One of the leaders of Stalnye Lisy – about the progress of the team in the 2021/2022 season, regular season champion’s title and KHL games for Metallurg.
Edgar Varagyan spent his third season in the Junior Hockey League playing for Stalnye Lisy. The Magnitogorsk trainee has been making progress and improving his personal statistics year after year. He scored 59 (27+32) points in 62 games and helped Stalnye Lisy to become the highest scoring team of the League and finish the regular season with the best overall record. The coaching staff of Stalnye Lisy was completely changed in the summer. The team coached by Stanislav Shumik managed to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
In an interview with the official JHL website, Edgar talked about what helped the team to make progress, shared his impressions of working with new coaches, recalled his KHL debut for Metallurg and named the most successful Armenian hockey players.
– What are your impressions of the 2021/2022 season?
– It was a productive one. We were ranked first for almost the entire regular season. We had a good team. Any player was able to make difference – that was what helped us to move forward and win even when something wasn’t working out. Each game had its own heroes.
– What helped the team to make progress?
– There has been lineup changes starting from the pre-season training camp. Coaches were looking for the best possible line combinations and defensive pairings. Everything worked out well. We had good players on the team. The players born in 2004 won their championship. Our year, 2002, did pretty well - we did not win first places, but we were solid, won silver. Taken together, it all helped to build a close-knit team.
– Did you quickly find common language with the new coaching staff?
– I knew Stanislav Andreevich from the hockey school. And he probably knew us too. He didn’t coach me before, but we quickly found common language. The coaches are open minded, we talked a lot, we had team meetings when we talked about life, about building a team. It helped us.
– I’ve noticed players and coach Nikolai Lemtyugov joking about one another on social media. What helped you create such a friendly environment?
– During our first year in JHL, older guys joked about our social media profiles and posts. This year we took their place and were more loyal. During the training camp, we came up with #IWETeam hashtag. We had two or three bad practices, got together in the evening after dinner and decided that something had to be changed, so we all posted photos with this hashtag. As for Nikolai Aleksandrovich, he is a media personality. He brought a certain panache to our team.
– Is it fair to say that you stood together as a team and did not split up into groups?
– We all interact with whoever we want in everyday life. When we are at the rink, we all talk to one another. It never happened that someone avoided talking to teammates during practices or games. We might never see a person outside the rink, but we will spend six hours practicing as best friends.
– What do you remember about working with Nikolai Lemtyugov?
– Nikolai Aleksandrovich is an open-hearted person. He talked a lot about his career. He explained us what should not be done in order to avoid getting into a mess. He has given me so much and showed hockey from the other side.
– Can you give an example?
– The coaching staff helped me understand that I am not a super-skilled player. During the training camp, I was trying to do some fancy things on the ice, but nothing was working out. I was told many times that I needed to leave it and finally they got through to me. I started playing physical game: I worked hard on ice instead of playing too fancy. We had a good line with Yegor Penzin and Max Kuznetsov. We complemented one another very well. Yegor didn’t score that many points, but he was disrupting plays and handling the defensive aspects of the game. I was more of a power forward. And Max was about speed. He strove to collect the rebounds and convert scoring chances. He even became the all-time goals leader of Stalnye Lisy.
– What did you learn from Nikolai Lemtyugov on the ice?
– At the end of almost every practice we had special drills for forwards and defensemen in different zones. Nikolai Aleksandrovich paid attention to such nuances as tight turns, reaching the slot, positioning.
– How is Lemtyugov’s conditioning?
– It’s good. When he played with us, for example, in 3-on-3 format, he converted the chances. When he has the puck, he can either make an open net pass or score a goal.
– How long did it take you to get over the series against Omskie Yastreby that you lost in Game 5?
– Long enough. Even when we returned to training, someone made a couple of jokes about it and we told him: “That’s enough, knock it off.”
– Do you have an explanation of what happened in Game 5?
– It’s hard to explain. We had a 4-1 lead after the second period. I would not say that we started the third period feeling relaxed and sure that we secured our spot in the semi-finals. Perhaps it was just a set of circumstances. Unfortunately, there are games like that.
– What did the coach say in the locker room after the game?
– He thanked all the guys for the season, for the way that we made together. After that, we shook hands, looked directly into one another's eyes. Then we had a short day off, and returned to training.
– Do you agree that it was still a successful season in general? Stalnye Lisy finished the regular season with the best overall record, won the first series, played good hockey.
– We were happy about the regular season result. But we could have done better in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the second round showed that we had to play till the final minute. We tried to play a passing style of hockey, but there were games when needed to be patient and use counter attacks effectively. It's nice when your team keeps possession of the puck 80 percent of the game and does not sit back. Everyone wants to play in the offensive zone.
– Last season you made your debut for Metallurg. What do you feel when recalling that event?
– It was an invaluable experience, a great pleasure to make my debut for the team I had been following since I was 10 years old. Denis Aleksandrovich Platonov, who was the coach of Stalnye Lisy at that time, told me and a few other guys after the game that we needed co come and get tested for coronavirus in the morning. We got tested. We were in the locker room. He came in and told me to get dressed for skating with the senior team. I felt comfortable on the ice skating with them. I remember Yegor Yakovlev approached me and asked: “Are you ready, kid?” I said: "Of course I'm ready." I had many thoughts in my head before the game, but I felt calm when I came to the locker room. I did not have jitters. I was worried, but not much.
– Did you know anyone from the team personally?
– Among senior players - no. I only knew Ilya Nikolayev, I have strong relationships with him. He played for Stalnye Lisy with us. I got to know the guys only after a road trip.
– What was the most prominent thing about Metallurg?
– The speeds, the way players prepare for games on an individual base. High level of professionalism. Even if we take video analysis. Last two seasons, we have been working in the similar style to that of KHL, but everything is still of higher level in Metallurg. I tried to play simple, to avoid mistakes and to create some offence.
– Were you on formal terms with the players in the locker room?
– My stall in the home dressing room was next to Andrei Chibisov’s. He was giving me tips and recommendations. When we played away games, I sat next to Taylor Beck. He is a smiley person, he made some jokes. I tried to answer him in broken English.
– You try to play aggressive hockey, to be intense. Is it due to your physicality or is it your character trait?
– I think, both. Hot temper can make some harm, I try to take a hold on myself. Ever since I can remember, I've always been like that. It was easier at the hockey school – the level was different. When we joined JHL, I was a third- and fourth-line player. Sometimes I was on a second line. I was aimed at disrupting plays and killing penalties. That was when I learned to play this style of hockey.
– How did the minor-to-junior transition go for you?
– It was not that hard. I got used to higher speed starting from the pre-season training camp. It was more difficult to get used to tactics and discipline. Guys were already wearing visors instead of full cages. I remember my teammate getting a bloody nose from my accidental high-sticking during practice. We talked a lot with Yury Aleksandrovich Panov. My style fit the team well. I only missed one game in the regular season. Of course, there were ups and downs, but even at that time Yuri Aleksandrovich was telling me that hockey life is like a sailor shirt. There are white and black stripes on it. You have to build on the white ones, and quickly let go of the black ones to get back on track. I tried to win a spot in the lineup, to prove that I was ready for playing on three top lines.
– Are you the same person on the ice and in real life?
– No. I am not that combative in real life.
– Is it easy to put you out of temper on the ice?
– Yes, sometimes I fail to keep emotions under control. But I am working on it.
– Was the fight with Anton Kazachyok from Omskie Yastreby the brightest one in your career?
– There were two fights in the 2021/2022 season: in Orenburg and in Omsk. It was a playoff game against Omskie Yastreby. We were chasing the game. I didn’t aim to fight with a few seconds to go in the third period. It was due to emotions. I needed to give a boost to my team before Game 5. I did not set a goal to go and beat him. It was playoff time, I could not step back.
– Is there a hockey player you would never fight with?
– Honestly, there isn’t. When I played for Metallurg against Severstal, there was a dustup in the slot area. Later, when we were on the plane, guys told me: “Do you even know who it was? He’s an enforcer, he would beat you up with no sweat.” I thought: things happen, he would beat me up and so what? I don’t even remember who it actually was.
– Was there a special moment during KHL games when you felt the real level of senior hockey?
– Yes, on the very first shift. It was a 3-on-3 rush. My partner sent a pass to the left side, the puck reached the board. I thought I would easily pick it up, but I got put into the board and they stole the puck. That was when I realized that everything needs to be done faster.
– The next year in JHL will be very important for you. What will you consider as a success in the 2022/2023 season?
– Everything depends on my performance, on how helpful I will be for the team. Team result is the main thing for me.
– Do you feel that you are ready for senior hockey?
– Yes, I do feel that way.
– Do you challenge yourself to make sure you appear in KHL games next season?
– We all work and train to get a spot in KHL. I'm 20 years old - I'm not that young. I will do my best to get into the main team.
– And if you are offered to play in Supreme Hockey League?
– It will be a good experience for me. SHL is a great stepping stone for proving that you are ready for senior hockey. They play a man's game in SHL: there are more battles, the level is higher.
– How are you spending your summer?
– I tried to continue doing sports after we finished training with the team. I was swimming, going out with friends, walking, playing basketball. Then I defended my graduation thesis in Moscow. After that, there was one week left before training in Magnitogorsk. I managed to make a short trip to St. Petersburg - I've long wanted to go there. I was 10-11 years old when I last visited St. Petersburg. Of course, I didn’t remember anything and I wanted to see the city in fresh colors.
– What was the most memorable thing about St. Petersburg?
– Everything! We were on a sightseeing tour of the Neva. It is a picturesque city.
– Was it difficult to defended your graduation thesis in college?
– No. I have a sports and pedagogical field of study. The subject of my thesis paper is “Development of speed-strength abilities.” Being a hockey player, I have a good understanding of it. So, I just had to complete the thesis, make it comply with college requirements and defend it. Answering questions was not hard, because I understand the topic.
– Why did you decide to go to college?
– You never know what can happen in your life. You have to be educated. Most likely, I will go to university next. Education is an insurance for the future.
– What do you know about Armenian national team?
– I only know some players who play in Russia. I was in Armenia only in my childhood. When I was 14-15 years old, I could fly there with my family, but I stayed in Magnitogorsk because of the training camp. My brother and sister finished their exams earlier, so, they went there without me.
– Do you keep in touch with your relatives?
– Of course. I often talk to my grandparents. Relatives and friends sometimes call my parents when they see me on TV. They congratulate, follow me from Armenia.
– Would you like to play for Armenian national team if it progresses?
– If it progresses, I sure would.
– Who is the most successful Armenian hockey player?
– Andrei Altybarmakyan who plays in AHL. Zach Bogosian from Tampa can hardly be called an Armenian, but I would also mention him. He is a Stanley Cup Champion after all. Artyom Manukyan used to set JHL records, did well with Avangard, and now he is playing in SHL.