About the League
JHC Spartak Moscow’s Ruslan Novruzov used to be a figure skater but left it for hockey and made his way to KHL.
Ruslan Novruzov is a promising Spartak system forward. This Friday he was undeniably the first star of the day in Junior Hockey League as he scored a hat-trick against Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk.
This season Novruzov was called up to Spartak’s KHL team and played nine games, notching his first career point for an assist. However, two years ago the hockey player would have had a hard time to believe that one day he would go on to play in Russia’s major professional league. The forward played in a North American junior hockey league. Fortunately, he moved back to Russia and it proved to be the right decision. Novruzov has played over 150 games in Junior Hockey League scoring 100 points.
Novruzov’s off the ice story is exciting as well. As a kid, he played videogames against people from around the world and got interested in learning foreign languages. Aside from standard English this Spartak forward also learns Spanish.
In this big interview Novruzov opens up about meeting Evgeny Plyuschenko, his troubles in North America, making KHL debut, education and much more.
Outdoor rink, figure skating, Plyuschenko
- Ruslan, it is known that your first stepped on the ice as a figure skater. How did that happen?
- Indeed, that’s what it was. I remember, I was a kid and I was in a gymnastics class. There were a lot of stretching exercises and it used to infuriate me. In the winter I tried skating. My mom was in figure skating but she was an amateur, not a professional. So we figured – why not give it a try? And that’s how I ended up in figure skating. Our class practices at an outdoor rink close to my place. There was a coach and I liked it.
- Do you follow the sport these days?
- My mom likes to watch competitions. Especially, if it’s a Grand Prix. The TV is always on then and I can hear it. I watch it every now and then at lunch and dinner. But I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a figure skating fan.
- How difficult was it to learn to skate? Many people like to look back at the days when they skated with a practice chair.
- I don’t remember it very well but I think I didn’t have much trouble with it. Although, I was very little back then. There were no ‘little penguins’ at the time (laughs).
- If one were to browse through your Instagram profile, they would see a picture of you and Evgeny Plyuschenko together.
- Yes, I met Evgeny Plyuschenko at the rink during summer when I was just skating for fun. Actually, we used to play for amateur hockey teams and there was a chance to take a picture together (smiles). I wouldn’t call us friends but we know each other. Lately, there has been a lot of news regarding Plyuschenko and [Eteri] Tutberidze but I don’t get into it. It’s none of my business.
- Let’s talk about your childhood. What do you remember the most about it?
- If I look back at my hockey childhood, the thing I remember the most is how I switched to going to an outdoor rink next door when the kids played hockey and not figure skated. The winter came to an end and I had to keep improving and getting better. My father brought me to CSKA junior hockey school and at my first practices we just skated in laps for about an hour, I believe. In the end, my father just told me to pack up and leave. He said that we would be back once the real practice begins. After all, I had learned to do all that stuff back at the outdoor rink.
- How did you get into hockey? Was it difficult to switch to a different kind of skating?
- I don’t even remember if I had to make any serious adjustments. As for how I came into hockey in the first place, we had a neighbor whose son played hockey. Whenever we would meet they would nudge me and my parents a little, sort of like, ‘So when are you going to start playing?’. And that’s how my parents and I decided on it. Perhaps, there were some awkward transition phases. Stuff like curling, for instance. But there weren’t any groundbreaking differences.
- You’re a Belye Medvedi Moscow alumnus. The school has produced a lot talented Moscow players. What do you feel looking back at the time?
- We had a good team year in and year out. Everyone worked hard and we really bonded with the guys. Our coach Vladimir Nikolayevich Soldatov rooted and keeps rooting for all of his students. He does his best to come to every game in Moscow. He takes with him players who were born in 2010 – he works with them these days. The most important thing I remember about the time I spent at Belye Medvedi is the team. By that I mean the players, the coaches and everyone else including rink staff. It truly felt like we were a family and that place paved a way for me to hockey.
- How did the bond manifest itself?
- We had a good and well-bonded core of the team. We would give a good run for the money to top teams in our group at Moscow Championship. I remember one tournament very well. Two out of ten teams were to get relegated from the top tier. We played against Krylia Sovetov and won, thus forcing Spartak out of the top tier. It was a sensation. Everyone was taking about it. How could that happen? Notably, we usually didn’t do so well in games against Spartak and yet somehow we got to enjoy one of the most vivid moments of hockey childhood. We just went nuts in the dressing-room after the game (laughs). Actually, one of the biggest off-ice childhood memories was how we would gather in large groups for someone’s birthday and would go to play paintball. There were a lot of guys on our team who were born in summer and fall so the weather was nice.
- Do you stay in touch with your former teammates? Who was your closest friend?
- Right now I’m in the same system with Artyom Serikov. We’ve known each other since we were about ten years old. We talk about various game moments and follow each other’s progress. I still keep in touch with many of our former teammates, even with those who have quit hockey. I can’t say I stay in touch with everyone but definitely with the most.
- Any funny episodes at practices or road trips you can recall?
- There was a lot of fun stuff. Especially in the final, senior year of junior hockey school. Some of the stories would make it past editing but there were a lot of other stories. Like, how some guys would have to do sit-ups with stuff like tables and such (laughs). So, yeah, there was a lot of fun stuff going on.
- When did you realize that you could turn hockey into a profession?
- When I was 16 or 17 years old. I have been on the ice all the time since I was 12. I would go to school for a class or two, then I would head to a camp and practices. I dreamt that I would grow up and become a professional hockey player and would compete at a high level. But I truly realized that I actually may happen only when I turned 16 or 17.
- You spent a season with the Bellingham Blazers of the WSHL. What do you remember about the league?
- There is the elite junior hockey in USA – USHL. Many players from the league get drafted by NHL teams. NAHL and WSHL belong to a so-called second tier. Generally speaking, there are a lot of similarities between them but there are differences in terms of divisional geography. NAHL, I think, is a stronger league on the whole but top WSHL teams could really give them a run for their money and even beat them. I was at a camp with a NAHL team but because it happened pretty much in the middle of the season, I had to go back. It’s not that simple over there. In Junior Hockey League you’re Russian and most players are Russian, while in USA there is a limit for import players. The limit was seven players in my league, while it’s only four in NAHL. You always have to check the current roster. The team, I spent a camp with, already had several import players – a couple of Russians and European guys.
- You scored 102 points in your rookie season – a commendable result.
- Yes, it just sort of happened. I was the youngest player on the team. There were several guys who were born in 2001 and 2002, while I was just getting out of junior hockey school. Perhaps, I was lucky to have the coach like and trust me. I was given a leading role and great linemates. We built excellent chemistry and really felt each other on the ice.
- What surprised you the most in USA or perhaps on the contrary let you down?
- It all began with the flight. I was travelling from Moscow to Los Angeles. That’s a 12-hour non-stop flight. So I left Moscow in the morning and landed in the morning as well. Los Angeles airport is huge and I didn’t understand when I had to go to catch my connection flight. I also remember that I couldn’t find my sticks anywhere and had to wake up my mom – it was three o’clock in the morning in Moscow. But I was instantly surprised how complete strangers treated me. Americans seemed very hospitable to foreigners people. Customs officers joked about and pointed me in the right direction. As for Seattle, where I lived, I was in awe with the nature. There is a lot of greenery out there – forests, mountains, rivers. I really liked that. Interestingly, it kind of looks like the nature was untouched by man over there. You can say that people live in harmony with nature there. It was awesome and I have nothing negative to say in that regard. The only thing that irritated me was that I had to get up early in the morning to study with a personal teacher (smiles).
- How difficult was it to live in a foreign country by yourself?
- I missed my family and girlfriend at first. I was really shy. I didn’t understand if I could take whatever I wanted from the fridge or not. I adjusted to the team in about two weeks. The boys and I went to a national park and to the movies. I liked local cuisine. There were a lot of Chinese and Mexican restaurants. And then homesickness just went away. I was focused on hockey. I wanted to play well and make a name for myself.
- Am I right to understand you stayed at a billet family?
- Yes, and it was wonderful. It was probably the top billet family in town. Our ‘mom’ was a figure skating coach, while the ‘father’ was a businessman. They were giving us even more than we expected. We were happy to live with each other. I stayed there with two other guys – Canadian and American.
- Ivan Bondarenko was a pretty notable player in WSHL. Do you know him?
- No, I don’t. He played for another team. But his father Vitaly was a coach at Belye Medvedi so he consulted me on USA and gave advice. Local guys helped me out to adjust. For example, we would go out for dinner and they push me forward to the cashier so that I would explain what I wanted in my broken English (laughs).
- North America is huge on rookie initiation culture. How was your experience?
- Yes, I went through that. After each draft every older player would take two rookies under his wing. We were to follow all of his instructions – bring over the pucks and sticks, etc. At first, I was mad about it. Why did I have to do that? But then I got used to it. They treated rookies rather fairly on Bellingham but I have heard gruesome stories about other teams. So I what I went through seems child’s play in comparison (smiles). There was another interesting tradition – we went out into the woods and you had to paint yourself, take a branch, stick it somewhere, fool around and tell about yourself. After that we went to a café, watched a football game and sang Tiana Jones’s song Party in the USA. Everyone was laughing when I was singing it – again, because of my English (laughs).
- How did you decide to return to Russia?
- I talked to scouts and coaches in North America but everyone wanted to get younger guys. The teams could choose up to two players at import draft so that had an affect as well. As a result, I listed all pros and cons and decided to come back home, joining Spartak system.
- Do you remember your Junior Hockey League debut?
- I remember the game because we played against Krylia Sovetov. We won 5-4 but I don’t remember how I did. I believe, I didn’t do well.
- How long did it take you to adjust to your new team?
- I had already known a few boys – Andrei Legalin, Yegor Kravchenko and then there was another guy with whom I crossed paths on Belye Medvedi. I got to know everyone else as time went by. I didn’t encounter any trouble in that regard.
- Was making KHL debut the happiest moment of your carreer?
- Of course. It was my dream to play in KHL under such coaches as Oleg Znarok, Harijs Vitolins, Vladimir Fedosov and Maxim Solovyov. If I were told a couple of years ago that I would hit the ice as a Spartak player in a KHL game, I would have just laughed and not believed it.
- Did you get any advice from the coaching staff?
- I didn’t get any advice. Veterans and older guys just pumped me up. That told me I was going to do well and that all I had to do was to play with a cool head.
- Do you have any personal fans?
- Yes, my girlfriend. She comes to my games in Moscow but if we’re on the road not too far from the capital, she may make the trip as well. My mom, dad, friends and acquaintances also come to cheer for me.
- You studied linguistics, which is rather unusual for an athlete.
- I studied linguistics for six months at Moscow State Pedagogical University. At first I was able to come to classes but then I had to skip them because of practices and games. Besides, there was a rating system in place so I had to drop out. I major in the same field now at Synergy University. I study online there, which is more comfortable for me. However, this education is not my final destination. I want to improve and keep going further.
- Does learning foreign languages comes easy to you?
- Ever since I was a little kid my mom would hire private tutors in foreign languages for me but I wasn’t really keen on learning. I just wanted to fiddle with my computer and play with the boys. Although, truth be told that’s exactly how I got interested in learning foreign languages in the first place – I played online against a lot of foreigners. Then I went to America and I got convinced that I had to study. It’s fair to say that for six month I spoke only English. I picked up conversational English pretty well but I still struggle with writing.
- Is Spanish your second foreign language?
- Yes, I study English and Spanish. I had started learning Spanish back at Moscow State Pedagogical University but it’s fair to say that I started all over now. Obviously, I do remember certain things but it’s about 10% of what I had known. So I struggle with Spanish now.
- Do you plan to become a professional linguist once you retire from hockey?
- It’s a skill that can be useful in different ways. For instance, if you speak another language you can work in Europe and not just in Russia. It can give your career a nudge. In the future, I would be interested in coaching or perhaps working as a translator for a coach. However, I really haven’t given it much thought yet. It’s still too early.
- What are your interests? Do you have any unusual hobby?
- I used to be really into scary escape-rooms. It was funny when someone would jump out at you and all of your friends shriek in terror (laughs). Sometimes you would even rile them up just to see them tear it like jackrabbits. But now I either go for a walk or stay home whenever I have time to spare. I can’t say that there really is a thing I’m into.
- What is the most exotic place on the planet you have been to?
- That would be Lake Taho up in a mountain town in California. Since it’s up in the mountains, it’s warm and cold at the same time. NHL plans to host to outdoor games at the lake and I have been there already. Actually, I would like to travel USA a bit more as well as Latin America. I wouldn’t want to go Asia or Africa just yet, although there must be exciting places to visit as well.
- What are Ruslan Novruzov’s goals for the near future?
- I would like to help Spartak win a trophy. We have a great group of guys on the junior team. We all help each other out and constantly do our best to get better. I feel we can do well in the regular season and the playoffs. We can go for a deep run and then, who knows, maybe we can go all the way. My goals are the highest. I would to party with a cup.