About the League
It was only last year that Ilya Nikolayev made his debut in Junior Hockey League and today he’s one of the leaders of U18 Team Russia and alternate captain of Loko Yaroslavl. In this interview Nikolayev talks about Hlinka/Gretzky Memorial, details about game preparation by North American players and his first thought when the puck hits an unprotected part of the body.
- What’s your take on the start of the season?
- I began this year in JHL so the first couple of games were exciting for me. Then I got used to it and it got easier to play.
- Before the start of the regular season you played for Team Russia at the Hlinka/Gretzky Memorial. How did you like the tournament?
- It’s a competition of a very good level. Perhaps, it’s even better than the U18 IIHF World Championship in certain regards because all clubs make their top players available for the pre-season tournament. That’s why every game was tough. It was difficult to play against every team but we had a good group of guys and everyone tried to do what he was told by the coach and did their best to win. Obviously, we didn’t get what we were looking for as we lost in the semifinal. But it doesn’t mean much. We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.
- You would have been the biggest star on Team Russia at the tournament if it weren’t for Vasily Podkolzin’s phenomenal performance…
- Yes, I agree. Vasily played really well. He’s done well. I’m very proud and happy for him.
- Was this your first time in America this year?
- That was my second time in North America. Last year I went to Fort St. John in Canada for World Junior A Challenge.
- What differences have you noticed in terms of hockey organization?
- When you look at Canadian and American players, they are very different on and off the ice. Especially it terms off getting ready for the games. We try to focus while North Americans seem to stay loose and just kick the ball around before the games. It looks like they don’t have to ‘get focused’ before the games. It’s just not a big issue for them. As for the games, Americans and Canadians are very skilled players. Much more skilled than the Czechs, for example.
- Who is the toughest defenseman to play against?
- Perhaps, Ilya Mironov. It’s really difficult to get by him because of his big frame. And his positioning is also great.
- Who do you prefer to play on the same line with?
- Of course, with Daniil Gutik! We have played together for a long time and we understand each other with no words. It’s important because during the play there’s no time to tell your linemate what you’re going to do. Daniil is a very versatile player. He can dangle his way around a defenseman or he can dish out a great pass, leaving several opponents behind the play. We have a great chemistry even when we play other sports – soccer or basketball.
- Last off-season Vladislav Firstov and Yaroslav Likhachyov left for North America and today they are among top players on their teams. Why did you decide to stay in Russia?
- Yes, I had several offers. But I remember coming home on September 7th and deciding to do whatever it takes to play for my city’s pro team. Besides, Yaroslavl is great place for a young player to develop as there is one of the best club systems in Russia. So it all depends on me.
- What is your first thought when the puck hits an unprotected part of your body?
- You realize that the puck is still somewhere around and that you have to finish your shift and get the puck out of the zone so you could skate to the bench and see what happened.
- Last December you got hit in the arm twice during one shift and yet you finished your shift.
- Yeah, that didn’t tickle (laughs). But we were shorthanded and the opposing team had the puck so I change.
- Have you ever thought of quitting hockey?
- No, that hasn’t happened to me once. It’s my favorite thing. Hockey is my way of life and looking at things.
- What do you do in your spare time?
- I don’t have much of it. When I get the chance, I try to watch NHL – full games and highlights. I follow the Washington Capitals. Personally, I like the way Patrice Bergeron plays.