By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com
“It’s really exciting even just to think about it,” he said. “Hopefully I can make a good impression with the coach. It’s great to get a chance to play at the big tournament.”
Grigorenko won a bronze medal with Russia’s U18 team in 2011 and then won three medals in a row at the U20 – silver in 2012, and bronze in 2013 and 2014. Nevertheless, those moments pale beside the possibility of playing at the Olympics.
“It’s different for everyone,” he explained. “I mean, personally, I think the Olympics is the biggest, especially in our country. It’s amazing to represent your country and play for your flag and wear the jersey. To me, the Olympics is a bigger thing than the Stanley Cup.”
When he looks back on his childhood in Khabarovsk in the Far East of Russia not far from Korea, one Olympic memory stands out. “When you’re a kid, you always watch that tournament,” he reflected. “It’s the biggest stage there is. I remember watching the game in 2006 when Russia beat Canada in the quarters, when Ovechkin scored. That was huge.”
Grigorenko is a rare example of a Russian who left to play junior hockey in Canada. He went to the Quebec Remparts in 2011 and two years later was drafted a lofty 12th overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
A bit slow to develop, Grigorenko bounced between the NHL and both junior and the minors before getting a more serious chance after a trade to Colorado, where he started under coach Patrick Roy, his coach from the Remparts.
“It was a good experience,” he said of the move to Canada, “learning the language and a different culture, playing under a good coach. It was a good organization in Quebec. I’m happy that I went there and played three amazing years there.”
This past summer, though, the Avs didn’t offer him a contract, and after considering all of his options, he decided to return home and play, for the first time, in the KHL, with CSKA Moscow. Not coincidentally, that freed him up for possible Olympic participation.
“It was just one of the factors,” he explained of the move home. “Obviously, you always think about getting the opportunity to play for the national team, but there were some other factors. The Olympics, though, was definitely one of them.”
Although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the NHL at some point, it’s not a priority at this stage of his career.
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I have a contract in the KHL, so we’ll see what happens. I’m happy where I am right now.”
As for the Russian team in PyeongChang, Grigorenko is full of praise and hope.
“I think we have a little bit of everything,” he said. “We have some experienced guys, younger guys, skilled guys, good defence, amazing goalies. We have some players with NHL experience like Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, so going forward it looks good.”
And Grigorenko hopes to prove himself, with the national team and back home with CSKA Moscow.
“Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’ll do. Throughout my career I’ve played centre and wing, penalty kill, power play. Whatever they want, I think I can do. There’s still a long way to go, but hopefully I can make it.”