2018 YEARBOOK. NIKITA MILYOKHIN

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19.06.2018 в 15:00

2018 YEARBOOK. NIKITA MILYOKHIN

Even though SKA-1946 St. Petersburg forward Nikita Milyokhin’s dream to win the Kharlamov Cup with his father never came true, it’s difficult to regard his junior career as unsuccessful – 2018 silver medals and a year spent in North America speak for themselves. In this interview to Junior Hockey League media relations department Milyokin spoke about working with his father, details of his departure to North America and shared his frustration over the fact that even ‘army club’ players sometimes have trouble with mandatory military service.

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- How difficult is to be a hockey player in a family like yours?

- It’s more complicated than that. Certainly, my father and older brother are hockey players but my mother was a professional tennis player and she is a tennis coach now. So up until I was 12 years old I played both sports. Even when I already was a professional player, at difficult times I would think that maybe I should retire and pursue a career in tennis. I hone my tennis skills even these days. Sometimes my mother books a court and a sparring partner for me. At pre-season camps I also play tennis sometimes with my teammates.


- Do you follow tennis tendencies as well?

- I watch almost all matches of my favorite tennis player Rafael Nadal. I rooted for Anastasia Potapova at the recent Roland Garros tournament. She’s just 17 years old but some people already say that she’s a new Maria Sharapova.

- Why did you choose hockey after all?

- Back then I wanted to be exactly like my older brother at everything. He’s more talented than I am. When he was just 18, he already played for CSKA Moscow in the Superleague. In 2008 he won a bronze medal at the World Juniors. I had two dreams – to win the Kharlamov Cup with my father and to play with my brother in an official game.

- You were close to achieving both of those dreams this season.

- Misha has played for SKA-Neva since 2016 but this season he played just two games for St. Petersburg and then went to Ryazan. I was called up to the VHL team almost right after that. We missed each other by just a few days.

- In 2014 you were drafted by Severstal. How did that go?

- I wasn’t interested much at that moment which KHL team was going to draft me. I was going to be selected at the CHL Import Draft and I was waiting for the results. In the end, I was chosen by the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3rd overall. Although, my contract was cancelled already by the New Year’s so I spent the second half of the season with the Minnesota Magicians, who play in a weaker league NAHL. That was a huge step back. I didn’t see a future for myself there after that so I decided to go back to Junior Hockey League to make my way to Russian professional leagues.

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- What went wrong for you in North America?

- That was completely my fault. I was struggling at first and I was having a rough time because of that on the team. I was crestfallen because of that and I almost gave up when I had to persevere and keep working hard. When I was 17 years old it hadn’t dawned on me yet and there was nobody around to give me that advice. I was in a foreign country and I had no friends or family. I didn’t cope with that psychological moment at all. Perhaps, had I gone there later, I would have done better.

 

- Are you saying that one should go to North America at a more mature age?

- It all depends on the person. You just have to understand that you have to be mentally ready for such huge changes in your life. I don’t regret trying. In any case, it was an experience, which helped me to become a core player in the JHL. After Minnesota I joined Almaz and almost instantly became a core player there.


- Pavel Buchnevich played for Cherepovets that season. Did you get to talk to him often?

- I joined Almaz in 2015. Pavel was already with Severstal at the time, he was never sent down to JHL. Besides, he finished that season as an SKA player. I happened to meet him in the following pre-season. We practiced together when Pasha was getting ready to join the New York Rangers.

 

- In the 2016-17 season you joined SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. Your father was the head-coach of the team. Did that play a big role in your decision?

- I was having some issues with Almaz coaching staff at the time. Comparing to the previous season I wasn’t getting as much ice-time and I was angry because I couldn’t understand what was the problem. That’s why when Almaz went on the road to St. Petersburg to play against Dynamo and SKA-Serebryanye Lvy, I asked my dad to set me up for a try-out. The scouts liked the way I played and my father also wanted to see me on his team.

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- Is it difficult to see your father as your coach?

- My father has coached me ever since I was a kid on almost every team in junior hockey school. It was only at Dynamo junior hockey school that Rinat Ravilievich Khasanov was my coach. He is currently the head-coach of Krasnaya Armiya Moscow. I’ve had some difficulties because of that. Whenever I would dog it, I would get punished the most. On the other hand, I would always get a better advice on how to improve my game. I had an extra chance to work on my mistakes. Sometimes you’re shy to ask advice from your coach, but my father was always there for me. At JHL level the contact with your coach is very important.

- How difficult it was to bond with other SKA-1946 players?

- At first my teammates were a little wary of me, because they saw me as the coach’s son. Some of them were even saying that I made the team because of his protection. Sometimes we would have a conflict and several players would hold back. I understand them. Perhaps, I would do the same thing if I were in their place. As the season went on, I touched base with everyone and befriended many of my teammates. I proved to all of them that we were in the same boat.

- So you never faced your father’s team as player?

- That was a joking matter when I was on Almaz. For example, our coach was joking that he wasn’t going to dress me for the game against SKA-1946. However, by the time Almaz played SKA-1946 I was already a St. Petersburg player. I even got to score on my former team.

 

- In the 2017-18 season SKA-1946 made it to Kharlamov Cup Finals. How did you like that experience?

- I played very little in the finals as I was still recovering from an injury. In the mid-season I walked with crutches for two months. The doctors were saying that I wasn’t going to play in the playoffs. But I didn’t want to miss the last JHL playoffs in my life. I wanted to recover as soon as possible. In the end I played a few games late in the regular season, but I couldn’t get back to the form I was in before I got injured. Because of that I had to deal with mandatory military service, too. They implanted a piece of metal in me and I had to go though another medical evaluation to confirm that and get a pass for the service. And since technically I’m a citizen of Krasnogorsk, the process took a while.

 

- When did you realize that your JHL career was coming to an end?

- I was watching Game 6 of the finals against Loko from the stands. Yaroslavl were up 2-1. Vlad Tsitsyura got in on a breakaway, failed to convert and then Kirill Slepets made it 3-1 on the following rush. That’s when I thought that erasing a 2-goal deficit in the finals was going to be very difficult. I got worried and it was difficult to cope with the fact that it was the last game of the season and I was never going to play with my teammates in this league. That’s when I asked myself, ‘Is this really the end?’.

 

- You were called up to SKA-Neva several times in the 2017-18 season.

- It was a very important experience for me because I was in my last Junior Hockey League season. I had to know what was coming for me next. I played just seven games in the VHL but it was enough to get the feel of the league. While I was the oldest player on SKA-1946, I was playing with grown men on SKA-Neva. Those guys have played on different teams at different levels. I scored my first career VHL goal in just my second game. It was a road game against Saryarka. We were up 1-0 with just a few minutes left to play in the 3rd period. I didn’t even realize at first that I scored a goal. I was in shock – that’s how emotional it was. After the game several people extended their congratulations. For example, I got a text from Rinat Ravilievich Khasanov, who was my coach at Dynamo junior hockey school.

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