This off-season Kuznetskie Medvedi lost their key offensive player and one of the top Junior Hockey League scorers – center Konstantin Parkhomenko’s junior hockey career came to an end. He truly shone in his last JHL year as he won bronze medals with ‘the Bears’. He also collected several pleasant individual awards last season – he was named top player of the week on numerous occasions, had the best plus/minus in the regular season, set a new franchise record in goals with 36 and scored his first points in the Kontinental Hockey League. Overall former Metallurg Novokuznetsk captain and head-coach’s son played 176 in the Junior Hockey League, scoring 56 goals and 78 assists for 134 points. He was also a plus-50 at the end of his tenure.
“I made my first steps in hockey back in Cherepovets because at the time my dad played fro Severstal in Superleague,” says Parkhomenko. “My mom and dad brought me to mass skating. We had this huge rink in town and that’s where I skated for the first time. Actually, I skated there for a year. On top of that, when I was waiting for my dad to come back from games or practice I would slide on the floor at home. We always played ‘home hockey’ with him. Now that I’ve grown up my younger brother waits me to get home just like I used to wait my dad. We play ‘home hockey’ with him as well.
“So I’ve loved the game ever since I was a kid. Then our family moved to Novokuznetsk. I went to Metallurg junior hockey school with other kids who were born in 1996 and I just kind of went from there.
Prokopievsk is one of my hometowns. That’s where my grandmothers and grandfathers live. My mom and dad were born there. It’s about an hour away from Novokuznetsk. My grandfather iced a rink for me for two consecutive winters right at our cottage. We’ve got pretty cold winters in Siberia so the ice would stay solid for long. And that’s where I skated. Even when the ice would melt a little, I still wouldn’t leave it. My dad, obviously, taught me hockey more than anybody else, but my mom and grandfather also participated. It was a fun time and I have a lot of good memories. I’m thankful to my family for that time.”
- Some people believe that every kid must find his school and coach to develop productively as a player. Perhaps, that’s the reason why so many kids go from school to another, while you stayed loyal to Novokuznetsk all these years. Did you just get lucky fast or there’s another reason?
- I think, it was a little bit of both. We had a great group of 1996 year borns and the guys were great off the ice, too. We won a lot of tournaments together but we got a little unlucky in Russian championship finals. Our coaching staff was great as well. Our very first coach was Evgeny Sergeyevich Kuzmenko. He took us when we were just little kids and just came to hockey. He worked with us for about three years. Then we got transferred to Oleg Sergeyevich Suzdalenko – honorary Russian coach. With him we made a huge step forward, improved as hockey players and grew into adolescences, so to speak. Next stage of our careers was with Alexander Sergeyevich Kitov – he coached Kuznetskie Medvedi for the first four years that I was there. Dmitry Gennadiyevich Parkhomenko was also on the coaching staff. We’ve established work relationship with him. He would scold me just like anybody else when I would do something wrong. He explained a lot of things to me and helped me a lot when we worked together. Even today we call each other often and I seek advice from him – what to do in certain situations and that sort of thing. We worked for another year with Yury Viktorovich Gailik. All along the way we’ve had great relationship and understanding with our coaches. There were no conflicts whatsoever. As the matter of fact, I believe that no matter what happens, you should always avoid conflicts.
Alexander Sergeyevich took me to Medvedi when I was 16 years old. I started getting some ice-time shortly after New Year’s. I played around 10 games, scored three goals and got one assist. That was rookie season in the Junior Hockey League. With time I made some progress and I’m very grateful to Alexander Sergeyevich for believing in me as a hockey player. This bronze season with Kuznetskie Medvedi proved that hockey is alive in Novokuznetsk and that our young players have a lot of potential.
- What was the hardest thing you had to learn?
- Skating drills are still pretty tough because there’s always room to improve (laughing). And, obviously, the hardest thing for every hockey player is pre-season camp. There’s more work with weights, jogging and hard on-ice practices.
- Pre-season camps are trending right now. Let’s talk about your first camps in professional hockey. How many practices did it take you to understand that your legs just won’t listen to you anymore?
- (laughing) Oh, yeah, that certainly happened. Actually, I want to point out that these camps are different from one coach to another and all of them are difficult differently. That’s going to be true for any player anywhere anytime. In my first year with Medvedi in 2012, Alexander Sergeyevich had pretty tough drills for increasing power and speed. I could really drip a bucket of sweat from my shirt back then. Even my sneakers were full of sweat – completely soaked. We had that camp in a town of Berdsk. Kuznetskie Medvedi are currently having their camp there, too. Those drills for increasing power and speed is what I remember the most. That’s when I felt like I couldn’t walk anymore.
- As far as we know, you used to play defense and then became a center. Why did that happen?
- Yes, I used to play defense back in junior hockey school for about three years or so. And one time before an evening practice our coach said: “Parkhomenko – change your jersey”. That meant I had to change position. I don’t know why it happened but that’s what the coach wanted and ever since then I’ve played center. To be honest with you, I really like to play center because you need to make decisions fast.
- In your opinion, what helps to improve hockey sense to make these decisions?
- For instance, it’s game practices at pre-seasons camps when we get to play basketball, handball and things like that. You need to make quick decisions in every sport. That’s one of the components that we work on at camps. Because if you learn to make quick decisions in other sports, it’s going to affect what you do on ice as well. I want to say that team sports improve the way hockey players think. And, obviously, it helps when you see top players compete in KHL and NHL. I would point out Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk as one of the best centers in the world. You can learn a lot of things from them.
- What were your biggest difficulties in transition to junior hockey?
- When you move from junior hockey school hockey to major junior, everything changes. The style of hockey, pace and skill. It’s hard to adapt at first but I managed. With time every player gets used to any league. When I was 16 years old and was just called up to play major junior, the oldest guys on the team had been born in 1991. The core of the team consisted of 1992 and 1993 year borns. Obviously, I tried to look up at those guys, learn from them and be like them. When you play on the fourth line, you don’t get a lot of ice-time but nevertheless you grow. And when you come to play major junior hockey, everything is new to you – the pace of the game, the way players think on the ice… And you just have to get used to it.
- You have played five seasons in the Junior Hockey League. What brand of hockey is definitely not for you?
- Well, I’d say physical hockey. Because I’m not built for that.
- You enjoyed a breakthrough in your last two JHL seasons. Your production went up by quite a few points. What are the reasons for that progress?
- I don’t know how to answer. Regarding this season, I can say that Kitov created our first 5-man unit with Andrei Karavayev, Denis Ludtsev and Mark Petrov. One defenseman was always changing – first we had Ilya Olendarenko and then in the playoffs it was Nikita Lyamkin who joined us. We played well together and had a very productive season. We have a great chemistry with Andrei. We didn’t even have to look to know exactly where each of us was going to be. That chemistry helped us to rack up a lot of points. We helped the team the best we could.
- Kuznetskie Medvedi had an interesting season. It was very emotional and led to bronze medals. What are the positives that you can take away from this season?
- I can take away a lot of positives from this season. We scored a lot of goals and got a lot of points as a team – 113 to be exact. That’s a pretty good result and one of the most positive ones this season. And, obviously, winning the bronze. Both – us and the city won’t forget it any time soon. I want to thank my coaches and teammates. And big props to fans for coming to the games and cheering for us. When the whole city comes to cheer you on and there isn’t an empty seat at the rink – it’s so nice to see that. I’m glad people love hockey in Novokuznetsk like that. Apart from that, there were a lot of other great moments – in the dressing-room, on and off the ice.
- Last seasons there were a few games when ‘the Bears’ would wake up only towards the end, as if from winter slumber. Why did you often find yourself trailing behind after 40 minutes of play?
- Yes, this season we had a problem with first periods. I don’t know what was causing it. We would often lose them. Most of the games we would start from trailing 1-0. It became a classic for us to lose 2-0 after first. Then we would tie it up and often win the games, too. I can’t say what was causing it. We wondered ourselves about it this season. Oh, well. At least, we were coming out angrier for second and third periods, I guess. We showed our Siberian, bear-like character. Being able to show that character this year and because of our effort, we managed to turn games around.
- In one interview you said: “There were certain moments this season, because of which we could have not achieved the result, but we did and won the medals.” What did you mean by that?
- I was talking about a road trip to Orenburg and Magnitogorsk. We came back from it with only two points and suffered quite a drop in the standings. Till the very last game of the regular season we tried to get as high as we could in the standings. Another problem was that we were out of the playoff zone for half of the regular season and that put quite a pressure on us. It’s good that it turned out the way it did and we ended up finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. That meant we got to begin the playoffs with home ice advantage. Regular season drained a lot energy from us. Perhaps, that was key in the series against Krasnaya Armiya [Moscow].
- Your time in the Junior Hockey League has come to an end. What did you learn from it?
- It was a very good stage of my life. Both – Kuznetskie Medvedi and Metallurg did a lot for my development. I look at it as a step forward. Last season stands out for me the most – I learned a lot from it. I think, it’s going to help me in my future career. I want to thank Junior Hockey League for everything.
- Late in April Metallurg made a qualification offer and recently it was reported that you signed with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Why did you opt for that?
- It was a tough decision for me. For the first time in my life I moved to another city and another team. I’m not going to make any details public but it really was a difficult decision. Nevertheless, I made it and, with God’s help, it’s going to have been right. I would like to extend my gratitude to administrative and coaching staffs, along with Kuznetskie Medvedi and Metallurg medical staffs that I worked with. Thank you for your caring and the great job we’ve done together.
Konstantin Parkhomenko’s life rules:
My personal rule that guides me through life is to work, work and work again. I believe in my family and friends. They will help and support me in any situation. And I try to do the same for them.