18.03.2017 в 06:00


Only the brave fare the seas. U17 Team Russia captain talks about his rookie season with Irbis Kazan.

Kazan major junior team rookie Alexander Khovanov says his relationship with hockey was not love from first sight, talks about Vladimir Putin’s favorite sport and his journey to Kazan from Saratov through Togliatti.

My dad took me to a rink one winter when I was three years old,” says Alexander Khovanov. “To be honest with you, I didn’t like it at first. I tried soccer and judo later but it didn’t last more than a few days so I decided to opt for hockey. I began playing in my hometown of Volsk. It’s in Saratov Region. Almost none of my peers played hockey so I had to practice with kids who were much older than me. They could skate and handle the puck better than me. I looked up to them and tried to get better as soon as possible. When I was eight, I transferred to Lada Togliatti junior hockey school. There was a tournament where my team played against Togliatti and their coach noticed me. He invited me to a try-out via my father.

“When I came to Togliatti, we practiced a little and I went on the road to play exhibition games in Povolzhie against Motor. I was able to show what I was capable of in those games and they offered me to stay. We made the decision with my father. He agreed but I still practiced at home – I only went to Togliatti for the games. Even before the move we decided I would go down professional hockey route to achieve results. When I turned 11, we rented an apartment for me in the city and I began practicing with the team little by little. After two years, Lada hit some hard times and my family decided it would be better for me to continue my career in Kazan. I’ve been in Ak Bars system since I was 13”.

By the end of the regular season Khovanov was 7th among Irbis forwards with 8 goals, 14 assists and 22 points. It’s a solid result for a rookie, especially given the fact he was dressed for just 29 Junior Hockey League games this season. Those forwards who had more points than Khovanov played almost every game in the regular season.

Khovanov noticed a difference between coaching approach in junior hockey school and JHL and shared his most memorable rookie season moment.

Junior hockey school coaches focus on improving general skills at the practice,” he says. “It’s not the way it is in major junior. Here they put the emphasis on tactics. JHL coaches adjust the players to their game model, they are more responsible and serious about their approach to practices. Everybody wants to prove that his team is worthy of the Cup. It was difficult at the beginning of the season to cope with the pace of the game and quick thinking. But it was getting easier with every passing day. Besides older guys were helping me a lot.

“For example, I sit next to Artyom Valeyev in the dressing-room. He always supports me and gives important advice. In the beginning I often talked to coaches, asking them for advice in certain situations. Highlight of the season was scoring my first career goal. It was an indescribable feeling! I didn’t change drastically. I just changed my approach to working at practices. Today I mostly work on my physical conditions. I try to stay for extra work after practices.”

Irbis Kazan have a great recipe for relaxation before home games. Khovanov gladly shares the secret.

“I feel welcome on the team,” he says. “We bonded before the season, set a goal for ourselves and agreed to work towards achieving it. To get our minds off hockey, we go to the movies before home games. We have a big community on social network and our captain Eduard Nasybullin offers us a few options to choose from. We go to comedies mostly and action movies.”

The young forward has a profound international hockey experience. Khovanov led U17 Team Russia in points and assists at the 2017 Youth Winter Olympic Games – he had 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points. He also led the team in goals at U17 World Hockey Challenge with 5 tallies and 2 helpers for 7 points. Team Russia won bronze. Recently, he came back from Five Nations Tournament, where he played a key role on U17 Team Russia’s top line and also was the captain.

“I try not to change the way I play whether it’s the club or national team,” says Khovanov. “I made the exception just for tactic details – I play the way my coach wants me to play. Sometimes it’s hard to switch your mind from playing for national team when you get back. But it fades away after a few practices. It’s a huge responsibility to captain a team. You need to help your coaches and the guys on the ice. You have to find the right words in the dressing-room to get the team behind you. But at the same time it’s great that the coaches see me as a leader and trust me with this important role.”

Alexander Khovanov also answered a few short questions. Now we know for a fact what he would do if it weren’t for hockey.

- What players do you look up to?
- I like Alexander Barkov who plays for Florida Panthers. I watch highlights of his game and try to weave a few his things into my game.

- What do you do in your spare time?
- I don’t have a lot of time after practices. I try to relax – get well-rested and sleep. I like to play videogames on PlayStation with my friends.

- If it weren’t for hockey, you would…?
- I’ve been into tennis for two years now. I play a lot with my friends. So if it weren’t for hockey, I’d be a tennis player.