right now,” McGill said Thursday. “Things happen quicker and he has obviously accustomed himself to being a good player in our league where things happen quick.”
Valiev has been in North America since the 2012-13 season when he skated in 36 games with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League. He joined the Kootenay Ice for the 2013-14 campaign.
“I will feel more comfortable,” Valiev said. “It’s a big difference with the ice. It’s hard to feel better [about your game] when you’re changing ice.”
The 6-foot-2 defenceman was one of only four North American-skating Russian defencemen named to the selection camp, joined by Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo, NHL), Ivan Provorov (Brandon, WHL) and Damir Sharipzyanov (Owen Sound, OHL).
“His personality, his commitment to getting better, all those things are what you want in a teammate,” McGill said of Valiev. “Hopefully they’ve done their research enough that he can endear himself to that staff.”
Team Russia will host a camp in Novogorsk prior to departing for Canada. According to a press release from the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, the team will begin training in Oshawa, Ont., Dec. 17. According to Valiev, he and the other CHL players named to the roster are not required to travel to Moscow.
The 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship begins Dec. 26 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto when Russia faces Denmark in the first game of the tournament.