“I gave myself a choice: either to get stronger and move on, or to quit hockey” – SKA-1946’s leader talks about his season, social media, and hockey life

25.02.2022 в 16:00

“I gave myself a choice: either to get stronger and move on, or to quit hockey” – SKA-1946’s leader talks about his season, social media, and hockey life

The St. Petersburg team’s top scorer and sniper Dmitry Buchelnikov is having the best season of his career and is very active on the club’s social media. 

Dmitry Buchelnikov, 18, is the leader of SKA-1946. He has 66 (35+31) points in 45 games. In the 2020-2021 season, the forward scored 16 (5+11) points in 17 games for SKA-Varyagi and 21 (11+10) points in 29 games for SKA-1946. 

As a kid, Dmitry changed several hockey schools – he started in Tyumen, then played in Khanty-Mansiysk and Chelyabinsk, and three years ago he decided to try his luck in St. Petersburg, where he was noticed by the coaches of the SKA system. In the 2020-2021 season Buchelnikov made his debut for Russia at the U18 WJC and scored a goal against Team Canada in the final that ended with the score 5:3 in favor of Russian opponent. 

Dmitry is the social media hero of SKA-1946. He never minds to star in videos or give an emotional interview. He firmly believes that media and social networks are important values in modern hockey.

In an interview with the JHL press service, Dmitry Buchelnikov talked about the great influence of his family on his career, the secret of his performance, his motivation to develop, and his love for St. Petersburg and the local fans.

Dmitry was born in Nizhny Tagil on Sep 6, 2003, but started playing hockey in Tyumen. “My dad was a hockey goalie and played in Nizhny Tagil,” he starts his talk. “When I was four, he was offered to move to Tyumen. We moved there, they put me on skates, and I started training.”

Growing up in such a family, it was almost unavoidable that Dmitry picked hockey. “As a kid, I loved watching my father playing, and I even dreamed of becoming a goalie,” he explains. “But then he told me that, considering my size, I would have been better off as a forward. He was my father, coach, and mentor. Dad always praised, but also criticized me – it was necessary for me to have a professional attitude. My dad was preparing me for more adult hockey in the JHL: telling me where I should improve, telling me to think faster and make the right decisions.”

His dad, naturally, had an active role on his development. “My dad worked as a goalie coach at the Tyumen youth sports school. On Thursdays, he had a ‘goalie training session’ for goalies of different ages. As the coach’s son, I attended them. I liked both honing my skills and spending time with my dad.”

Buchelnikov’s history is deeply tight with two cities, being him born in Nizhny Tagil and moving to Tyumen on an early age. “All my childhood memories are related to Tyumen,” he explains. “I like it there: a lot of parks and a great embankment. I still enjoy visiting the city. Last time I visited it was after the U18s. This year I’ll try to visit Nizhny Tagil as well, my grandma and grandpa still live there.” 

“My family played a big role in my development,” he continues. “My dad helped me from a coach’s point of view, and my mom found the right words and supported me emotionally. My grandparents would come to other cities to cheer me on. I also have a sister who is ten years older, and we communicate very well. The support of my whole family is valuable.” 

In 2015, Buchelnikov moved to Khanty-Mansiysk. “I was invited there by coach Pavel Gennadyevich Varfolomeyev,” he explains his move. “At that time many guys were leaving the Tyumen team, so I was glad to get invited and went to Khanty-Mansiysk. The conditions there were great: we lived in a boarding school, four people in a block, two in a room. I liked everything, I found a common language with all the guys, the coaches trusted me. But I was homesick. I saw my parents only at the stations, when we went by train to Chelyabinsk or Omsk. Meetings were 30-40 minutes one way, and the same when we went back. It wasn’t easy at all.” 

Then, two years later, the forward had another move – this time to Chelyabinsk. “I had three years left before my graduation from the hockey academy, but in Khanty-Mansiysk we weren’t doing well – we were in the wrong half of the standings. I wanted to develop, thus, when I was invited to Chelyabinsk, I agreed at once.” 

Adaptation, however, wasn’t easy at first in his new city. “In Chelyabinsk, I didn’t have the same conditions as in Khanty-Mansiysk,” he recalls. “I had to rent a place by myself. At first, I was accommodated by my friend Alexey Saveliev’s family, who now plays for the the White Bears. Then my mother moved to Chelyabinsk, and we lived together. I played the first season in the top line, but the next year a new coach arrived and put me on reserve, and for the first time I was the 13th forward. After two or three months, I gave myself a choice: either to get stronger and move on, or to quit hockey. So, I decided to try again with a move to St. Petersburg.” 

Oddly enough, he moved to the Russian Northern capital without a contract. “However, I managed to find a place with the Bulldogs, but I played bad for half a year, nothing worked out for me,” he admits. “Towards the end of the season my dad suggested me to play for SKA Varyagi, with other guys born in 2003. I thought it was a good idea. I played well, the coaches noticed me and offered me a transfer to the team. At first, I didn’t agree because I didn’t want to live in Morozov, where the team is based, which it’s 50 kilometers away from St. Petersburg. But then I realized that it was a good chance. We lived in the boarding school as a team, we were all in the same class. So, it was much easier to adapt than I had imagined. I realize now that it was the right decision.”

Moving there as a real free agent wasn’t easy right away, though. “There were about 35 people trying out to get to play for the Varyagi. I was very nervous, and I quickly understood that it would be hard. But I managed to play well in the preseason game against SKA-1946. I think that high competition is the best motivation for any player.” 

He thus moved to the SKA’s system, usually praised for its attention towards the younger players. “These are the best conditions I’ve seen in Russia,” he agrees. “Great sports complexes, accommodation, camps, staff, coaches, we get quality equipment all the time. Gym and shooting zones are always at our disposal, we can practice anytime. I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere else.” 

With all these moves, however, school was a risky matter. “I adapt easily to everything new, so I had no problems with my studies,” Buchelnikov explains. “I graduated from high school without losing grades, which is a great result, because last year I played in the JHL and was in the 11th grade. I should have taken the USE, but I didn’t go to school, I had time only for the preliminary exams. It worked out, I passed it well and got on scholarship to the National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health named after P.F. Lesgaft. Now I study to become a trainer on an individual schedule and try to close my sessions on time.” 

In his first JHL games in the Russian Far East, Buchelnikov scored three goals in just four games. He was surprised by many things. “Frankly speaking, I was already shocked to have made the SKA-1946 roster at just 17. I’m grateful for this chance. I had my first games for the team against Amur, but I pretty much didn’t have any icetime and I only racked up an assist. Then I was called to play in the Far East games, and I understood that I needed to show my best game, and I think I achieved that.” 

Buchelnikov is currently the top scorer in the JHL. “I have a lot of time on ice, and I also play with the man advantage – this helps with productivity,” he explains. “I am now feeling more confident. I play on a good line with Yegor Gurzanov and Maxim Krovyakov. We work hard on our mistakes, and we have good chemistry. I wouldn’t be where I am without good partners.”

Buchelnikov, moreover, also thinks that nowadays, social media make an important part of everyone’s life. “Social media are also used to see what you do in your life,” he explains. “People likes to see how athletes live. Many people idolize players, and they want to know them also outside of their sports life. When you have lots of followers, you can do many interesting things. You can do charity, host events, and talk about it. I think that it’s very important for today’s players.” As one can easily expect, Buchelnikov receives many messages from his followers. “Usually they congratulate with our wins; when we lose, they also support us. I reply to any message – it doesn’t really take much time from me, and people like it. Naturally, there are also unpleasant people, but I don’t really pay attention to them. Even if I’d reply, hardly anything will change.”

Just as many young players, Buchelnikov had his favorite players growing up. “I never had any idol, but I always enjoyed motivational stories. For example, Pavel Datsyuk is a fantastic example. No one believed in him, but with his play he managed to show the entire world that he’s a phenomenal player. I also like Evgeny Kuznetsov – he dedicated his life to hockey, and this stories really motivate you to work even harder, even when nothing is doing the way it should.” 

With a tight JHL schedule, spare time is often a luxury for Buchelnikov, yet he tries to enjoy it when he has some. “I love walking around St. Petersburg. It’s a city full of character and atmosphere. There are so many beautiful places, you can go to the movies or enjoy a coffee on the Nevsky Prospect. I’ve been living in St. Petersburg for three years, but I’ve never been to the Hermitage. I want to go there and also to the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art. But first of all, I advise everyone to visit Hockey City. The fans in St. Petersburg create an incredible atmosphere at every game, even though there are four professional teams in the SKA system. The people here are great, and so is the city.”