OTTAWA - Alexei Yashin is back on the ice in Ottawa.
The former Ottawa Senator was recently named general manager of the Russian women's team in order help the country finish on the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
He's overseeing the team at the women's world championships in Ottawa. Yashin doesn't sit in the stands and watch the women practise. He's out on the ice participating in drills and giving the women tips.
"I saw the biggest opportunity where I can really help," Yashin explains. "I saw a lot of things I could bring to the table.
"These girls, they needed some spark and some attention towards them. I was hoping I could bring certain things that other people can't with some of my experience and connections."
Russia didn't win a game in last year's world championship in Burlington, Vt., but could finish no worse than sixth because they were seeded in the top group.
The Russians were seeded in the second group in Ottawa and are 4-0 heading into Monday's semifinal against Canada.
The Russian Ice Hockey Federation named Mikhail Chekanov as the women's new coach for this year. But Yashin's appointment is groundbreaking for women's hockey in a country that ignored it until Sochi won the bid to host the Games.
"His name brings a lot of attention to our team, especially in Russia," forward Iya Gavrilova says. "We've got more sponsorship coming to the team, we get more attention from the media. People now recognize that they have a women's team in Russia."
"He goes on the ice and he practices with us. He shows his skills and shares a lot of experience. He sees a lot of little things and suggests a lot of things like how to make little plays on the power play and how to play in front of the net."
Russia's stated goal is to win bronze in women's hockey in Sochi.
Yashin, 39, played a dozen seasons in the NHL for both the Senators and the Islanders. He also represented Russia at three Winter Olympics. His seasons with the Senators and Islanders were tumultuous.
Chosen second overall in the 1992 draft by Ottawa, Yashin helped the Sens win their first playoff series in 1998 with an overtime winner against the New Jersey Devils.
He scored 94 points for Ottawa in 1998-99 and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy that year, but sat out the entire following season in a contract dispute.
Yashin was a polarizing figure in Ottawa because of his talent on the ice, but he generated ill will among fans by demanding new contracts multiple times.
The Senators dealt him in 2001 to the Islanders, who signed him to what was then an astounding 10-year, $87.5 million contract. The Isles never made it out of the first round during his five seasons there.
After a knee injury abbreviated his 2006-07 season, the Islanders bought out his contract even though there were several years remaining on it.
Yashin played five seasons in Russia and his last with CKSA Moscow in 2011-12.
He's been in a relationship with model Carol Alt since he was a Senator and she accompanied him back to Ottawa for the world championship. Yashin's parents also live in Ottawa.
"A lot of people remember me from when I was playing here, so it's very good," Yashin says. "They're very receptive."
"It's part of my life. I was here for eight years. It's been a great experience."
Yashin seemed distant and uninterested at times during his NHL career, but he exudes real warmth on the ice with the Russian women and enjoys participating in their practices.
"Seeing him care so much about us, it shows his respect towards the girls," Gavrilova says. "His leadership is very big for us."
Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser applaud's Yashin's addition to the Russian team.
"When a proven NHL pro steps on the ice, just even watching him and his body language and how he moves can even help the players improve and also gives them confidence," Wickenheiser says.
"I know that in Russia, in a lot of cases, they think women should not be playing hockey, so for a player like that to step up and say 'hey, I believe in this team and this program,' that says a lot for those women and gives them a lot to go on."