17.04.2017 в 11:39

Reaktor Nihznekamsk head-coach Alexander Sokolov shared his expectations on the final series, where his team will face Krasnaya Armiya Moscow. He also spoke about his team getting ready for the first Kharlamov Cup Finals game in franchise history.

- Alexander Yurievich, congratulations on making the finals! How does your team feel on the eve of the pinnacle of the season?
- We’re in great mood. We had almost two days off and recently went back to the ice. So far certain players don’t feel too well but we still have time. We’re going to try to get ready and do well in the opening game of the series.

- It took you all five games to win the quarterfinal series against Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk Region. Then you beat Almaz Cherepovets in four games in the semifinal round. Does your team improve as the playoffs go on?
- Here’s the thing. Think about last season. Future champions Loko Yaroslavl played against Amurkie Tigry Khabarovsk in the opening series and they didn’t look all that good. Especially, given their roster. The thing is that the guys who were sent down from KHL and VHL can’t adjust right off the bat. After all, they just played against men and now they’re back in junior hockey. In the end the team improved their game and went on to win the championship. Our situation is a little different. VHL and KHL players joined the team sooner and we had the opportunity to practice with them. They knew what we needed from them already before the post-season. So I don’t think we made this progress during the playoffs. Even our first game against Avto Yekaterinburg was very difficult. We may have been favorites but we never had a great advantage over anybody. Almaz outshot and outplayed. We won it only because of our character.

- Speaking of Almaz, what is the difference playing against Western Conference teams, that you don’t face in the regular season?
- To be honest, we expected a different brand of hockey a little bit. Two years ago we played against Western Conference teams and they played a much more mobile game than Eastern Conference teams. That’s why we expected a really fast-paced game from Almaz but for some reason they didn’t show it in Nizhnekamsk games. And it’s very difficult to win if you lose in mobility. As for us, our strength lies in our character and team work. This is why we beat Almaz in the last game, even though they finally played the brand of hockey we expected them to.

- Did you have a chance to watch Krasnaya Armiya games? What do you expect from your future opponent in the finals?
- I don’t have to watch Krasnaya Armiya games to understand what to expect. All three army teams play in the same offensive style so there don’t expect them to fall back. They play modern hockey – Canadian hockey if you will. It’s suffice to mention Andrei Kuzmenko, who is having a great playoff run, and was regularly scoring points for his KHL team. They’ve got a great team and they will be in optimal form in the finals – there’s no doubt about that.

- You’ve got your own leaders. Igor Ugolnikov and Rafael Bikmullin re-joined the team for the playoffs. How important are they to Reaktor?
- The boys truly had a breakthrough season last year. They became undisputed leaders not only on our team but also were among top scorers in the league. After such a breakthrough season it’s hard to stay at the same level. Igor has had a very uneven season – he had one injury after another. Just as he would recover from an injury, he would skate for a week – and he would go back to injury reserves. Rafa played a few more games in the VHL but he also had problems there – he broke his finger and had to play several games in a cast. This proves the boys have character and they wear their hearts on the sleeve. They became more experienced and they are very important for our team now. They are leaders and the team needs them.

- Reaktor players Pavel Poryadin and Marat Khairullin are among top scorers this playoff run. Did you expect such results from them?
- Of course. That’s exactly the kind of play we expected from them. Last year they also played in the post-season and gained some experience. We were unlucky in the series against Chayka – we lost the game in the final minutes. And now they blossomed. Especially Pasha, who regularly played for Neftekhimik – even on a powerplay – after Andrei Nazarov joined the team. Marat played in the VHL. Thanks to that both of them show very mature hockey and it’s a lot of fun to watch them. They are key to our team. They can be clutch. Hopefully, they will continue to do that.

- Roman Golovanov looked good when he had to replace Alexander Yenyushin in difficult situations. Are you worried about your goaltending line?
- There’s always something to worry about. It all depends on how the game goes. We tried to swap our goaltenders around in the regular season. Actually, we have four goaltenders and they’re all at about the same level. For example, Yenyushin didn’t play at the Junior Club World Cup last summer. Then we put Golovanov and Georgy Anarkulov on the team. And now Yenyushin has some VHL experience. He’s our starting netminder. But again – our goaltenders are pretty much on the same level.

- With its current roster Reaktor has reached the best result in franchise history. Would you say it’s the best team you’ve coached in JHL?
- Let me put it this way. JHL tendency is that you’ve got one team playing in the regular season and then you have another team that competes in the playoffs. Reaktor, who recently finished on top of the Eastern Conference, is a whole other team. And it was the best team in the league even back then. We had a very strong team in the league’s first season. We faced Kuznetskie Medvedi in the playoffs then who had [Sergei] Bobrovsky and [Dmitry] Orlov. We lost two games on home ice, bounced back in Game 3 and lost the next one. We’ve never had big slumps. Reaktor is a regular in the playoffs. We’ve always relied on our discipline, character, work ethic and spirit. Thanks to all these qualities we’ve made the finals. But we do have a really good team now. We have our leaders and we have those who can help them out.

- Home ice advantage is very important, especially in the playoffs. Do you feel that your team’s success improves the interest in junior hockey in Nizhnekamsk?
- That’s right, no doubt. They say they’re going to make people pay for the tickets now and even then there won’t be enough. There’s a hockey boom in town and it’s big deal for local hockey. After all, the fans we see at junior hockey games are different from the ones we see in the KHL. We played in Novosibirsk and the fans over there support their team just the way they do at KHL games – the have the same cheers and the same signs but they have a lot of students in the stands. Same goes for Nizhnekamsk. It’s very important for popularization of hockey but also a healthy lifestyle. Drawing younger crowds is a very positive moment. I’m very happy that Reaktor helps that.