About the League
Loko and Mamonty Yugry players comment on their Kharlamov Cup semifinal series.
“The series against Mamonty Yugry began with a long flight for us. They couldn’t book us the right tickets so we had three connection flights to get to Khanty-Mansiysk,” says Loko defenseman Anton Lukichyov. “We had three flights from different cities on different days. Team staff was on the first flight and then the team had to split for two more flights. We flew regular flights. No one recognized us on the plane (laughs). We called a cab after one game in Yaroslavl and only then did the cab-driver recognize us, especially Grigory Denisenko.”
- Was jetlag a factor in Game 1?
- We skated a day before the game and more or less got used to the rink. Nevertheless, we lost the opening period of the series. Mamonty Yugry gave us a good run for our money. They battled hard and we got fazed a little. But then we spoke about it in the dressing-room and decided what to do next. We played solid hockey in the following two periods.
- After a blowout 6-1 win in Game 1 you lost your first game in this post-season run.
- It’s not that we felt relaxed in Game 2. We were motivated to keep playing hard. But nothing went right for Loko that day.
- Loko ran into a penalty problem in the series. What happened?
- We took a lot of penalties especially in Game 3. It was an obstacle and our coaches told us to be more disciplined. Penalties affected the game a lot. It was difficult to defend. We were getting tired and the opposition took the momentum from us. Killing penalties has a negative psychological effect because you have to play without the puck. I can’t say that we were losing battles or couldn’t keep up with the opposition. Most of our penalties were unnecessary. For example, delay of game or too many men on the ice.
- Last year you faced Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in the semifinals and the series went a lot smoother for you.
- It’s difficult to say why the series turned out to be so different. It was a little easier for us playing against Reaktor than we had expected. But we also didn’t expect the series against Mamonty Yugry to be an easy one. Everybody knew that they clinched the playoffs from the top spot in their conference, so we were getting ready for them with all seriousness.
- Loko got six KHL players in time for the semifinal round.
- The boys had no time to adjust but they were a perfect fit from the get-go and improved our game. They weren’t cocky and worked at their maximum. We all supported each other.
- Loko’s current roster resembles the one the team had in Sochi at the Junior Club World Cup, which you won.
- We won the Kharlamov Cup with a similar roster last year as well. It’s a huge leg-up. Everybody knows one another, we have a lot of positive memories from the summer tournament and last year’s finals.
- Who would you rather face in the finals – Avto or SKA-1946, who you played against last year?
- We follow their series. They have a real battle going on. We argue with the boys who it would be more exciting to play against. On one hand, we don’t want to play against SKA-1946 again. We want diversity. Besides, we have a chance to play another series against an Eastern Conference team.
On the other hand, we would have to travel East for that, and it would affect the series. The series against SKA-1946 would be interesting given the context of the rich rivalry history between our teams. No matter how much I think about it, I can’t find an answer.
“This is my first Junior Hockey League post-season,” says Loko goaltender Vladislav Okoryak. “Last year I played for Loko-Yunior in NJHL playoffs. You can feel the difference in the level of the game and fan interest. We played at major arenas in Yaroslavl and Khanty-Mansiysk and the games drew big crowds. It was easy for me to adjust to playoff games. I didn’t think about it too much so I wouldn’t overthink it. I just enjoy every game I get to play.”
- Which semifinal game would you say was the most difficult for you?
- The series was difficult on the whole. Perhaps, last game in Yaroslavl was the toughest one. Mamonty Yugry had nowhere to go and they were giving their everything to win and get in the lead. It was difficult physically and emotionally-wise.
- You split playoff games almost equally with Daniil Isayev. Does it help you to conserve energy?
- It’s great that our coaching staff lets both of us play. Usually, there’s a clear-cut starting goaltender in the playoffs but Danya and I are both getting game experience. But it’s not like we save energy because of that. You give your maximum in every playoff game. Sometimes you don’t even notice how you get drained. All games require a lot of energy.
- You began the series on the road. Would you say the jetlag and switching time zones had any effect on the games?
- Usually I deal pretty well with road trios, so travelling didn’t affect my game much. I was getting ready as usually and played the same.
- Loko got a lot of penalties in the series.
- On one hand, it’s a huge workload. But that actually makes it easier for me. I don’t like it when I face only three shots per period. When you’re constantly busy, it’s easier to stay focused.
- It was your first time playing against an Eastern Conference team.
- Hockey is hockey no matter where you go. So there wasn’t much special playing against Eastern teams. Mamonty Yugry have a good offensive-minded team with solid defense, so I didn’t notice much difference between them and Western teams.
- You began the playoffs on Yugry and then got sent down to JHL team.
- It’s difficult to compare these playoff games, because I wasn’t trusted as much on VHL team than on JHL team. Consequently, I had less opportunities to improvise. But I can’t say that JHL playoffs were easier. We had a relatively inexperienced team – there were a lot of players who came straight from junior hockey school and a lot of players had left our team in the off-season. That’s why it looked like that Mamonty Yugry weren’t going to get further than the quarterfinals. We united as team and that helped us to win bronze medals. We battled together and got a solid result.
- Mamonty Yugry won just one game on the road in this playoff run.
- It’s difficult to say why. In the series against Belye Medvedi our overtime goal got disallowed in Game 3. It was a huge blow for us. We wasted a lot of emotions on that and lost two away games.
In the series against Omskie Yastreby we underestimated the opposition a little bit. At first it looked that they weren’t going to give us much trouble. But the ‘Hawks’ did really well and their goaltender was a huge factor. It was difficult for us to play in Yaroslavl at sold-out Arena-2000 as well. It just so happened that we were a home-only team in this playoff run.
- Did the fact that both of your opening series went to Game 5 have any effect on the semifinals?
- Yes, we didn’t have as much energy in the semifinals. After all, we played 10 games in a couple of weeks and it showed. Prior to the series against Loko we agreed that we were going to give everything we had but it wasn’t enough. In any case, it was a colossal experience for all of us. We thank Yaroslavl for the series.
- Loko got reinforcements from Lokomotiv for the series. Nikolai Kovalenko and Grigory Denisenko joined the team to name just a few players.
- They were the key players in the series. Everybody knew of their level. They were more confident than other players and it worked. But I can’t say that other Loko players looked weak comparing to them. Yaroslavl have a lot of talented young players. They have real depth.
We didn’t beat ourselves about the fact that we were facing KHL players. On the contrary, we played tougher and harder against them. After all, we did beat them once, even though some ‘couch pundits’ thought that Eastern Conference teams didn’t stand a single chance against them.
We didn’t feel euphoric in the dressing-room after that win. We knew that we had a tough road trip to Yaroslavl ahead of us, so we were saving our emotions. Obviously, we were very happy because we were the first team to beat Loko in the post-season. We felt that we had what it takes to get to the finals. But Loko had the experience and freshness on their side, and it proved to be the difference in the end.
- The trip to Yaroslavl was first in a while for Mamonty Yugry. Did you get a chance to see the town?
- We had some spare time on the eve of the game. We went downtown and saw the sights. Yaroslavl is a beautiful city. We called it ‘mini-St. Petersburg’.
- Mamonty Yugry couldn’t get their special teams click in the series against Loko.
- It proved to be a huge factor in the series. We had seven powerplay opportunities in Game 3 and we converted on just one of them. Had we scored a few more powerplay goals, the series could have gone differently. It was obvious that Loko learned about our special teams. They were aggressive in their defensive zone and blocked a lot of shots.
I think, special teams were the key factor in the series. We gave up a lot of energy to capitalize on our powerplay, trying to get back even. Another important factor came in the last game. Just a few seconds after we tied it, Loko got in the lead once again. Scoring goals was difficult for us in the series, so that marker had a huge effect on the matchup.
- What was going on in your dressing-room after the game?
- Everyone was really frustrated, because we came up just short. Our coaches told us in the dressing-room that we had a hell of a season. Our general manager Sergei Vladimirovich Gusev came to the dressing-room to thank us. He said that Khanty-Mansiysk would be proud of us.