“When I was 16, I asked Nikita Gusev for a stick and he gave me one.” Yaroslav Likhachyov has become a leader of Amur in his first season at the senior level

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24.11.2022 в 12:00

“When I was 16, I asked Nikita Gusev for a stick and he gave me one.” Yaroslav Likhachyov has become a leader of Amur in his first season at the senior level

The 2021/2022 JHL MVP has become a leader of the Khabarovsk team in the Kontinental Hockey League.

21-year-old forward Yaroslav Likhachyov is a Yaroslavl hockey alumnus. Before the start of the 2018/2019 season, without having played a single game in the Junior Hockey League, Likhachyov went to Canada to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and spent three years there. After returning to Russia, the forward became the most valuable player of the JHL season with 94 (49+45) points scored in 60 games with Loko in the regular season and in the Kharlamov Cup playoffs. He broke the team record by scoring 12 goals and being credited with eight assists in nine playoff games (the Yaroslavl team was eliminated in the quarterfinals).

In the 2022/2023 season, Likhachyov has established himself as a leader in the KHL. Lokomotiv loaned the player to Amur and he has unlocked his potential: 14 (9+5) points in 24 games.

In an interview with the official website of the Junior Hockey League, Yaroslav talked about moving to Amur, the Canadian stage of his career, his desire to face Nikita Gusev on the ice, playing at the U18 World Championship through an injury and a successful season in the JHL.

“Lokomotiv was to make a decision and my goal was to perform well”

– You were named the KHL’s rookie of the month for October, did you expect this to happen?
– It was not a big thing for me. I saw on the Internet that I had been named the rookie of the month, my parents and friends congratulated me. Of course, it’s cool, but I want to achieve greater success in future.

– You registered 45 shots on goal in the space of a month, which is a record among KHL forwards in October. What is the reason for being so goal-oriented?
– Goals cannot be scored without shots. I want to shoot, score goals and help my team win. If I have a chance to take a shot, I try to convert on it. If I see that it is better to send a pass, I will do it. I didn’t follow the shooting stats, I just tried to convert all the chances that I had.

– Is being recognized as the KHL’s rookie of the year one of your main goals for the season?
– I don’t pay too much attention to it, but it would be amazing to receive such an award at the end of the season. The season is long, everything can change, the main thing is to play well and serve team’s interests, so that we win games and things go smoothly for us.

– You were picked by journalists for the KHL All-Star Game, how did you take this news?
– To be honest, I did not believe my eyes, I even checked several websites to see if it was true or not. It is inсreadably nice to be picked for such a significant event, where many Russian hockey stars gather together. It will be great to play there.

– Your father taught you how to shoot when you were a child, do you devote a lot of time to improving your shooting skills now?
– I try to take the ice 10-15 minutes before each practice in order to take some shots. And l practiced a lot with a shooting pad during the summer.

– Your cousin is also a hockey player, can you tell us more about him?
– He is a Lokomotiv school alumnus, played for Loko, then joined Orenburg Khimik, then spent two or three years playing in Sweden and now he is building a career as a hockey agent.

– Was he an example for you to follow when you were a child?
– I would say, my father was, but still, when I was a kid, I always cheered for my cousin. I watched his games, they had a very good team in 1993, the majority of those guys play in the KHL and the SHL now. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together growing up, we got closer when I was 15 and we are on friendly terms now.

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– When you were sent to Molot, did you consider the SHL as an option to continue your career?
– Being sent to Molot made me upset. I played two games at the tournament, they worked in my favor, because I had never played at the senior level before. I had only faced guys who were five years older than me at most – it was at a tournament in Arizona. Of course, I wanted to make a jump from the JHL to the KHL, but I knew that many players gain experience in the SHL first. It is a strong league too, valuable learning experience. My agents did a good job and after two or three days with Molot they found an option of me being loaned to Amur. Lokomotiv agreed with no issues.

– Performing well in the KHL right after the JHL is something not everyone is capable of. What helped you make a successful debut at the senior level after playing for junior teams?
– A valid answer to this question cannot be given, because I cannot say that I perform well now. When I joined Amur, I had a great desire to finally try myself at this level, because when I was a kid, I watched Lokomotiv play, rooted for them, attended games. Now I have grown up and realized that I can play at the KHL level, the most important thing is to be confident and have no fear. Coach’s trust is an important factor too, because being trusted boosts confidence.

– What are the components you are not happy with?
– Perfection knows no limits, there’s always a room for improvement of some aspects of your game.

– Is the degree of responsibility much higher in the KHL compared to the junior level?
– Absolutely. It is much higher in the KHL, as one mistake can cost you the win. Playing in the JHL, you learn from your mistakes, so as not to repeat them in the following game and eliminate them when you move up the tiers and make it to the KHL.

– Do you mean to say that you can get creative in the KHL?
– Yes, you are expected to be creative. I believe that any coach will like it, as long as it doesn’t compromise team performance. You can get creative in the offensive zone, but it is crucial to avoid turnovers. As for defensive aspects of the game, you are to follow coach’s instructions.

– Bulking up was your goal for the summer, so that you are able to play at the senior level. Did you manage to do it?
– That’s a good one. I didn’t do it 100%, but there still is certain improvement in this aspect and I try to continue bulking up during the season, it is a very important thing to do. I gained a couple of kilograms over the summer, but I haven’t reached my goal weight. It’s fine with me, but I’m not going to remain complacent.

– You haven’t scored any game-winning goals in the KHL, but you have scored a shootout goal that allowed Amur to defeat Ufa in their barn for the first time in five years. What did you feel after netting the game-winner in a shootout?
– I could decide the outcome of the game in overtime, I didn’t make a greedy move, decided to open the door for a one-hundred-percent scoring chance, but it happened to be a zero-percent one. Ivan Nikolishin and I skated into the zone on a 2-on-0, I gave a back pass, but, unfortunately, he didn’t manage to get full wood on the puck and score a goal. So, I redeemed myself with a successful shootout attempt, Evgeny Alikin played very well - he denied all opponents’ attempts. He made a great contribution to our win.

– Were there things in the KHL that surprised you after the Junior League?
– Frankly speaking, there weren’t any. Well, flying in a chartered plane adds comfort. You can easily lie down on all three seats to sleep and have rest after a game. I did not feel any tremendous difference, the conditions in the JHL are close to those in the KHL. Loko provides good conditions and they are of the highest level here as well.

– How do you handle long flights?
– It’s no problem at all, being young makes things easier. When we fly from Khabarovsk to play in Moscow or in the Urals, getting over jet lag is easy. We arrive at five in the evening, get some rest until 10-11 o’clock, go to bed and sleep all night, at least that’s what I do. But returning to Khabarovsk from a road trip is tougher in terms of sleep problems. It happens so that I wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake till morning, so there are certain issues after road trips.

– How do you like Khabarovsk, does it differ greatly from Yaroslavl?
– To be honest, I haven’t seen much of the city. I am either at the rink or at home during most of the time. When it was warm, I used to walk along embankment, it’s beautiful there, I like it. Khabarovsk is a peculiar city, I cannot say that it is somewhat similar to Yaroslavl.

“After three years in Canada, I missed my family, my hometown, my friends”

– After performing well in Canada, you were sent to an American team and left it shortly after because you felt uncomfortable. Why did it happen?
– I was ready to stay in Canada for another season, but I was already 21 years old, and the team had a limit on such players. The club preferred to have Canadian guys of this age on the team. Since I couldn’t stay in Canada, I was offered to go to America, but certain circumstances made it uncomfortable for me to play there, and I made it clear right away. After three years in Canada, I missed my family, my hometown, my friends, so my parents and I decided that I would go back to Yaroslavl.

– What were your emotions when you returned to Russia?
– Only positive ones. I was happy to be back home together with my relatives and friends. I missed speaking Russian with the team. I was glad to be back with my club. I played and wanted to make it to the KHL in the 2021/2022 season.

– What did the Canadian stage of your career give you?
– First of all, body checking and playing physical, you can’t do without it there. When I played in the NJHL, I did not apply body checks and tried to avoid being checked. But it is not the way hockey is played in Canada, I got used to checking and playing physical there. I also improved defensive aspects of my game. The ice sheet is smaller there and you have to be able to make faster decisions. It was of great help for me when I returned to Russia, because an ice rink in the JHL tends to be larger in size and it allows you to get some more time for thinking.

– In the game against Traktor, you tried to apply a body check and ended up being sent into the Chelyabinsk bench, what did you feel at that moment?
– Well, it just made me laugh. I was approaching an opponent, but he anticipated and dodged it. When I found myself on the Traktor bench, one of their guys jokingly offered me to stay with them, I said: “No, thanks, I’m gonna go back to my team.”

– In early October, you played against Lokomotiv in Khabarovsk, was that game special for you?
– Facing Lokomotiv was an interesting experience. I did want to prove myself. I wish we would beat them, we were close, but missed a bit.
I’m looking forward to the second game in Yaroslavl. It will be the first opportunity for me to get home, because most likely I won’t be able to do it during New Year holidays.

“I got injured right before the U18 World Championship and decided not to tell anyone about it”

– Do you feel unsatisfied after the JHL or did you quickly get over losing to Krasnaya Armiya in playoffs?
– We had a very good team. When I returned to Loko from Canada, my task was to help my team win the Kharlamov Cup. Everything was in our hands, but Krasnaya Armiya happened to be stronger in Game 5. It was really disappointing, because we had come back after finding ourselves down 0-2 in the series and expected to have a psychological advantage in Game 5. We practiced for another month and then the offseason began. I started thinking about senior hockey and preparing for the new season.

– You said that Daniil But may turn to be another Yaroslav Likhachyov. Do you follow him and the JHL team in general?
– I do, even though my friends are already playing for Lokomotiv. I don’t really keep company with anyone from the junior team, but I still follow it. I like staying up to date with team performance, they have a new coaching staff this year, I hope they will succeed.

– You called Nikita Gusev one of your idols. He joined SKA a little while ago, are you looking forward to the game against the St. Petersburg team?
– I surely am. It will be nice to play against him. I played with his sticks when I was 16 or 17 years old. I participated in the U17 training camp in Novogorsk and it happened so that the main national team was also there for a training camp. I asked Nikita Gusev for a stick and he gave me one. Hopefully I will get a chance to play against him, it will be an interesting experience.

– You yourself are being compared to Gusev, do you feel pressured by high attention from media and fans?
– Not at all. On the contrary, it is nice. I try not to pay attention to it, but when I have time, I can watch or read something interesting.

– You emphasized the importance of practicing English after returning from Canada in order to avoid language attrition. Did you face a problem of practicing English in Russia?
– There was a Canadian coach working for Loko and I tried to talk to him a lot so as to practice speaking English, it served me well. I might have forgotten some words and spelling-to-sound rules, but in general I still speak good English. We have imports playing for Amur, so I often practice English here too.

– What can you say about the coaching approach in Amur?
– We have a great coaching staff who work smart: they analyze every team, give us a game plan. If we deliver on it, we can beat any opponent.

– Do you already feel like a leader in Amur?
– I believe that every player of our team is a leader. Some guys might perform well, others might not at some point, but everyone can contribute to the success of the team.

– You played at the 2019 U18 World Championship through a fractured ankle. Did you understand the risk you took?
– U18 World Championship is a very important tournament that every young player dreams of participating in. I received a call-up, but got injured right before leaving, and decided not to tell anyone about it. I wanted to go there so badly, it was painful of course but I bore it!

– You said that Amur making the playoffs was the main goal for the season. The team did not do great in October and does not make the top eight now. What will help the Khabarovsk team clinch a playoff berth?
– The season is very long, there still are many games to be played. It is crucial to follow coach’s tasks, to play as a team, go all out and just believe in one another – and we will be able to beat any opponent.

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