About the League
Loko Yaroslavl and U18 Team Russia forward Ilya Nikolayev shared his thoughts on the recent U18 IIHF World Championship, where he played on the same line with Vasily Podkolzin, and Kharlamov Cup Finals against Avto Yekaterinburg.
- You were one of Team Russia’s alternate captains at the U18 IIHF World Championship. Were you appointed by the players or coach?
- There was no voting on captains, we received information from our coaching staff. It’s just that I was one of the alternate captains throughout the whole season, so they decided to leave it as it was. Coaches hinted that only team leaders got to be the captains, because they’re always with the team. Being one of the alternate captains put extra pressure on my shoulders. I had to be an example for the whole team and act as a leader.
- You played the whole tournament on the same line with Vasily Podkolzin.
- It’s great to play with him. We played a lot of games together while getting ready for the world championship so we had good chemistry between us. I told myself before the tournament that it wasn’t going to be easy and that there won’t be any easy opponents. Besides our top line was under great emotional and physical pressure in every game. I did my best to cope with it.
- While Podkolzin is ranked 3rd
for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, American Jack Hughes, whom you faced at the tournament, is considered the top prospect.
- We played a few shifts against each other. The guy has great hands and hockey mind, as well as skating well. He’s an all-around great player. I think he has a bright future ahead of him. We almost didn’t talk to each other. We just said a few words at handshake and thanked each other for the game.
- You also ranked within Top-20 prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Did you speak to any club representatives during the tournament?
- There were a lot of scouts in Sweden but I did my best to not pay attention to the situation and focus on the championship. I tried not to think about my personal future and get ready for the games. I spoke to a lot of scouts after the tournament. I spoke on the phone with a few more. They all congratulated me and praised my individual skill as well as me being a team player.
- You scored 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points in 7 games at the tournament and yet didn’t receive any individual award.
- Rodion Amirov, who led our team in scoring, and Dmitry Sheshin, who made a great contribution to team’s success, were selected as top forwards on Team Russia. Sheshin was especially brilliant in the semifinal game against Team USA, so I’m very happy for him.
- Were you worried after losing two games just prior to the playoffs?
- Everyone knew that we weren’t playing our best hockey. We had a meeting and discussed it. Everyone in the room was pumped for the playoffs, it was obvious. At the moment we felt the pressure from our fans. I was told what was written about us, how people reacted on social media, and that nobody believed in us. I mean, it was predictable after losing two consecutive games. Although, a lot of fans praised us when we beat the Americans. That’s the way it always has been. So one shouldn’t be surprised about that. You just have to be able to pull through things like that.
- Besides, you had personal support.
- Yes, my father watched all games on TV. Scoring goals in front of him is a wonderful feeling. Our parents invest a lot in us so it was one way to repay him for everything he has done for me.
- Were you surprised that you had to face Team Belarus in the playoffs, because they finished 2nd in their group?
- That was, obviously, a shocking moment. We were happy for them. They showed fighting spirit, beating Czech Republic and Finland. So we were getting ready for them with all seriousness.
- A lot of people compared Team Russia’s performance at the 2019 U18 IIHF World Championship with Avto Yekaterinburg’s playoff run – you won silver medals, even though there weren’t many of those who believed in you.
- We did our best not to compare our play with anyone else’s and not draw any conclusions. The boys and I decided that the championship is a separate part of our lives and we had to live it together, staying as far away from everything else as possible. We wanted to move forwards towards common goal and think only about team results.
- Does it mean that you didn’t have a chance to follow Loko in Kharlamov Cup Finals?
- I tried not to bother myself with it, of course, but… You know, when Loko erased a 2-goal deficit and tied Game 6 up in the final minutes of regulation, it gave me so many emotions that it helped a whole lot in the semifinal game against Americans!
On the eve of the final game against Team Sweden, Loko played the deciding Game 7 against Avto [Yekaterinburg]. I wanted to get ready well for the final game of the U18 world championship so I only checked the score. But I was very emotional so I couldn’t resist and watched the third period. I saw that the boys win and celebrate championship title. I celebrated it with them. A bit later I texted everyone on the team and congratulated them on the win.
- Did you feel that you became Kharlamov Cup champion?
- Of course. Even though, I wasn’t with the team at the moment, it was still unbelievably emotional. Although, obviously, it wasn’t the best way to win the first trophy of my career. After all, I would have preferred to be with the team at the time and share the emotions with my teammates. Actually, I still haven’t received the gold medal – Lokomotiv management decided that they would give it to me late in May at the season-closing ceremony.
- Instead of competing in Kharlamov Cup Finals, you played in the 2019 U18 IIHF World Championship final. Would you say it was a fair trade off?
- U18 world championship final can only come once in a lifetime, while I will get another chance to win a trophy with my club. It’s difficult to say right now which medal is worth more. I gave a lot of effort to win JHL gold medal – I worked the whole season towards the goal. It was the result of many practices. Although, winning silver at the world championship, first for Team Russia in 10 years, also means a lot. I checked 2009 Team Russia roster – the one that won silver - before the tournament. They had Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Zaitsev, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov. It’s great to realize that U18 IIHF World Championship silver medal was a part of their successful careers. It’s a great motivation.