The 19-year-old forward joined Mikhailov Academy after playing in the NJHL and had a successful debut season.
At the beginning of his junior hockey journey, Kirill Pukelo did not find his place in the team of his native city, Cherepovets, so he joined the National Junior Hockey League to play for HC Bobrov. Before the start of the 2021/2022 season, he joined Mikhailov Academy and became a leader of his team in his debut season in the Junior Hockey League. The forward scored 66 (21+45) points in 58 games and became one of the top ten scorers of the regular season.
The secret of Pukelo's point production lies not only in his talent, but also in his linemates - Gleb Petrov became the top goalscorer of the 2021/2022 season and Vadim Sivchuk was ranked seventh among top scorers. The chemistry was built quickly and the players are now good friends off the ice, too. In an interview with the JHL website, Kirill Pukelo talked about how he started playing hockey, the phenomenon of playing with Petrov and Sivchuk, preparation for the upcoming season, his love for tennis and his favorite athletes.
– You have mentioned that you set your heart upon hockey after watching Russia - Canada 2008 World Championship Final. Do you remember your emotions?
– It was a legendary moment: Russia won their World Championship gold medals for the first time in a long while. I still sometimes see videos on the Internet with Ilya Kovalchuk scoring the overtime winner. After this game, I asked my parents for being signed up for hockey. Dad was always taking me to watch different games: soccer, volleyball, basketball. But hockey has always been the main thing in Cherepovets, so everything worked out well. I started skating at the age of six.
– But you were inspired by Evgeny Nabokov’s performance. Did you want to become a goalie?
– Yes, I came to the hockey school and told them that I would be a goalie. We started with being taught how to skate, and when it was time to choose a position, I found out that there were six or seven goalies in the team. Apparently, everyone was inspired by Nabokov (laughs). I still wanted to be a netminder, but the coach said no, so I became a forward. Now I'm happy that it happened this way.
– How did you happen to be with HC Bobrov?
– They did not need me in Cherepovets, so I had to look for a different team. First, I went to Ryazan for tryouts. The team was coached by Alexei Khramtsov back then. He was appointed as the head coach of NJHL Junior Mikhailov Academy in the 2021/2022 season. I did not make it to the team, so I went to HC Bobrov. I was given an opportunity to practice and play there, unlocked my potential, earned a roster spot. After the end of the season, I realized that I needed to grow and move ahead. I went to Tula for tryouts, signed a contract and stayed there.
– How can you evaluate the 2021/2022 season for Mikhailov Academy?
– I am not happy with the season, we did not clinch a playoff spot. We were lacking team unity: when everyone provides good value at both ends. We had a newly-built team, so it didn't work out. As for positives to build on, our line with Gleb Petrov and Vadim Sivchuk produced many points.
– You became one of the top ten scorers of the JHL in your debut season. How quickly did you inject yourself in the process?
–I felt good starting with the pre-season, I got adjusted during the very first game. I did not feel nervous. When you score goals, make passes, score points in every game, you become more confident, you become more relaxed - it helps during games.
– Did you feel like a leader of the team?
–Before the start of the season, my linemates and I were told that we would be standard-bearers and should lead the team, do everything for team’s result. I was not scared of such a role, on the contrary, I liked it.
– Judging by the stats, you prefer making passes to scoring goals, is it really so?
–Vadim Sivchuk and I enjoyed making passes, because we had Gleb Petrov to make them lead to goals (laughs). I'm always like that. My first coach at the Cherepovets school hammered into my head that it's better to make a pass than to score. I derive more enjoyment from making passes than scoring goals. I don’t have such emotions when I light the lamp, because it is due to my partners helping me.
– Which assist do you consider to be the best one in the 2021/2022 season?
– The one in the away game against Krylya Sovetov. We broke out of the defensive zone, I skated behind the net, made a diagonal pass to Gleb Petrov and he scored a goal.
– How were the roles distributed in your line with Vadim Sivchuk and Gleb Petrov?
– Before the start of the 2021/2022 season, Sivchuk and I were at the training camp with the JHL team, and Petrov was with the SHL team. Then Gleb returned to our team and was put on a line with us, it became easier – he was a player able to score goals, the roles were distributed right away.
– What helped you to find mutual understanding?
– We talked before the first game and agreed on how we would play. Everything worked out well. Not every game was perfect, it took us some time to build chemistry. We were getting to know one another better, talked a lot off the ice – that was how we found mutual understanding. We are good friends now, we spend our free time together: we go out for dinners all together, go to a computer club. I share a room with Sivchuk at the training camp, and I have known Petrov for a long time - we are from the same city.
– Have you had any arguments because of misunderstandings?
– Yes, and quite a lot. You can't do without it - it is a work process. Sometimes the coach helped us to resolve misunderstandings, he was saying: “Sit down and talk to one another.” Or we figured it out ourselves by discussing who was right and who was wrong after a game or a practice.
– What funny moments were there during the season?
– There were many of them. I remember the empty-netter in the game against Sakhalinskie Akuly. We had a big lead, but our line couldn’t score a goal. The opposing team pulled the goalie. Our line drove the net and we made passes to one another for each of us to score a point. It made us happy.
– Gleb Petrov and Vadim Sivchuk will no longer play in the JHL due to their age. Do you feel sad that your line is broken up?
– I would not say that it is broken up. We are practicing with the SHL team together. New players will join the JHL, I think they will be no worse. None of us is indispensable, we will build chemistry with any linemates.
– How does the training camp feel?
– It’s tough, but we cope with it. We are practicing in Sergiyev Posad: clean air, great nature, it’s fun. When we are working together as a team, it makes things easier, gives team unity. We now lay the groundwork for the season, work on conditioning so that we have enough energy for the entire season.
– What are your favorite drills?
– My favorite drill is to have breakfast and lie on the bed (laughs). Joking aside, I'm working on all the aspects, I need to improve my performance. You can’t achieve a goal and stop working on yourself. This is not the way it is, you are to improve each and every season. If you don’t do that, your place will be too hot to hold, someone else will take your spot. It is extremely important to keep improving and progressing.
– Which of the athletes do you look up to?
– I don’t have any hockey idols, I want me to become the best player. I get inspired by basketball legend LeBron James. He is 37 years old and he is the best NBA player. He sets a great example of sports longevity: how to treat your body right and get prepared. James gives a lot to be successful. In tennis, Novak Djokovic is the same kind of phenomenon. I worked with a tennis coach during the off-season, he was teaching me how to grip a tennis racket, we worked on some details of the game. So, I am not an armchair expert any more - I watch tennis and play it too.
– Is playing tennis a good way of preparing for the season?
– It is a crazy preparation - you are all wet after two hours of playing. It is different from hockey, but there still are some similarities: you are to move fast, to move your eyes in and out quickly and accurately. It’s a great sport.
– What did you do during the off-season?
– I'm not a big fan of beach holidays, so I didn't go to the seaside. I don’t get to spend a lot of time in my hometown, so I spent my vacation in Cherepovets with my family. I had a nice time at home, worked out in a gym, played tennis - and that was it, I went to the training camp right after.