Magnitogorsk netminder is preparing for his last season at the junior level.
Ilya Nabokov is a Magnitogorsk trainee, who became the starting goalie of Stalnye Lisy in the 2021/2022 season. The 19-year-old netminder played 36 regular season games with 2.06 goals against average and five shutouts. The team was ranked first in the Eastern conference after the regular season, won the first playoff series, but got eliminated by Omskie Yastreby in Game 5 of the thriller-type second round. In the off-season, new alumni of Metallurg school will join the Magnitogorsk team. Nabokov is the main candidate for the role of the starting goalie, who will try his best to help Stalnye Lisy compete for the Kharlamov Cup.
In an interview with the JHL website, Ilya talked about playing for the top team of the Eastern conference, getting eliminated by Omskie Yastreby, competing with other goaltenders, dealing with criticism, making his first steps in hockey and having a desire to meet with his famous namefellow – goaltender Evgeny Nabokov.
– The season starts in two months, but you are already practicing. Has it been long since you have returned from vacation?
– I arrived home on June 1 - after the Black Sea Cup and the tournament in St. Petersburg, rested for two weeks. I started training on June 15. We had medical checkup just a few days ago. The team have been preparing for the season since July 1.
– Was a period of two weeks enough to get rested?
– Yes, it was enough. I cannot rest and sit around doing nothing for longer – I start being tempted to train. I didn’t manage to fly on vacation because of college. I got home, saw my family and passed all my end-of-semester exams. I pursue a degree in coaching in Magnitogorsk. During my time off, I passed all the exams and tests.
– The season was longer for you because of a call-up to the national team for the Black Sea Cup and the tournament in St. Petersburg. Did it surprise you?
– I was still waiting and hoping that I would receive a call-up. It's nice to be invited. I went to the tournaments, I liked everything, got an emotional charge, met the guys and the coaches. I spent quality time there.
– What is the difference for a goalie between being with a club and being with a national team?
– When you are with the national team, you have bigger responsibility. You are defending the honour of your country. The rest is the same: catching and stopping pucks.
– You did not play a single game at the tournament in St. Petersburg. Did you feel stressed when you sat out?
– We were told that the one who was better at that moment would play. There were no hard feelings. Even sitting on the bench with the national team is nice, it’s still cool. I did not play in St. Petersburg, but I did play at the next tournament. The main thing is for the team to win.
– Are you happy with the 2021/2022 season?
– The regular season was great. I played a lot of games, my teammates were of great help on the ice. We were ranked first in the Eastern conference, it was not easy. It's good that we won the first playoff round. We took the curse off: the team couldn’t win the first round during previous six years. We had a chance to get a foothold in the second round and reach the finals, but the odds were against us.
– How long did it take you to get over the series against Omskie Yastreby that you lost in Game 5?
– Long enough. I take everything to heart. I spent the first week shrunk into myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then I started to let it go. I realized that there will be many games like that in my career. A failure is also an experience. We must learn from our mistakes.
– What actually happened in that game, when Stalnye Lisy had a 3-0 lead but lost in overtime?
– I think we lacked experience of playing such games. We felt calm during two periods. When the third period started, we might have thought that our win was already guaranteed. It got us into trouble. We started making mistakes – both I and the team, as a result, we lost. There were some bad goals scored – when the puck deflected off a skate, a rebound goal.
– Did you run through Yegor Serdyuk’s overtime goal over and over again in your mind?
– I did. I lost the crease, didn’t defend the near corner properly, overcommitted. But you can't reverse things and start over. The opponent had more luck than our team.
– Was there a warm atmosphere in Stalnye Lisy?
– Yes, we had a great team. Everyone respected each other. We have become a big family. Our coaches helped a lot, they made us a close-knit group. We were one for all and all for one during the entire season. It's nice when everyone is on the same page, on the same journey. The coaches treated us well, almost like their children.
– Is head coach Stanislav Shumik involved in your training, or is it only the goalie coach who deals with it?
– Stanislav Andreevich Shumik was also involved: he talked to me, we had personal meetings. We talked about mentality, about dealing with various situations. But it was mainly Denis Alexandrovich Antonov who worked with us. We were always in touch, he explained different game moments to us.
– You were the starting goalie in the playoffs, but in the regular season you, Alexander Smolin and Gleb Moiseyev were rotated.
–I played almost all regular season games until December. Then there was a slight slump after which I had to get back to the game shape. I was given some rest so that other goalies could play too. In the playoffs, there was a different regime - I played every game. You always want to play, but we do everything for the good of the team. If the coaches decide that it is better for a different goalie to play, it's for the greater good. The next game will be for me to play.
– Have you understood which regime you feel more comfortable with?
– I feel more comfortable playing every game, it keeps me on my toes, it works for me. After each game, you need to devote time to recovering: cooling down, stretching, nutrition. The main secret of recovery is sleeping well.
– Do you quickly forget the games played or do you analyze them for a long time?
– I used to run through each loss over and over again, thinking about situations when I could have played better. With the passing of the years the number of games played increases and I try to let go of losses easier. The JHL has a busier schedule compared to the school. There is no time to think about losses for a long time when the games go one after another.
– How did the school-to-JHL transition go for you?
– I started being called up to Stalnye Lisy a year before finishing hockey school. I practiced bit by bit, watched the guys play, got the feel of the level of hockey. When I finished school, I was totally ready for the JHL. When I first joined Stalnye Lisy, the difference with the school was noticeable. Shots were harder, players were faster, smarter and more skillful. After a while I got used to it and felt fine.
– You have mentioned that you analyze games with the goalie coach. What is it like?
–The coach puts a camera behind the net before games. It records all the attacks in our zone. Then a visualizer is prepared and we review the episodes. We look at when we could burst laterally or play deeper in the crease. We analyze not only goals allowed, but good moments as well.
– Do you often argue with the coach on game situations?
– No, the coach stands behind the bench, he sees the game from the side, I see it differently. He often asks me how I saw this or that moment. During discussions, we arrive at a common view on how I should have played. Before games, we analyze powerplay and certain players.
– Do you pay attention to particular players during games?
– I try to work according to the course of the game, depending on how it goes. I track the puck, think what is best to be done. I don’t follow particular players, it’s not so important. The main thing is to stop shots.
– Now you are the starting goalie of Stalnye Lisy. What will you consider a success in the next season?
– I think the next season will be a little harder. There are many new faces in the team, we will have a young group. We always set high goals: to win the regular season and to get the Kharlamov Cup. These are the goals for the season.
– Do you feel ready for the senior level?
– It’s a tough one. I can't say that I'm 100% ready. Coaches know better, they watch me closely. Of course, I have a desire to try myself in senior hockey, this is my goal for the near future. Whether it will work out depends both on me and on the situation in the club.
– There was a remarkable moment when you replied to criticism in the comment section of a Telegram channel. Why did you decide to do it?
– I deal positively with criticism. It's still nice to read what people write about me. Sometimes I even laugh, there is no anger. I always take it positively. I can reply in a playful manner, like in that case.
– Do you read what people write about you?
– I don’t search for it on purpose, but if there’s something I come across on my social media feed, I can read it.
– Do you get hateful direct messages?
– It happens. I might get some nice messages from people congratulating on a win. And sometimes I receive messages from fake accounts saying: “Leave the net, you sieve.” Reading it makes me laugh and puts me in a better mood right away.
– Goalies are always in the center of attention. Did you get used to it?
– Of course. Goalies are always worth their weight in gold, they are special people. It's still nice when people talk about you, discuss good games. It's great to be in the spotlight, but I don't over-focus on it. Sometimes I meet fans on the streets, they ask me how I am doing, it's nice.
– You were born in Kasli. What is this place?
– It’s a small town in the Chelyabinsk region. It is famous for its Kasli iron sculpture.
– The well-known defenseman Evgeny Biryukov was also born in Kasli. Do you know each other?
– We spoke briefly. He was surprised when I told him that we were from the same city, it made him smile. We talked a bit.
– Where did you start playing hockey?
– I started skating in Kasli, and then my father began to take me to practices in Chelyabinsk Mechel school. We traveled 130 kilometers back and forth every day since I was five. We did that for seven years. Then I was invited to Metallurg. Soon it will be eight years since I have joined the club.
– Did you become a goalie right away?
– No, I was a skater for a year and a half. I always waited for games to be able to hit the ice and play. Don't count on it, here I am - a netminder. I remember watching the World Championship with my parents when I was a little kid, Vasily Koshechkin was in the net. I watched him play, I admired his nice gear and his size. I thought that I would become a goaltender like him.
– How did you happen to be with Metallurg school?
–Coach Sergey Vladimirovich Kavunov called my father and invited me. I went there for tryouts, proved myself. They told me that they liked me and wanted me in the team. I have been living and playing in Magnitogorsk since then.
– Weren’t you afraid to join an organization that had many goalies and to compete for a spot in the lineup?
– I was a little anxious, but I believed in myself, and my parents supported me. I am glad that I moved to Magnitogorsk and continued my career here.
– Did you move there with your parents?
– With my mom and younger brother, who also plays hockey, he is a goalie too. Dad works and comes to visit us. I have an elder sister, she studies at a university in Chelyabinsk. I also have an elder brother, he is a policeman.
– Would you like to play together with your brother for the same team? It would be a goalie tandem of the Nabokovs.
– I sure would, I have such a dream. I really want it to come true. I will do everything to play together with him.
– You are sometimes called a relative of the famous netminder Evgeny Nabokov, who played for the Russian national team.
– I used to be often called the son of Evgeny Nabokov on the Internet. We were reading it with my father and laughing. I am the son of Nabokov indeed, not Evgeny, but Dmitry though. Funny situation. Now everyone seems to know that we are just namefellows. I would love to meet Evgeny and talk to him, but there has not been such an opportunity so far.