Rookie season, three leagues, being named ‘the next one’ by Chelyabinsk fans and a bundle of points. He scored 36 points in regular season games in 6 points in the playoffs for Belye Medvedi, 2 goals and 2 assists for Chelmet and one – but a really good one – marker for Traktor. The latter put Vitaly Kravtsov ahead of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Valery Nichushkin as he became the youngest player to score a goal in Gagarin Cup Playoffs.
The young forward told us about improvisation in hockey, how he substitutes Connor McGregor and how he learned to cure the evil eye professionally.
ON HOCKEY AND FAMILY VALUES
“It all began one winter when I came to see my father play hockey,” reminisces Kravtsov with a laugh. “He’s an amateur, he’s quite as good to be a pro. But with his hockey mind he could have battled for a roster spot back then. After that game I began putting my father’s equipment on at home and run around the apartment in it. Next winter I put on skates. I could have done it earlier but there were no artificial rinks in Vladivostok at the time. Sometimes I had to hose and clean the ice myself just to skate.
“I did a little bit of everything when I was a kid but I spent most of my time with a hockey stick. There were times I even slept with it. And to be frank I was never as good at anything as I was at hockey. Take studying for example. I was an A-student until Grade 6 but then when I moved to Chelyabinsk. I want to apologize to the teachers that I had but I didn’t have a choice – I was focused on the thing I loved.
“We moved to Chelyabinsk when I was 11 years old. Both me and my parents wanted me to do better in hockey than just skating around the rink every now and then. I stood out among the guys I played with and before making the move I asked my coaches for advice. My second coach Andrei Yerofeyev told me that if I was lucky, I’d make Traktor’s third line. My first coach Evgeny Safronov supported me and told me everything was going to be alright if I worked hard enough. He gave me a lot when I was a kid and it helps to this day.
“Natalia Trunova taught me how to skate. I want to thank all of them. My parents were always behind the idea of me in hockey. They moved to Chelyabinsk because of me and helped me in everything. I call my mom after every game and ask her – so, what did dad say? His opinion on the game is very important to me. He always sticks to the point and at the end he always says – well, you don’t need me to tell you that, you understand hockey better than me now. One of the main things for my dad is that I score a goal and my mom is being a mom – I’m always the best player in her eyes, staying healthy is the most important thing, our team should play well and win as long as I don’t starve.”
ON HIS ROOKIE JHL SEASON AND TRANSITION DIFFICULTIES
“There were a lot important events in my rookie season,” says Kravtsov. “One of the most exciting ones, for example, was the game against Reaktor [Nizhnekamsk] when we completed a comeback with a minute and a half left to play in regulation. The thing that changed me was my goalless drought early in the season. I believe I couldn’t score for ten games in a row. I changed my mental approach to the game and things got better. As for what really touched me was the coaching staff. When I first joined JHL team from junior hockey school, I looked up to my coaches. I always put the priority on personal qualities.
“And in Chelyabinsk, in all of Traktor system, there wasn’t a single coach who wouldn’t listen or help me. Everyone was ready to give advice and, most importantly, listen on and off the ice.
“The most difficult thing in making the jump was learning to keep your distance when you battle big guys against the boards. I took me five to ten games to adjust and learn to feel that distance. Other than that, I played with some really skilled guys on my line and they gave me a lot of advice. I managed to overcome the obstacle and after a few lengthy talks with my coaching staff and teammates I began scoring points. It didn’t take us long to get the chemistry working on our line – we all love to play the passing game.
“We started with the basics. We didn’t have fancy rushes when someone tells you to skate over there and you skate over there. We improvised. Coaches told us that if we do well improvising and it helps the team, then why not. You can say we just had fun out there. That’s why nobody can stop Mozyakin’s line – they do whatever they want out there.”
ABOUT THE TEAM
“Belye Medvedi is a fun and exciting team. Words cannot describe that feeling when you’re on a team where everyone is for one another. As they say, you have to live it to understand it. We get together before the season, set goals and if during the season something goes wrong or we just need to reset psychologically, we get together again, go to the sauna or play videogames.
“One time when we were in Khanty-Mansiysk and me and Alexander Podkorytov couldn’t score for a while – we weren’t getting any luck at all. We were mad and didn’t know what to do. We even looked for an online-psychologist. We deleted ourselves from social media. Podkorytov put pictures everywhere against the evil eye. Coaches jokingly told us to take our hockey sticks to our rooms. So we did. At the dinner everyone was laughing at us, telling us to get the sticks some food, too. So we threw some salad at the sticks as if we were feeding them. Alex even gave it a bath up in the room. We went to bed with them. We both scored in the next game.”
ON EARLY PLAYOFF ELIMINATION
“I believe we lacked emotions and we couldn’t capitalize on our chances,” explains Kravtsov. “We had to keep a cool head. All in all, everybody battled hard and did their best. We gained valuable experience. I was excited to be a part of that team but, alas, we got eliminated. We need to work harder and prove first of all to ourselves that we could have done better. You always crave for more. We could go further. But I can’t assess our result – that’s what team management and coaching staff are for. We have the same goal for next season as we have for every season – finish as high as possible in the standings. And to get an A for the season you need to win the last game of the playoffs.”
ON HIS RECORD IN GAGARIN CUP PLAYOFFS
“Playing in three leagues is tough psychologically but that’s what you pushed for all your life, so you’re always ready to go,” says Kravtsov. “It’s great that I scored a goal but next season I need to prove it wasn’t just a coincidence. I have no words to describe what I felt back then. You have to feel it for yourself. It was a very positive moment in my life. You could say I worked my whole life for that. Hopefully, I have a long career ahead of me. I need to prove in every game that one goal doesn’t mean anything. My father brought the puck back to Vladivostok to show it to our friends and family.”
Q&A with Vitaly Kravtsov
- What was the most packed game in your career?
- I think it was in Chelyabinsk. Nowhere else people support their beloved team like here. We battle hard and make the games more interesting because of them. We know they’re always behind us.
- How do you motivate yourself before a routine practice?
- I have only one motivation – to get better. To progress and improve on aspects I need to work on.
- You said your teammates like to play videogames. Do you play FIFA and NHL mostly?
- Them too. We play a lot of games. I like to fight in UFC as Connor McGregor.
- What team does Vitaly Kravtsov play for in videogames?
- For Traktor, obviously. I created the team and myself. I play on the same line with [Evgeny] Kuznetsov (laughing).