About the League
Eastern Conference fifth seed eliminated the top team of the regular season.
Tolpar Ufa beat Chayka Nizhny Novgorod at both home games, clinched the series 3-1 and proceeded to Kharlamov Cup Semifinals.
The teams had a split in Nizhny Novgorod. Tolpar took Game 1 4-1, while the hosts bounced back the following day with a solid win – Eastern Conference regular season champions enjoyed an 8-2 victory.
After such a beatdown it seemed that Chayka had the mental and game momentum on their side. However, Ufa head-coach Igor Grishin noted right after the blowout loss that it was too early to give up on his team. Tolpar also caught a lucky break with Salavat Yulaev Ufa getting eliminated from Gagarin Cup contention. Rodion Amirov and Danila Bashkirov were sent down to Salavat’s major junior teams as reinforcements.
Tolpar won both games on home ice and for the first time in ten years made it to Kharlamov Cup Semifinals where they will meet JHC Dynamo Moscow. Amirov registered an assist in the first game, while Bashkirov scored his first goal in the following bout. We spoke to Tolpar head-coach Igor Grishin about the past series and how much of a role played the reinforcements from KHL.
“We all very satisfied and happy,” said Grishin. “Semifinal is a serious stage and a huge achievement for any Junior Hockey League team. The appetite comes with the meal. We’re going to gradually move towards our goal.”
− Tolpar made it to the semifinal round for the first time in ten years. Have you put the emphasis on that?
- I knew that Tolpar didn’t make it past the opening round in the past few years but I didn’t know if the team made it to the semifinal stage. We didn’t tell the boys that. We just readied them for the games and victories.
- You scored two goals in the opening period of action and then switched to playing with more caution. Why did you do that?
- We deviated a little bit from our gameplan, which we had coming into the game. The opposition came out super motivated for the second period. We won the opening 20 and warned our boys that the opposition will come out mean for the second period. That’s exactly what happened. The boys wanted to play the beautiful passing game but their short passes weren’t working anymore because the opposition switched to playing very aggressively. We didn’t tell the boys to simplify the game, we told them to play the right way. So they wouldn’t get the puck into their defensive zone too often and do their best to switch the play to the other end of the ice once the puck was retrieved. We struggled a little in that component. We pointed out these aspects in the second intermission and the boys pulled themselves together in the final frame. We even had the momentum on our side in the second half of the third period and we could score more goals.
− You won two games after getting blown out of the water 8-2. How difficult was it to switch mentally after that devastating loss?
- The final score doesn’t matter in the playoffs. It’s better to lose 8-2 once rather than lose three times 2-1. We didn’t put any emphasis on that at all. Avangard [Omsk] lost to Metallurg [Magnitogorsk] 7-1 in KHL playoffs but that doesn’t mean that Omsk has a weak team that fell apart. After the 8-2 loss we took a closer look at our mistakes and discussed them. The game gave us an extra impulse. They boys pulled themselves together and played well.
- How much of a role played Rodion Amirov and Danila Bashkirov in these wins?
- A huge role. Just having Amirov and Bashkirov around gave confidence to the others. You can see the level of their skill right away. It affected our team in a positive way – everyone else began playing a more mature brand of hockey. Unfortunately, Salavat Yulaev couldn’t make it to the next round but we’re happy that we now have Amirov and Bashkirov at our disposal.
- What adjustments did you make after Game 2?
- We did our best to adjust mentally. We had to forget about the unfortunate game. We were working on it even before Game 2 ended. We told the boys that they had to win the third period so that positive momentum would carry over into the next game. And we did win the third period 2-1. That probably gave us a certain impulse as well. You don’t have to focus on the huge margin. It happens sometimes. Sometimes a team takes 20 shots and scores eight goals, while the opposition has only two goals to show for taking 40 shots. The puck can pop of the post back into play and it can ring into the back of the net. That happens very often in hockey. We analyzed the game, discussed it and did our best to put it behind us.
- You’re going to face JHC Dynamo Moscow in the semifinal round now.
- We know that Dynamo has a very strong team this season. They have powerful players born in 2002 and 2001. I used to work in Moscow and I know well that they have a strong championship there. I expected them to perform well but I didn’t expect them to finish on top of the table in the regular season. Looks like their coaching staff did a tremendous job. We haven’t taken a look at their games yet but I have an idea about Dynamo’s brand of hockey. I don’t expect them to have any surprises for us.
− Would you consider Dynamo to be a favorite in every Junior Hockey League matchup?
- If you’re taking about the current season, then yes, I do. Until this season Dynamo’s major junior team hasn’t really been in the spotlight. They get closer to their goal with every step they take. It’s a very serious opponent and the games promise to be exciting. We’re getting ready and we’re not going to go down without a fight in the semifinal round.
Tolpar don’t hide the fact that having Rodion Amirov and Danila Bashkirov sent down from KHL’s Salavat as reinforcement had a huge impact on the team. Let’s talk to Bashkirov himself, who scored his first goal of the 2021 Kharlamov Cup Playoffs in the deciding game of the series against Chayka Nizhny Novgorod.
“The games were really tough and difficult because the opposition also had players with VHL and KHL experience,” said Bashkirov. “Today we scored two quick goals and then they took the momentum from us. We switched to playing defense a little after that, our play got a little bit chaotic and we gave up the puck too often. It’s great that we managed to pull through in the third frame and won the game.”
− You scored two goals in the opening period of action but you couldn’t score after that. Did you lack something or was it just the lack of luck?
- I think, it had more to do with us going soft a little. We gave up the puck when we shouldn’t have in our zone. They played hard against us and got the momentum fully on their side. And that’s why we fell apart in the second period. We spoke with the boys in the intermission, did our best to simplify the game in the last frame and played with more calm. It’s great that everything ended well for us.
- How would you compare the level of competition in Junior Hockey League playoffs with that of KHL?
- The level of competition in Kharlamov Cup playoffs is also pretty high. A lot of players have experience at men’s level. Everyone battles hard and do their best. It was a little difficult to adjust to junior hockey level at first. The level of play in Junior Hockey League is very high. You have to give it a 100% in every game and leave everything on the ice.
- Do you think your presence with Amirov on the ice scared Chayka Nizhny Novgorod players?
- I don’t know. I can’t get into their heads. But I doubt that. The boys battled hard. They weren’t scared of us. They laid hits, hooked us with their sticks and did their best to throw us off our game. We played with calm and did our best to not retaliate.
- Tolpar didn’t make Kharlamov Cup Semifinals for ten years. Did it matter to you? Have you discussed it amongst yourselves?
- Of course, because we have a great group of guys here. The boys gained game experience in VHL and even on Salavat Yulaev during quarantine. All of our lines are on a roll. Everyone does his best. Igor Karpov, Artyom Gorshkov and Mark Andreyev, who still wear full-face masks, compete hard. They’re doing a great job – and they help the team in a big way. Everyone gives everything he has. There are no reproaches towards anyone.
-In the upcoming round Tolpar will face the biggest favorite of this Junior Hockey League season – JHC Dynamo Moscow.
- We have a good team, there’s nothing to be afraid of. We have what it takes. Obviously, we have some very tough games ahead of us. It’s going to get very physical. All we can do now is take the hits and work hard, because it’s the playoffs. This is my last year in Junior Hockey League. This is why I want to go out on a high not and achieve the highest goals.