2019 YEARBOOK. YAROSLAV YAKOVENKO

2019 YEARBOOK. YAROSLAV YAKOVENKO
Interview
04.07.2019 в 17:00
2019 YEARBOOK. YAROSLAV YAKOVENKO
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Kharlamov Cup champion and Junior Club World Cup participant Yaroslav Yakovenko talks about his best season in junior hockey, his superstitions and top center forward in Junior Hockey League.

- You began past season on Kunlun Red Star Heilongjiang. How did you like that part of the year?
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I spent the least part of the season on Kunlun, although I had expected to play more for them at first. But first I got injured and then I had to leave the team for certain reasons, so the season turned out to be a bit of a bumpy ride.

- So you went back home to Lipetsk?
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Yes, I went back to Lipetsk and spent the rest of the season on local NJHL team. Unfortunately, my expectations didn’t fulfill. I thought I would become one of the leaders of the team and have a lot of ice-time, but the coaching staff and I weren’t on the same page.

- Why did you opt for Kunlun?
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Last July I was with VHL’s Bars but I got injured and couldn’t find my way back onto the roster. Kunlun scouted me at a pre-season tournament in Stupino and at the 2018 Junior Club World Cup I already played for the ‘Dragons’. I remember Junior Club World Cup well. It’s a very exciting tournament. I got to play against Loko [Yaroslavl] – the team I had played for just a few months earlier. After the tournament we went back to China. I had a medical and it turned out that I had gotten a minor injury. I missed early days of the season because of that.

- What do you remember the most about Junior Club World Cup?
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It was unusual to play against Loko guys because we had played together for more than a season. As for the strength of the teams, each team was of a high level. Every game at the tournament meant colossal experience for me personally and for everyone else on the team.

- Which of Loko forwards was the hardest to play against?
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Kolya Kovalenko.

- Yaroslavl players usually tend to not to venture to far away from the city. Many play for Cherepovets and Nizhny Novgorod. You, on the other hand, opted to play miles away from Yaroslavl.
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Those who were born in Yaroslavl, obviously, prefer to stay closer to their hometown, so playing for Almaz [Cherepovets] and Chayka [Nizhny Novgorod] definitely seem as optimal options. But I’m from Lipetsk, so I had nothing holding me back. I tried to pick a team that would be best for me development. At the moment I though that Kunlun was a great option for me. The team provides everything you need, there are no problems with everyday routine and besides there is a VHL team in the club structure. I looked at pros and cons and decided to move there.

- How different is the level of import players compared to Chinese?
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Most players on the team were from China. Only six import players were dressed for a game.

- Was that a limit set by the management?
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Yes, it was a team policy and because of that most of the roster was filled up with Chinese players. Given the fact that there were more than six import players on the team, they were rotated and by the end of the season every import player had played about the same number of games.

- What language were practices held in?
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There were three Canadian coaches on the staff and most of the players had played junior hockey in Canada, because one of their parents was from China and the other from North America. That’s why everybody spoke English well and every practice was held in English.

- Did you have trouble understanding coach’s assignments?
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It was pretty clear most of the time but sometimes coaches spoke to fast and I couldn’t keep up with them. Fortunately, the team had Russian doctor, equipment manager and masseur, so sometimes I would skate up to them and ask them to help with translation.

- What are your plans for next season?
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Nothing is certain as of yet. My agent and I are working on it and open for options.

- Do you consider offers from Russian teams only or from foreign teams as well?
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I consider only offers from Russia. Having played in China, I don’t want to leave the country. The level of hockey is higher in Russia. There are VHL and KHL. It’s clear what to aim for and where you can grow.

- Overall, how happy are you with you junior hockey career?
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It’s difficult to answer that. Every year was different. I believe, I had my best season two years ago, which I spent in Yaroslavl. Last season, as I said, was a bit peculiar and I have mixed feelings about it.

- Moving to a new team, you’ve always picked a different jersey number. Are you not superstitions?
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It just so happened that every time the number I wanted was already taken so I had to choose a new one. Actually, it doesn’t matter much to me. As for hockey superstitions, I have only one – I don’t let anybody touch my stick before games.

- Would you name two or three of your assets as a player?
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A lot of people are going to read this interview and I’m a shy person (laughs).

- Well then, I, for one, believe that persistence is one of them. You really battle hard till the end in every moment.
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Perhaps. Sometimes things seem different from the stands than from ice-level. But since we’ve gone down that road after all, I think one of my assets is my shot. Second of all, I would say I have a good start speed. I’ve had it since I was a kid. And third of all, I would say it’s persistence, since it seems like that from the stands (laughs).

- Would you name teammates you were the most comfortable playing with?
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I was the most comfortable paired with Mikhail Kozlov. We played together very early in my junior hockey career. I just moved to Yaroslavl back then and we established great chemistry right away. We made sure none of us made any mistakes and ‘cleaned up’ after one another. As for forwards, I would point out Donat Stalnov. He’s a great organizer. He can lead by example and motivate the entire 5-man unit. It’s rare to come across a person with his skill repertoire.

- What advice would you give to young players whose junior hockey career has just begun?
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First of all, pay attention to everything your coach tells you and follow his assignments. Every coach loves to see that. If he sees that you follow his orders, you’re going to play. And if you’re going to play, you’re going to develop and improve your skills.

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