The forward and the all-time points leader of Russkie Vityazi is having the best season in his career and has made his KHL debut.
Nikolai Smirnov has been playing for Russkie Vityazi for the third year and shows consistency in increasing the number of points scored per season. In his debut 2019/2020 season, he scored 33 (11+22) points, in the second - 42 (15+27), and in the 2021/2022 - 64 (18+46). He finished his last year with the most points and assists in team history. In total, he played 165 games for Vityazi, scored 121 (38 + 83) points and placed Maxim Kartoshkin behind. Smirnov also made his KHL debut with Vityaz in the 2021/2022 season. In total, he played three games at the senior level.
In an interview with the JHL press service, Nikolai recognized that he enjoys sending passes more than scoring goals, and that his love of passing style of hockey was cultivated by well-known coach Gennady Kurdin, who used to play for CSKA and Spartak. He won a gold medal at the Junior World Championship in the 1978/1979 season, and has been working with youth hockey teams of the Vityaz system since 2017.
In addition to hockey, Smirnov played soccer when he was a child. The forward is a fan of Barcelona, he follows the career of Lionel Messi, watches tennis, boxing and the UFC.
The player also talked about his non-hockey spheres of life: studies, leisure activities, hobbies. Smirnov was an A-student until the seventh grade, then it became more difficult to balance school with hockey, but the player finished nine grades with only two B’s. The forward reads a lot and prefers paper books - about stock market, history, and specific mention of War and Peace was made by the hockey player. Nikolai shined in conversation about investments - he studies the market, buys shares about once every month and holds to the risk-averse investor strategy.
– How did you start playing hockey?
– I have a sporting family: my father played soccer, my grandfather was a soccer coach, my mother was a figure skating coach. I played soccer from the age of four, and stumbled into hockey by accident. At that time, we lived in Mokshino village, which is 32 kilometers away from Klin city (Tver region). When I was six, I saw a children's hockey team practice. I liked it a lot and started nagging my parents into signing me up for hockey. My grandfather and father were taking me to Klin for practices during the first two years, and then I moved there with my parents.
– How long did you play both soccer and hockey?
– Until the age of seven, then I decided on hockey. I still love soccer and play it in the summertime with my friends whenever possible. I really like it as a sport, but building a hockey career is more to my liking. My parents had originally planned to move to Klin, so it was a perfect timing - we just chose an apartment close to the rink, so that it would be easier for me to go to hockey practices.
– You were coached by Gennady Kurdin. How did it start?
–I became a player of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system when I was 12. Two years later, Gennady Gennadievich called my father with an offer to join the Vityaz system. We discussed it and arrived at the decision that my career would develop better with Kurdin.
–Gennady Gennadievich lives and breathes hockey. His eyes are burning, he is always willing to help and teach. He was the one who instilled in me a great love of hockey. Gennady Gennadievich's trainees play passing style of hockey. For example, Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Gusev. He was promoting this style for us too. That’s why I derive more enjoyment from earning assists than scoring goals.
– Do you stay in touch with Kurdin?
– I call him when I have a chance. He watches games, keep track of stats, can give a word of advice. I always talk to him when something doesn't work out.
– How did you do in school?
– I was an A-student until the seventh grade, then I moved to Yaroslavl and my school performance became poorer. However, I finished nine grades with only two B’s - in biology and chemistry.
– What were the easiest subjects for you?
– I didn’t like math, but it came easily to me: I memorized formulas and was quick at figures. My favorite subject was history - I liked to find out how people lived before, what were their living principles. I still sometimes watch historical videos and read articles on this topic.
– Where are you studying now?
– In the Yaroslavl State School of the Olympic Reserve. Everything necessary is provided there: I can easily play while getting education. We have remote learning, everyone has an individual schedule - it's very convenient.
– What would you do if it wasn't for hockey?
– I would probably play soccer. I am sure I would still be into sports, as my whole family are.
– You are having your third season in the JHL. How do you feel compared to the first two years?
– I used to be less self-confident, because I played against older guys – they were both faster and stronger. And now I am a JHL veteran, I understand that I must produce results.
– Do you remember your emotions from scoring your first goal?
– I had a tough situation - I could not score my first goal either in the preseason or at the beginning of the season. I earned many assists, but didn’t manage to find the back of the net. It was very frustrating, because I had some scoring chances. I even scored one in the game against Riga, but the goal was disallowed. It took me ten games to finally do it. Therefore, my first goal is well remembered for taking a load off my mind.
– At the same time, you became one of the leaders of Russkie Vityazi from the very first season in the JHL.
– The coaches trusted me, I was getting a lot of ice time right from the start. So, I had to justify their confidence and produce results. It took me some time to start doing it, but I still think that the first season was a successful one.
– How important is personal stats to you?
– I am a forward and I have to score points in every game. Scoring goals is my direct responsibility. Points are evidence of skill level, if you score them, you are a leader. Of course, I will not work for personal statistics to the detriment of the team, winning is the most important thing. But if you can’t score points, it means something is going wrong.
– This season you broke the club’s record for most points. Did you set such a goal?
– Frankly speaking, I did not. I thought I would move up the tiers to the senior level hockey sooner. But I followed the statistics and understood that this could happen. I was afraid that it would be difficult to score the record-breaking point, but there were no issues with that.
– Was the preparation for this season somehow different from the previous ones?
– I tried to work more on shooting, but for some reason the number of goals scored is not increasing. I also focused on conditioning, I wanted to play in the SHL and the KHL, but it also helps in the JHL - I feel that I am faster than others.
– You’ve got a shooting pad at your country house. Is it of great help for preparing for the season?
– It was of great help during the lockdown, when everything was closed and I could not practice. My parents organized a training area for me so that I would not forget how to hold the stick (laughs). In the offseason, I am allowed to practice at the arena in Klin with Sergei Zhdanov, the kids’ coach I worked with when I was a child. That’s why the shooting pad at our country house just gathers dust.
– You used to hit way more than you do now. Has your playing style changed?
– I think I should play more physically. But I realized that I can use speed to gain possession of the puck and thus expend less energy. The current trend in world hockey is to play less physically. When you check, you can’t stay with the play. And if you steal the puck with an abrupt movement, you can rush right away.
– How do you usually prepare for games?
–I think over my moves before going to bed - how I will play in different situations, I think about my mistakes and ways of correcting them. I am not superstitious: it doesn’t matter how I lace my skates or tape my stick (smiles). For me, the main thing is to prepare mentally, then I'll do fine. The state of mind is half the battle.
– You made your KHL debut this season. How did you find out about the call up?
– We returned from St. Petersburg after a good road trip, I had scored a lot of points. The entire line was called up to Vityaz, and after the practice I was told that I would go on the road trip with the team. My first thought was “Finally, I got a chance”, I was very happy.
– Did you feel jittery?
– Not in the first game in Balashikha. Waves of nervousness descended on me before the home game against Salavat Yulaev. I hit the ice for pregame skate and saw all the fans. I realized that I used to come here to watch games and now I would play. My hands quivered. But it was all gone after the first touch of the puck.
– What do you do in your free time?
– I can go for a walk in Moscow, sometimes I go to play computer games with my teammates. I like watching videos, for example, interviews on Yury Dud’s, Ksenia Sobchak’s and Dmitry Gordon’s channels. I usually watch interviews with politicians, actors and businessmen. I really liked Yury Dud’s film about Kolyma - it was interesting to find out what happened there. I was also impressed by the film about Silicon Valley, I learned how people live there. I also study, and usually read books before going to bed. Smartphone is now the place where we live, sometimes I just want to put it aside so that no notifications distract me, and I can drop into a book. I prefer reading printed books. I like books on the stock market and investments. For example, I'm now reading How to Think Like Benjamin Graham and Invest Like Warren Buffett by Lawrence Cunningham. It talks about the strategies of two investment gurus, explains all the nuances.
– When did you take an interest in this topic?
– During my first season in the JHL. When I started getting salary, I began to think how and where to keep money. I started investing during the lockdown. First, I study the market to see what stocks are up. I also study the country-specific information, look at the data on the interest rate, on unemployment, whether the government supports business, whether there is a money drain. All financial indicators of the company are important, how it looks in the industry. Of course, it’s hard to find everything out, but I still get at least some data. It’s also necessary to look at reports to see if revenue is growing, how it correlates with expectations. I buy stocks about once a month or less often if I see that there is no good opportunity. Stock dilution should also be taken into account - you buy a share in one month, and after 2-3 months it is better to take it at a different price. And then the average price will be normal. I have a stable portfolio - I do not like to take risks. It is better to invest in good companies for a long term. I would say, I hold to the risk-averse investor strategy. I am guided by the Warren Buffett quote: “Only buy something that you'd be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.”
– Speaking of love for history. Do you read historical books?
– Yes, I read about the Soviet regime - for example, Memoirs of Stalin's former secretary by Boris Bazhanov. It is interesting to learn what was going on in our country during that period. It’s a first-person narrative, so I did not draw any firm conclusions. Perhaps the author was putting things in a favorable light for himself. In general, I study history of different times, all periods are interesting - the Roman Empire, wars with Napoleon and so on. Speaking of books, I can make a specific mention of War and Peace by L.N. Tolstoy. The first quarter of the 19th century, the life of people in our country, their worldview are described with great fullness and it allows to obtain an overview of how people lived in that period.
– What movies do you like?
– I like action movies, mystery films, movies about successful people. I love films starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Watching Shutter Island was an emotional experience, I'm still impressed, even though I watched it a year ago. Recently I went to a cinema to see House of Gucci - I also liked this film a lot, I even felt like studying the history of the brand more carefully.
– You like soccer. Who are you rooting for?
– I support Barcelona, Lionel Messi is my favorite player. But he is with PSG now, so I follow this club as well. In general, I love many sports. For example, tennis. I like Rafael Nadal, he played against Daniil Medvedev in Australian Open final, so it was difficult for me to support one of them. I also follow boxing and the UFC, I watch fights whenever possible. I recently discovered Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk, I like his style, I will follow his career more closely. As for the UFC, I love Connor McGregor, although he has only been losing lately and hasn’t been fighting very often - I think he has already lost motivation, but I believe that he will be on the winning side again.