Loko Yaroslavl forward Stepan Nikulin got off to a great start in 2021. In January he climbed to Top-3 players of the league in assists and also got in front of everyone in Junior Hockey League points. Top forward of the month shares his line’s secrets of productivity, his unusual nickname and upcoming playoffs.
“It was great to be named the player of the month but I can’t say that I did something supernatural. My teammates have a lot to do with the success. The guys create a lot of scoring chances and pass the puck really well,” says Nikulin.
- Your line Chefanov-Nikulin-Abrosimov is the most productive in the league. In 58 regular season games you combined for 83 goals – that’s a third of all Loko goals this season. What is your secret?
- The biggest reason behind our productivity is that we have played together for a really long time. We were first put on the same line back when we were kids. Our first coach put all three of us together. But we didn’t do well at junior hockey school tournaments so they broke the line up. We got to play together next time only in 2016. They looked for a third forward to add to our line with Abrosimov for a long time and we asked to put Chefanov with us. We have played together ever since. This year our coaches give us a lot of ice-time and we do our best to live up to their expectations.
- JHC Dynamo Moscow’s top line Kisakov-Makhrin-Lukhovskoy was nicknamed Bounty on the team because ‘it’s a heavenly pleasure to play with them’. What do your teammates call your line?
- When Dmitry Ivanovich Krasotkin was Loko head-coach, he called us Nikulin-Vitsin-Morgunov or Coward-Dummy-Grizzled! (laughs)
- You and Ruslan Abrosimov top Junior Hockey League in points, while Chefanov is fourth on the list.
- All in all, Loko is the most high-scoring team in Junior Hockey League. We play offensive-minded hockey, constantly pressure the opposition and always tend to have the momentum on our side. That’s brings results. No one on our line closely follows their individual statistics. We just have fun playing hockey and do our best to be as helpful as we can to our team.
- Loko play part of their home games at Arena-2000. It must be extra emotional to play at the town’s biggest rink?
- It is. And most of all because they allow fans to Arena-2000. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus restrictions they don’t allow fans to Lokomotiv Arena yet. It’s so great to play in front of fans. Their support is really helpful and you can feel the energy of the game. Hopefully, all playoff games will have fans. I have very good memories regarding Arena-2000 from my childhood. I remember when Lokomotiv celebrated their 20th anniversary, I was a member of a kid hockey team and we played a tournament at the rink – it was awesome!
- Regular season is winding down to an end. Are you worried heading into the playoffs?
- A little because I have a meagre experience when it comes to the playoffs, even though this is my fourth year in Junior Hockey League. I didn’t make the team in my rookie year and last season I played just three games in the opening round before the pandemic broke out. This season I want to compete in the playoffs for real, show what I’m capable of the season’s deciding games and help my team win a trophy. What opponent would I like to face in the opening round? In my opinion, our toughest games of the year we against JHC Spartak Moscow. I think, that would be the least favorable opponent for us in the opening round. In any case, playoffs are never easy.
- Many famous coaches have worked with Loko over the past few seasons – Dmitry Krasotkin, Alexander Ardashev, Denis Grebeshkov…
- Every coach has his own approach and you can learn a lot of useful things from all of them. For example, the most important thing for Denis Sergeyevich Grebeshkov is to have the right approach to hockey, games and practices. For Igor Viktorovich Melyakov it’s all about being creative and finding unusual ways to make plays happen. As for Dmitry Ivanovich Krasotkin, he just likes to see beautiful hockey!