About the League
Yaroslav Lyuzenkov has coached Sibirskie Snaipery and won Junior Hockey League bronze before joining JHC Dynamo Moscow
Prior to last season the blue-and-white had missed Junior Hockey League post-season for four straight years. In 2019-20 Dynamo finished 11th in Western Conference regular season standings. After that Yaroslav Lyuznekov took over the helm, replacing Alexander Zhurik.
In Lyuzenkov’s debut season Dynamo finished sixth in Western Conference regular season standings and made the playoffs for the first time in five years. Moscow got eliminated in the opening round of the Kharlamov Cup post-season but their progress has been evident. This year Lyuzenkov led Dynamo to their first championship in franchise history. The blue-and-white finished on top Western Conference standings, made it to the finals without a single loss and beat Loko Yaroslavl – a 3-time Kharlamov Cup champion – in five games.
Alexei Shevchenko sat down with Dynamo’s head-coach Yaroslav Lyuznekov to talk about turning the franchise around, Kharlamov Cup Finals against Loko and no cursing on the bench.
- You have to agree that the final series against Loko was exactly a tough one for your team.
- You can say whatever you want now. We won the series 4-1 and it seems that there was no intrigue. But as the matter of fact it wasn’t easy at all. We won Game 1 only in the shootout. It was a bit easier in Game but we had a trip to Yaroslavl ahead of us. That was the toughest part. We absolutely had to win at least one game on the road.
- And yet you started the road trip with a loss.
- We quickly discussed with the players certain moments after that game. When we won Game 4 it got a lot easier for us. That was the first moment when I thought that we had a chance to finish the series [on home ice] in Krasnogorsk.
- It was surprising to see how the team reacted to the loss in Yaroslavl. No one was nervous, no one was angry. There was a lot of smiling as if nothing happened. It was business as usual.
- We had a day to rest and recover so we could hit the ice with a cool head the next day and perform on the ice the way we got accustomed to this season. We didn’t have to adjust for the opposition. It doesn’t work for us.
- What was the biggest mistake you made in Game 3?
- The boys hit the ice, looked at the stands, saw a large number of fans and decided that it would be better to give up the momentum to Yaroslavl and put the emphasis entirely on quick transition plays. Hockey players got our words wrong. Certainly, you need quick transition plays but only as a supplement to other things we got accustomed to do. After the second period I came into the dressing-room and said, ‘Boys, you have to stop it right now. We just get way too close to our own net and you just can’t do that’. After I said it, we began generating scoring chances. Had Bogdan Trineyev tied the game up at the right time, the momentum would have been on our side. We were unable to do that but at least we went back to our brand of hockey. I pulled the goaltender long before the buzzer. Even when the puck was chipped out to the neutral zone, I didn’t put [Vadim] Zherenko back in goal. I thought, What difference does it make if we allow the third goal or not. At least, we had a chance to bring it back to even.
- Deciding game turned out to be unusual. It didn’t look similar to others.
- Games like that are not rare in junior hockey. Free-wheeling hockey with the focus on offense by both sides. At first we were able to do everything we wanted but in the third period the boys began checking the board way too often and count minutes till the final buzzer. It’s not like us and you just can’t do that anyway. Let’s not forget that Vadim Zherenko wasn’t fully healthy in that game. He got food-poisoning the day before and he took pills. I have nothing negative to say about his play. However, our defensemen who were aware of the problem went too far in trying to help the goaltender out. That led them to trying to block too many shots, which impeded Vadim from doing his job.
- Did you get nervous when Yaroslavl made it 5-3?
- I began thinking that Loko players managed to come back in the game against Irbis [Kazan] in a similar way. We went to the dressing-room with that score on the board. As the coaching staff, we did our best to make the players clear their minds off thought about that game if they had any.
- The nuances are clear, even though it was expected to be a completely different series. Has it seemed to you that you faced an entirely different opponent comparing to the one you prepared for?
- Perhaps. Sometimes they were unable to play their usual brand of hockey. I can’t explain where that stems from. It’s unlikely it has something to do with the absence of their starting goaltender. After all, Yegor Gorshkov, who replaced Yegor Guskov, played really well. On the other hand, due to losing their starting goaltender Yaroslavl could plan to focus on quick transition plays. But their team played really well in the second period of the last game. Had they played that way the whole series, it would have been much tougher for us.
- Daniil Gutik plays for JHC Dynamo Moscow. He was traded from Loko Yaroslavl midway through the season and he was very motivated. Did you have to calm him down at times and not let him get over-emotional?
- Gutik was pumped up and motivated in every game against Loko this season – including the regular season. I didn’t have to come up to him and remind him of anything. He went out there and proved to his former team that they made a mistake.
- Sometimes these emotions led to unnecessary penalties.
- It did happen sometimes. But, you know, by that logic I had to talk individually to every player and calm them down. I mean, these are young players, who are eager to go into battle and sometimes they go too far. One time I had to tell Daniil to cool it and just play hockey instead of chasing someone around the ice.
- Not every Junior Hockey League team got reinforcements in more experienced players sent down from KHL and VHL that worked for them. However, all players who joined your team seemed to find their role.
- I’m going to go at length about Dmitry Rashevsky in a bit. As for the other guys, they had been on our team last season. Vadim Zherenko struggled a bit last season and this year he wanted to make up for those hiccups in the playoffs. I can say the same about Vladislav Mikhailov, Oleg Zaitsev, Andrei Pribylsky, Yegor Bryzgalov and Yegor Alanov. They had extra motivation because they wanted to make up for the previous season – you could really feel it. And now about Rashevsky. He played a few games in the regular season and it kind felt out of sync. We struggled to find chemistry with him. He continued to struggle in the first few playoff games. We just couldn’t get through to the forward. Only after some time had passed, did he begin to blossom at practices and felt at home. It felt that Dima was too shy to play the game at the level he’s capable of. But then he felt that he was a member of Dynamo family just like everyone else. He felt that we were a team united by a common goal. That’s when Rashevsky grew a pair of wings and began being helpful for the team.
- What exactly did you do in that difficult situation?
- We didn’t have any extra talks or meetings. Sometime you would just say a few words at practices – the ones that would make the hockey player smile and realize your demands. I bred confidence in him. Rashevsky began realizing that he can do a lot and all he had to do was just prove his worth. Meetings are useless in this type of situation because hockey players get way too serious at them.
- Whose progress you enjoyed the best this season?
- I can’t answer the question because I would have to talk about every player. I was happy with the hard work the boys did this year. They motivated each other to work harder. And our coaching staff kept reminding them that it’s important when everyone gives a 100% at his job. Then you’re guaranteed that when a difficult moment in the game comes, no one is going to fail.
- Were there any players this season who couldn’t bond with the team?
- Not as many as the year before. I can recall just Alexander Barakhtin, who joined Dynamo from Omskie Yastreby. He played one game but you could see at practices that he was a little bit off and a little unsuited for the team.
- Yegor Smirnov said that you almost never curse and that you have a way to motivate with simple words. Have you decided that cursing on the bench doesn’t work?
- Yegor exaggerates a lot (smiles). Although, my father taught me that you have to speak without cursing and calmly. The more you yell, the less they listen. That’s what he kept telling me. Perhaps, that approach to conversing with people helps me. I never lost my cool throughout the season. Even in the last regular season when we lost to Kunlun Red Star, we had just a 30-second meeting. That’s really all that was necessary. However, there were no tough moments like that this year.
- You did struggle on home ice against Sakhalinskie Akuly and Taifun Primorie Region.
- We lost in the shootout but the problems were evident for me. Back over that stretch the players were under heavy practices. It’s really difficult to look energized on the ice when you practice twice a day.
- That memorable game against the Chinese team Dynamo lost 1-0, even though the opposition had a line and a half. At the time there was a rumor that the outcome of the game seems shady. Had you have any suspicions?
- Not a trace of doubt in my mind. I have my full confidence in the boys. Yes, there was a lot of speculation on the subject and a lot has been written about it but I said right away that I had reproaches towards my players only regarding the level of play they showed that day. Had I had the slights doubt in anybody, that player wouldn’t have stayed on my team.
- Right after you got to hoist the cup you said interesting words, “If I schedule a tough practice for tomorrow, everyone is going to show up. That’s the kind of group we have here.” How difficult was it to build a team like that?
- Last season it was a lot more difficult. Back then I had to build the team brick by brick. I came up against different difficulties but we didn’t give up. This season it was a lot easier. Last spring our season ended prematurely but we were constantly in touch during the pandemic. We even practiced together. At the time it wasn’t the physical workload that matter the most but staying in touch. Hockey players had to realize that we thought about them all the time. That really facilitated everything. The boys were able to easily overcome whatever workload we gave them and they did it together.
- You have always underlined that you respect the media. However, they say that you decided to keep distance for the playoffs. Have you caved in?
- That’s not exactly right. During the playoffs I refused to participate only at two events. First, our team was invited to go to a soccer game prior to the start of the final series against Loko. I was against it. And then I didn’t let the cameraman into the dressing-room prior to Game 5. And letting the media come to practice was out of the question.
- I really like the way you act behind the bench. You’re always the same whether your team scores or gets scored on.
- You just didn’t see me after we scored the seventh goal on Loko!
- I did see that but that’s the kind of situation anybody would lose their cool in.
- Actually, I do my best to keep my emotions in check. You know, I began my career on Krylia Sovetov [Moscow] when Igor Dmitriev was the head-coach. And we was always very calm behind the bench. So I kind of took that composure during the games from him. Certainly, I’m calm on the outside but if I let my emotions run wild, it’s going to affect the hockey players right away. They feel that kind of vibe really well.
- When should we expect to see you in KHL?
- I don’t know. Every coach wants to work at the high level but I believe that you have to be ready for it 100%. There’s no point in going to KHL to leave it right away. I still have a lot to learn. For example, the way older players should be approached. Practices, getting ready for the game – it’s not the most difficult thing. I’m not worried about that at all. But talking to older players on a daily basis is a real science. I have to get more experienced.