IGOR MELYAKOV: “AT JUNIOR CLUB WORLD CUP WE’RE GOING TO REPRESENT OUR CLUB AND COUNTRY AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL”

IGOR MELYAKOV: “AT JUNIOR CLUB WORLD CUP WE’RE GOING TO REPRESENT OUR CLUB AND COUNTRY AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL”
Junior Club World Cup
Interview
18.07.2019 в 17:00
IGOR MELYAKOV: “AT JUNIOR CLUB WORLD CUP WE’RE GOING TO REPRESENT OUR CLUB AND COUNTRY AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL”
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Igor Melyakov, new Loko Yaroslavl head-coach, spoke to Junior Hockey League media relations department about his team’s preparations for Junior Club World Cup, goals for the season and the price for mistakes in junior hockey.

- When did you learn about your appointment?
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It’s unlikely I was the only candidate for the job. I was following the unravelling of the situation. I had learned about my appointment a little earlier than it was reported in the news.

- How did you like the news?
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Every coach wants to grow and achieve high results. I’ve always had the ambition, even when I was started out as a coach in junior hockey school. Just like every athlete, coaches tend to work their way up professionally. Besides, most coaches are former players. I wanted to make a step forward, grow and develop. However, there were other solid candidates for the job, so I’m thankful to the club’s management for the trust they bestowed on me.

- You have worked with Loko-Yunior in the past three seasons. The team is an in-between stage for players on their way to Junior Hockey League. Are you going to change your approach somehow in JHL?
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Loko-Yunior is, so to speak, a transition stage between junior hockey school and major junior hockey. It’s important to let players develop at the stage and you need to give them a certain freedom on the ice. Otherwise, if you’re going to submit players to strict tactical boundaries, they’re not going to develop. They need to play creatively and put their fantasy to use. That’s why we were giving our players more freedom, so they boys would improve, try something new, make a few mistake, learn from them and ultimately develop.

- What is going to be the core aspect of Loko hockey in the new season?
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Our primary objective is development of the players and preparation of a pool of players for KHL team. To be an all-round player one must play well offensively and defensively. Players mustn’t be divided into clear-cut defensemen and forwards. Everyone on the ice must play at both ends of the ice. Forward must defend well, while defenseman must have offensive skills, be able to join rushes, create scoring chances and convert on them. Everyone on the ice must act as a unit. Every player, regardless of his nominal position, must be able to play in all areas of the ice depending on the situation.

- Loko have won two consecutive Kharlamov Cups. Both fans and club management have high expectations. Does it mean extra psychological pressure for you?
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The bar is set pretty high. Obviously, we’re going to do our best to stay on top. We want to win another cup. We’ll do everything necessary for it.

- What comes first for you – tournament result or developing players for professional hockey?
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In my opinion, it’s player development. We need to provide an option of building a team around alumni of our own junior hockey system. Right now we have a group of above average players, who are more or less of the same level. So our primary goal is to develop high-quality players, those who would stand out and could make our KHL team in the future. Obviously, we need to thrive to have as many of such players as possible. On the other hand, player development is going to affect team result. Good work will bring respective result to the table.

- As Loko-Yunior head-coach, you faced JHL teams often in pre-season games. How different is the level of the two leagues?
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There is no age limit in NJHL. Players over 21 can still play in the league. That’s why Loko-Yunior had to compete against those, who were physically much stronger. Perhaps, our opponents were less skilled but they were better physically developed and had more experience. Loko-Yunior players had to battle and gain confidence. As for JHL, there is a group of top-teams, which play at a significantly higher level than NJHL teams. But there are certain teams with which top-5 NJHL teams could definitely compete. It’s also important to understand that outcomes of pre-season games are often misleading, because teams may have different goals going into them. For example, they can scout depth players and rookies. That’s why one shouldn’t be too keen on results of exhibition games. The final score is not as important in pre-season games as building a team for the upcoming season.

- What team is going to be your key opponent in the new season?
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I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re going to have exciting games against St. Petersburg teams. It’s always great to play against top teams. You can learn a lot from them. We can draw parallels with junior hockey school games. Every team is absolutely different – some focus on tactics, other on physical aspect, while other on skill. That’s why it’s always exciting to play against strong opponents. Although, it’s not something I focus on.

- You always look as a very calm person from the stands. You don’t argue with officials and don’t give an earful to your players when they make mistakes. Is that a correct assumption of your personality?
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You need to work with your team at practices. The game is the final product, which shows how you did. It makes sense to adjust a few things during the game but it’s almost impossible to make any radical changes. If the players are well-prepared and motivated enough, just a few adjustments will suffice. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s important to dissect them, learn from them and try to avoid them in the future. One learns from mistakes, so it’s good when players make mistakes. It’s good when your opponent makes you make mistakes. It’s an opportunity to adjust training process and keep improving.

- Loko will soon compete at Junior Club World Cup. Do you consider it a regular pre-season tournament or there’s something more to it?
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It’s not just another regular tournament because we represent our club and our country at international stage. We’ll do our best to win it, although we’re up against very solid opponents. That’s why not only our outlook on the tournament but our preparation for it is going to be respective.

- Which games are going to be more difficult – the ones against North American or European teams?
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I would say the ones against North American teams, because they play a bit of different brand of hockey. Although, European teams can also surprise with their tactics, skills and exciting smart hockey. Our opponents are going to be different and we’re going to prepare for all of them individually. We’re going to watch and analyze games of all our opponents. Perhaps, we’re going to use different tactics in different games.

- You were selected by the Los Angeles Kings at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft but never made it to North America. Why?
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Back then I didn’t think I was ready to make the jump. I thought I needed to play in Russia for a few years to develop. Besides, it was a bit of a different time. So I decided to play for a few more years in Russia and, let’s put it this way, stayed longer than I should have.

- You retired in 2011 and began your coaching career the following year. Is it fair to say that adjusting from playing to coaching went swiftly for you?
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It’s never easy. Becoming a coach, you go on the other side. Fortunately, I was helped along the way. We had a great group of guys. Everyone gave me advice and shared their views on the situation. I’m very grateful to all of them and junior hockey school director for helping me bond with the team and for sharing their skill and knowledge. It wasn’t easy at first but I liked the job and I was interested in improving at it. So it really didn’t take me long to adjust.

- What quality do you cherish the most in your players?
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Intellect. Intellect and psychology is very important for every player. A lot stems from the way a player thinks. If he wants to work, he’s not going to have troubles physically-wise. If he wants to improve tactically, he’s going to pay more attention to his coach, heed his words and everything is going to be fine. It’s all about self-control. If a player is going to well-developed physically and skill-wise, he’s going to gain confidence. However, I do think that it all stems from thinking, willing to self-improve and keeping emotions in check.

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