Life in a rented apartment with alarm clock set to 5 o’clock. How Yegor Savikov become Junior Hockey League’s top offensive-minded defenseman

Interview
16.09.2021 в 14:00
Life in a rented apartment with alarm clock set to 5 o’clock. How Yegor Savikov become Junior Hockey League’s top offensive-minded defenseman
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JHC Spartak Moscow defenseman was on fire at Ladiya Togliatti and Team Russia. Now he’s getting his feet wet in men’s hockey

Yegor Savikov led all Junior Hockey League defensemen in scoring last season. He’s not shy about his career ambitions. He became a true star in Junior Hockey League and led Ladiya Togliatti in scoring last season. Savikov is ready to conquer the next rung of professional hockey ladder and eyes to become a regular in VHL with Khimik Voskresensk. However, the young star dreams of getting much higher.

“If my team wins and I scored points – that’s the optimal outcome”

- You joined JHC Spartak Moscow from Ladiya Togliatti. How difficult was it for you to move to the red-and-white?
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It turned out really well for me. I was greeted well on the team and everyone supported me. But right now I practice and play in VHL for Khimik Voskresensk. I played just one game for Spartak because Khimik he was late at adding me to their roster.

- Do you know already how much time you’re going to spend in VHL? Will you play for JHC Spartak Moscow this season again?
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I moved here in hopes of making the KHL team. It was my biggest goal for the season. I was sent down to JHC Spartak Moscow because Khimik didn’t have the time to add me to their roster. It happened because I went to Four Nations tournament with Team Russia. I came back to Voskresensk and the game was about to start. I was told I couldn’t play for Khimik in the season-opener. That’s when I was offered to help JHC Spartak and I decided not to refuse. So my current disposition was predictable. That’s exactly what I was aiming for.

- You led all Junior Hockey League defensemen in scoring last season with 34 points in 56 games. How did you develop this passion for offense?
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It just so happened that I began joining offensive rushes regularly. And I scored most of my points in the first half of the regular season. As we were getting closer to the playoffs and the games were becoming more and more intense, I tried to focus on playing good defense. Scoring points became less of a priority. Actually, it was always the lesser priority because winning games as a team is more important. If my team wins and I score points, that’s the best possible outcome.

- Did they coaches build the game model around you? How did it happen that you led the league in points?
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I had had the biggest ice-time on the team. I play a lot even on Khimik. After all, I’m not a defensive-minded defenseman. I’m not a stay-at-home defenseman. I’m an offensive-minded defenseman. It stems from the fact that I don’t have a large frame and I have to compensate for that somehow. But if I can’t score points, I do my best to be as effective as possible on defense so that my team wouldn’t allow goals when I’m on the ice. So far I have able to pull it off.

- Does Khimik coaching staff stop you from joining offensive rushes? After all the team plays in a men’s league, not junior.
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Our game style still suggests that defensemen join the rushes. Obviously, there’s less of that than in junior hockey because the price of mistake is higher. There’s a huge possibility you’re going to get caught and have to pay for that – you would either allow a breakaway or a quick transition play. So if I do join the rush, I do my best to do it with confidence.

“I played as a center in two games. I won just one face-off”

- Have you ever been put on offense?
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I have. When we had a few injuries on Ladiya last season, the coach put my in as a center for two games.

- Center? Did you take face-offs?
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Obviously, I didn’t do well at the face-offs. I lost almost all of them. I won just one – the very first. I took the puck and thought to myself, ‘Well, looks like I’m going to be alright. But not. I lost every single face-off after that. All in all, I have a lot of similarities in my game with forwards. I try to do my best on offense and defense.

- How difficult was it for you to find balance between keeping up with the forwards and yet get back on defense in timely fashion? How does one learn that?
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That’s where coach’s advice is really important. You have to learn from your mistakes. Personally, I have always talk to the coaches after games. They would give me advice, tell me where I lost my focus or when I shouldn’t have joined the rush or when I should have backchecked better. Usually, I’m told that you can join offensive rushes more often in the first two periods. That’s when you can allow yourself to be more creative. And in the third period – especially if our team is up by a goal or two – you should play more conservative and concentrate on protecting the lead. That’s when you should aim to simplify your game.

Even now when I play in a men’s league, center forwards often come to me and say, ‘I got your back, don’t worry, join the rush. That’s why I try to help out offensively and score goals. Although, obviously, I never set a goal for myself to score a goal. Even last season I didn’t score all that often. Most of my points come from assists.

- Do forwards get jealous at you? You have more points than certain forwards.
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Sometimes they tease me about it, yeah. Sometimes it happens. But jealousy – never. I mean, I move the puck, too, so they could score goals.

“There are more young players on Team Russia and hockey is more fast-paced”

- What were your first impressions on men’s hockey? Were you scared?
- The team made me feel welcome. I was pleasantly surprised that there was such a great group of guys in the dressing-room. There are some veterans on Khimik and older players. Before that I had played at a pre-season tournament Sochi Hockey Open. I played against Kontinental Hockey League players and that really helped me. I got to see the level of play in men’s hockey. It gave me more confidence in my abilities. And that’s why I believe I was able to make a good debut in VHL.

- Did Voskresensk veterans fetched you for coffee or put you in the corner of the dressing-room?
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No, no, nothing like that ever happened. I believe, it’s a thing of the past. On the contrary, everyone was really supportive and made sure I felt confident. Sometimes they would give me advice and cheer me up. A few veteran guys from KHL Spartak’s were sent down to us and they helped me out as well. There’s a great atmosphere in the dressing-room.

- You represented Team Russia at Four Nations tournament. How different is club from international? Where is it more difficult to compete?
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It’s tough to play anywhere. The fact that you represent Team Russia and you wear the crest in front of your jersey and that you defend national colors – that calls for extra responsibility. But that’s just prior to the game. You forget all about it once you hit the ice. There are a lot of young players on Team Russia and the hockey is more fast-paced. As for the style, Team Russia is all about the passing game. Everyone is set to move the puck. You’re allowed to make mistakes. Everyone tries to play physical without any dump-ins. As the matter of fact, Khimik follows a similar game model so it wasn’t really all that difficult to adjust.

- Are you saying you’re not going to get fined for not clearing the puck out of the zone in time?
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No. But in the third period – especially if our team is ahead – it’s better to move it out so the team could get a rest.

- Who would you say is your role model in Kontinental Hockey League?
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I don’t follow anybody personally. I just try to pick up a few things from many players so I could add it to my game and become a better player.

“Moscow is like Samara and Voskresensk is like Novokuybyshevsk”

- You were born in Novokuybyshevsk, which is not far from Samara. What kind of town is it? Is there a junior hockey school there?
- It’s a small town close to Samara. At first I began playing bandy or rather floorball because we played indoors, not outdoors. A few years ago an ice rink was built in Novokuybyshevsk. I was there and went for a skate. It’s great to see the rink in my hometown and that people have the option of playing sports. I travel there every summer and prepare for the season.

As for the actual hockey, I was noticed by a coach from a junior hockey school in Samara He told me that I definitely should try hockey because I had the skills for it. So I went and tried. After all, I have skated since I was four years old. I skated in Samara. The only problem was is that I had to move. My family needed to move from Novokuybyshevsk to Samara. So my whole family lived for six or seven years in a rented apartment in Samara. And then we moved there for good and got our own place.

- Did your family sacrificed everything for your hockey career?
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Yes, that’s exactly they did. I am very grateful to everyone that they allowed me to play hockey and see if I can get ahead in the sport. My dad often took me to extra practices. I even skated with figure skaters. We would get up at five o’clock in the morning. The rink was far away so it would take us a while to get there. Actually, they’re about to open a new rink in Samara in a few days.

- Were you invited to the grand opening?
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(laughs) No. I have a few friends who play for CSK VVS Samara in VHL. I’m going to ask them about it. Personally, I have seen already that it’s a great rink. There are a lot seats and there’s plenty of rinks – not just for hockey.

- And then you moved to Moscow. How difficult was it for you to adapt to the rhythm of life in the capital?
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It would have been more difficult to move to Moscow straight out of Novokuybyshevsk rather than from Samara. Although, right now I live in Voskresensk. Personally, I believe that Moscow is like Samara and Voskresensk is like Novokuybyshevsk.

- Khimik is a team with profound traditions lasting since Soviet times. Do you feel any of that on a personal level? After all it’s the first team of Igor Larionov, Valery Kamensky and many other Russian hockey stars.
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Yes, there is a small museum at the arena concourse. There are pictures on the walls. There’s Igor Larionov, Valery Bragin, Valery Kamensky, Dmitry Kvartalnov and many others. Star players would even pop in the dressing-room every now and then, which is very nice. I saw Valery Kamensky not that long ago. There was also a ceremony in Alexander Chernykh’s honor. Khimik doesn’t forget their legends.

- How did you adapt to life in Moscow Region? Do you ever get a chance to visit Moscow?
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It’s all good now. I have found a few decent malls and strolled in a park. I live next to the arena, which is a huge leg-up.

- Would you like to follow Jaromir Jagr’s suit and get a personal key to the dressing-room so that you could practice at night?
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They let me in any time here, anyway. But I have never had the urge like Jagr to go weight lifting at night when I couldn’t fall asleep (laughs).

- Yegor, you must keep in mind the upcoming World Juniors?
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I do. That’s one of my goals for the season – to make Team Russia’s World Juniors roster. And, obviously, I want to make it to Kontinental Hockey League.

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