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JHC Dynamo Moscow leads 2-0 in Kharlamov Cup Semifinal series against Tolpar Ufa. The blue-and-white need just one win to close it out. However, according to Tolpar captain Pavel Yelizarov, Ufa are not too keen on letting Dynamo get to the finals.
JHC Dynamo Moscow goaltender Vadim Zherenko also agrees that the series is far from over. He spent most of the season in VHL but after Dynamo’s affiliate got eliminated from the playoffs, Zherenko returned to the club’s major junior team. In this interview he opens up about the level of hockey in Kharlamov Cup Playoffs, series against Tolpar and the goal he allowed on Rodion Amirov’s shot.
− You face an Eastern Conference team for the first time this season in the semifinal series. How different is Tolpar Ufa in comparison with Western Conference teams?
- I wouldn’t say there any differences. There are good teams and skilled players in our division as well as out East. It’s difficult to prepare for any opponent. It doesn’t matter if you face someone for the first time or not. You always study the opposition and they do the same. That’s why every game – especially in the playoffs – is difficult. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an Eastern or a Western team.
- Have you changed anything in your practice approach for the series against Tolpar?
- I’m not going to disclose all of my secrets. I was getting ready for the series against Tolpar with a goaltending coach. We watched their highlights and also talked about my game so I couldn’t tweak and improve certain things.
- JHC Dynamo Moscow is riding an 11-game winning streak, which started back in the regular season. How is your team able to keep up the right mindset?
- I believe every player on our team hits the ice looking only to win. We do everything our coaching staff demands of us. I think, these things combined are what gets us the right results.
- Dynamo and Tolpar combined for just 12 penalty minutes in the first two games of the series. Does the pressure of playing in the semifinal has anything to do with it?
- Like I said, it’s the semifinal. You’re going to get punished for every penalty you take and no team is willing to give that advantage to the opposition. Everyone tries their best to play with the utmost caution as not to give the opposition that advantage.
- After the decisive win in Game 1 did your coach warn you that it might not be that simple in the next game?
- Of course, we spoke about it in the locker-room. We won Game 1 and it was obvious that the opposition would look to bounce back in Game 2. They were determined to get a win on the road. It’s great that we didn’t let them do that.
- What is the reason behind these outcomes? Did you spend a lot of emotions in Game 1?
- Perhaps, we were better at neutralizing offensive rushes by the opposition in Game 1. We didn’t do that as well in Game 2. It’s great that we still managed to get a win.
- Did Tolpar surprise you in any way in Game 2?
- I wouldn’t say they surprised us. We just let the opposition show what they’re capable off more. We often got carried away in the offensive zone. They have good offense, they can break loose and they’re good at transition plays. Sometimes we would get carried away in the offensive zone and they would make us pay for that.
- You scored goals only in the second period, even though you were creating scoring chances all through the game. How would you explain it?
- Opposing goaltender was doing a great job. It’s great that we managed to win in the shootout. We’re going to do our best in Game 3 to score as much as we can.
- Tolpar can play their last game of the season this Wednesday. This is the first time in the playoffs that Ufa faces elimination. Are they going to get more nervous in this situation?
- I don’t think so, no. They don’t say it for nothing that a wounded beast is twice as dangerous. Tolpar have nothing to lose. On the contrary, they’re going to play aggressively from the get-go. It’s going to be an exciting game. We have a certain gap but we play to win in every game without exception. They shouldn’t expect us to lose focus. We’re going to come out hard.
- Is it difficult to play two playoff games in a row?
- Of course. It’s very difficult. Not so much from the physical standpoint but from the emotional. It’s difficult to keep concentration. Sometimes you have to be able to switch off. Perhaps, it’s better to forget about hockey for a while, watch a movie or something and hit the ice ready to battle the next day.
- What is your take on the level of play in Kharlamov Cup Playoffs compared to VHL?
- It’s difficult to compare the two leagues. VHL players are a little more skilled. There’s no freewheeling hockey. Everything is more academic. It’s skate and shoot over there as the defense doesn’t let the opposition create something out of the box. In Junior Hockey League everyone is free to experiment. The boys play for fun. There’s more freedom and passing plays. That’s why the two leagues shouldn’t be compared. It’s two different brands of hockey. And the level of play in Junior Hockey League is very high. Every team has players at this point who were sent down from KHL and VHL.
- Were you nervous at all prior to the shootout?
- I was a little nervous. We played on home ice and a lot of fans came to support us. I’m very thankful to them for coming out to support us. We couldn’t lose the shootout on home ice. We came out and won it.
- You let Rodion Amirov score on his attempt – he’s one of the main stars in your age group. Does the goal showcase his skillset?
- Of course. Rodion is a very skilled forward and he has a lot of flair. I have met him on Team Russia. Obviously, I didn’t want to allow a goal but it’s nothing to worry about. I was kind of expecting him to go for the shot he did but he still managed to score. It’s great that we won so it didn’t matter as much in the end.