About the League
41-year-old Alexander Trofimov has been appointed new head-coach of Krylia Sovetov Moscow. In this profound interview he shares his coaching philosophy, past soccer championships, golden years in Kazan, World Juniors bronze, his dreams and ambitions, Kazakhstan and much more.
Alexander Viktorovich Trofimov is a Setun native. He was born and grew up not far for Krylia Sovetov arena. Whenever he visits his parents, he often gets stopped by fans who ask him about the team and wish him luck. Trofimov is well-known, remembered, respected and loved in Setun. ‘He’s one of us’, say the fans. He’s a simple, modest and mannered man. His hockey path wasn’t made of roses. Trofimov has seen a lot both on and off the ice. And now he’s a coach.
“When I was a player, I didn’t like a lot of things,” reminiscences Trofimov. “For example, if a player doesn’t make the make, he thinks the coach is bad. Now, that I’ve become a coach myself, I see that it’s impossible for a coach to make everyone like him. Coaches always want to get more out of a player than he’s delivering. Many players have a problem with that. But if there’s no one to criticize you, nobody demands anything of you and you’re free to do whatever, that means that the coach doesn’t see a future for you. But if he does demand more of you, that means he does see it.”
It’s not that difficult for Trofimov to work with kids, although he did feel nervous at first due to lack of experience in the field.
“Actually, they’re not kids anymore. They’re physically developed men,” believes Krylia Sovetov coach. “There are exactly like older players. There only difference is that they don’t work with extremely heavy weights. They still do power drills, endurance drills and coordination drills. Besides, I’m always ready to talk. It’s ok to ask. Communication always has to be there. But right now I only know my players by their last names. I have to learn their first names now…”.
KRYLIA SOVETOV GAVE ME EVERYTHING
“I’m very happy to be offered to coach Krylia Sovetov,” continues Trofimov. “It’s the club that brought me up. It’s where I grew up and learned to play hockey. The club gave me everything. It wasn’t even a question whether or not I’d be a hockey player. My father signed me up for hockey school when I was six and I just went from there.”
- At the first team meeting you said that Krylia Sovetov junior hockey school gave you a lot. Meaning, that it developed you as a hockey player and as a good person too, although it’s not a profession.
- We had a great coach Konstantin Ivanovich Smirnov, god bless his soul. He was working with our 1977 team. He was a very good man. He taught us hockey and life lessons. In the end, there were about five men from our team who went on to play hockey at the highest level.
1977 TEAM WON HOCKEY AND SOCCER MOSCOW CHAMPIONSHIPS
- You’ve said that you’re a great soccer player, too. And even competed in Moscow championship.
- It’s not just that. We won Moscow championship title several times! We would beat anybody. Our greatest rival was Dynamo Moscow. And they became such a great team only because they gathered players from all over Russia because they had an academy for out of town players. And we’d still beat them.
We also played for Istra soccer club at the same time. They were based next to the hockey rink. They didn’t have a 1977 team so every Sunday our whole hockey team would show up and compete in Moscow championship. Back then there weren’t special training camp for hockey players like you there are now. We would go to Olimpiyets camp only in August and in September we would begin on-ice practices.
- Is it true that Trofimov-Nabokov-Morozov line was put together by Igor Yefimovich Dmitriyev as early as in junior hockey and you all went to pro.
- That’s not right. Morozov and Nabokov were called up to pro team first. They spent a year up there and then were drafted by NHL teams. I joined them the following year.
- Igor Dmitriyev is a legend for Krylia Sovetov fans. What’s your take on him?
- He was a responsible, strict and fair man. He really had an eye for players. All of his teams were perceived as skilled and smart. He didn’t put much focus on physical hockey as they did in CSKA or Dynamo systems. Predominant number of players who graduated from Krylia Sovetov junior hockey school were skilled.
- Who did you play with on that 1977 team?
- At first, I played with Tsurenkov and Zemskov. Then a few Belgorod guys joined the team and I was put on the line with Kolkunov and Romanov. Morozov-Ivanov-Sidorov was our second line. We would always win Moscow championship titles. If my memory is not failing me, we didn’t win the title just once or twice. We would also always beat the 1976 team. And, mind you, that’s the team where such stars as Litvinov, Korolyuk and Tverdovsky played.
FROM PARTY TO AK BARS
- You spent just three seasons on Krylia Sovetov before joining Ak Bars Kazan at 21. How did that come to be?
- It was spontaneous. The team folded after regular season. We didn’t make the playoffs. We even had a party. The following day I got a call from Sergei Zimakov. He said, ‘Come to the office, Kazan wants to see you.” I told him, “Kazan? What are you’re talking about? The season’s over”.
So I went to the rink at midday. Viktor Levitsky, Ak Bars general manager, was there. They invited Varlamov, Zimakov, Kolkunov and me. He told us he wanted to see us in Kazan for the playoffs, so we would strengthen the team. They were missing a few players because they were called up to Team Russia, so they needed help. A little later it turned out that it was an offer with potential prolongation because they wanted us to stay with the team.
Kolkunov went to America after playing for Ak Bars in the playoffs. Varlamov and Zimakov had their contracts with Krylia Sovetov expired, while mine was still good for a year. But that didn’t stop Kazan. They asked me, “Do you want to play for Ak Bars?”. Obviously, I wanted. “Then we’re going to take care of it. All we need is your will”, they said. In the end, they took care of it and the following season the three of us played in Kazan.
- Was Ak Bars already a top team at the time?
- Yes. They were losing just a handful of games in regular season. They won the championship title in 1998 so we were joining the reigning champions. Their infrastructure was great. The club had bought out a new residence building and gave out apartment to players. We had everything we wanted and they paid better than Krylia.
- In the 1996-97 season you won a bronze medal at the World Juniors in Switzerland with Alexei Morozov and Alexei Kolkunov.
- It was frustrating to lose to Canada 3-2 in the semifinal. We had to win that game. Pyotr Iliych Vorobyov was our coach. It’s not any of my business but they had a strict rule with the goalies – the played every other game. 1978 CSKA’s Denis Khlopotov was considered the top netminder but for some reason they put Radmir Faizov in goal for the game against Canada. I’m just saying. We didn’t deserve to lose the game.
KRIKUNOV HAS MORE UP HIS SLEEVE THAN JUST WEIGHT-RUNS
- Do you consider years spent with Ak Bars the best in your career, despite the fact you didn’t get to win gold?
- Yes. We won two silvers. I was a young guy, who found himself on a top team, making good money and living by himself. It was the pinnacle of my career.
- You got to play in Euroleague and Continental Cup. What non-confessional hockey countries did you get to visit?
- You can say I was all over the place. It’s easier to say where I wasn’t. For example, the USA. But I did visit Canada. I went there with Team Russia for a tournament in Quebec.
- In Kazan you worked with legendary Soviet coach Yuri Ivanovich Moiseyev and Vladimir Vasilievich Krikunov. They’re both quite charismatic and tough. What made them so special?
- To get into that hellfire after working with Igor Yefimovich Dmitriyev… Igor Yefimovich was rather lenient, and there I had to deal with a lot of responsibility. Besides, the workload was insane. Those two coaches are really crazy about pre-season training. They don’t make them like that anymore. Even modern-day Krikunov is not as hard on his team as he used to be back in a day. Yes, his weight-runs existed back then as well but it wasn’t the most difficult part.
I LOST MY SPEED AFTER CAR ACCIDENT
- After that dreadful car accident at the pre-season in Turkey in July 2000 you lost the entire season. And then suddenly resurfaced in Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.
- I mean, I didn’t play for the entire year. I worked individually and recovered. I’m greateful to Ak Bars for not abandoning me. I was sent for a month to Torpedo to regain my form and game conditions.
- Ak Bars did get you back. You spent the entire post-season with Kazan.
- After the playoffs, I extended my contract for another year. I began the pre-season on the team but, evidently, that car accident left its mark. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be. Yes, everything else was still there but I my speed went down a bit and I lacked it. Apparently, you need to be a little faster to play for a top club.
- They could have switched you to playing center. Speed isn’t that much of a factor at the position.
- Well, I don’t know about that. Nobody gave it a try.
- In the summer of 2002 you moved from Ak Bars to Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, although you began the pre-season with Kazan. You even played for them at Romazan Memorial in Magnitogorsk.
- It was actually after that tournament that I was sent to Neftekhimik, because Vladimir Krikunov became the head-coach of the team. I finished the season on Spartak Moscow.
- 15 games for the red-and-white and 6 assists. This isn’t half bad.
- I played under Fyodor Kanareikin’s command in Spartak. And then he was replaced by Sergei Shepelev. He was the one who let me go.
- In 2003 you returned to Krylia Sovetov after five years. Was it a whole different team?
- Of course. Absolutely different. I remember just a few guys from the farm team.
- In the 2004-05 season you led Setun in assists.
- Actually, after moving from Superleague to VHL I led every team I played for in points. Why did I leave Krylia in the first place? I led the team in points, so I asked for more money but they refused to give it. It was so frustrating! Everybody else got a raise but me. Why? I don’t understand.
- Being at the top of your form, did you feel like going back to Superleague?
- I really wanted that. I did everything I could to go back. I asked everybody I knew to give me another chance. I asked them again after Krylia. Because I was among Top-3 scorers of the league year in and year out. They would take anybody but me. I even asked several agents to help me out. I just wanted to find out for myself if I had what it takes to play there again. I didn’t even ask for a lot of money. But I never got the chance. Agents told me that clubs didn’t want to sign me because of my car accident and the knee. I don’t think it’s fair. Because after that accident and knee surgery I still played for another ten years.
- In 2005 you joined HC Dmitrov and spent as many as four seasons there. Why did you stay there for so long? You left the team only after it went bankrupt and folded.
- I was happy there. Dmitrov isn’t that far from home, they paid me good money and on time, the team competed for top spots and I wasn’t the last guy there. Why would I want to change it? Obviously, it would have been a different story if I’d gotten an offer from KHL but other than that…
- You had a great group of players in Dmitrov every year. You won West Division twice and finished on top of the regular season once. However, you never had a deep playoff run and never won a championship title.
- We usually lost in the semifinal. To Ugra, for example. Even though, we were better than them. I don’t know why.
- You played a total of 734 games in the VHL, scoring 237 goals and notching 321 assists for 558 points. That’s an impressive result!
- That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s nothing for nothing that I played hockey until 38. Because the older you get, the more demanding your bosses are. Since I was making the cut, it means I was worth something.
- You moved to Kazakhstan from Russia towards the end of your career.
- I played in Tver and one of season we got a new head-coach – Alexei Zhdakhin. He called me to his office. I told him that I didn’t want to retire, wouldn’t give up my roster spot, would work hard, try hard and that I still wanted to play. He was ok with it. “Alright, looks like we’re going to do just fine then”, he said. But in October they told me, “Thank you, the team doesn’t need you anymore”. And it wasn’t because of the way I played. So I had to find another job.
I could find a team in VHL, while I had been getting calls from Kazakhstan for a long time. They really wanted to see me there and offered good money. At first I was like, ‘What’s the deal with this Kazakhstan? How does one live there? Do they even have a league? Three weeks later I finally took the offer. Coach Oleg Bolyakin called me there and he finally got me.
- Was it frustrating?
- The level was, obviously, lower than in VHL. However, because their top-4 teams had a lot of imports their level was high. And their league is a bit different. There’s more skating and passing. VHL at the time already was all about parallel passing and basic plays – shot, rebound, battle in the slot, etc. While [in Kazakhstan] they played the kind of hockey that I like – passing plays, creation versus basic.
- VHL used to be associated with horrible stories about rundown hotels and old rinks. What was the situation in Kazakhstan?
- They have 3 or 4 towns with ok arenas and dressing-rooms. As for hotels, I guess, you can find anything you like anywhere. Obviously, some of the rinks were really rundown. For example, the one Beybarys had. They have a lot of money, but can’t build a good arena. In Rudny they’re not strapped for cash either but they don’t have a good arena. In Alma-Aty, when I played there, they build two gorgeous arenas – one with a capacity for 3,000 fans for Kazakhstan league games and another with a capacity for 12,000 for bigger events. Everything’s getting better in Kazakhstan as well.
- Is it good for Kazakhstan hockey that more of their teams are joining Russian leagues? This season there’s going to be three Kazakhstan teams in VHL with Nomad – Barys’ affiliate – joining the league.
- Of course, it’s a big leg-up for local players. It’s obvious that the level of local league is lower and it’s going to take years to develop new players. Old generation is retiring and new generation hasn’t developed yet. That’s why Kazakhstan league becomes weaker. Moreover, they’ve lowered the limit for import players. And those teams, which joined VHL, will definitely make progress due to competition. Besides, the level of VHL teams is more or less the same.
I WAS WAITING FOR A MOMENT TO BECOME A COACH
- You retired at the age of 38 in Alma-Aty. Did you feel it was your time?
- No, it wasn’t that. I could have retired earlier. I was just waiting for the right moment. I wanted to retire and find a new job right away, to get started right away and not have to wait doing nothing. I was waiting for a moment to become a coach in Alma-Aty. Of course, everyone wants to become a coach. But can you do it? I had to understand that for myself. I knew in my head that I could do it but could I really do it? I was lucky and got my chance. I retired and they let me run the team.
- After being appointed Almaty head-coach you didn’t make a deep playoff run in your debut year, although you finished 6th in the regular season.
- I think, it was a good result for a debut year. We came in third in Kazakhstan Cup, even though the team had never competed for medals. We could have done better in the playoffs but lost to future champions Nomad. Sure, there were a few nuances that didn’t let us do better. One of them is the fact that I was appointed head-coach on June 25th. It’s difficult to put together a good team in July. You have nothing to choose from. But other than that, I’m satisfied. I’m grateful to club management for trusting me and letting me work.
- Did you want to stay with Almaty for another season? Did the management want to keep you on the team as well?
- Yes, I was happy with everything. But a new club director came over and that set the wheels in motion. He was giving jobs to his men. Again, I was let go on June 25th when neither I could find a new job, neither they had a good chance of building a new team. Had they told me earlier, I would have gotten other offers.
IN ROMANIA MANAGERS WANTED TO COACH THE TEAM THEMSELVES
- In the end you spent two years on Buran Voronezh – one season as assistant coach and another as the head-coach.
- It just sort of happened. As the matter of fact, in the summer I went to HC Cheboksary as assistant coach to get some experience. But Alexei Alexeyevich Morozov really helped me out. He called me and offered to be Evgeny Fyodorov’s assistant in Voronezh. That’s how we become colleagues, although we knew of each other because we both played for Ak Bars.
- Last year you were the head-coach of Voronezh, but as per tradition you got the job later in the season.
- At first, I was offered to work in Romania in the summer. I was actually afraid. I had to talk to players in English over there and I hadn’t really practiced it since school. Although, they appointed an interpreter for me. In the end, I took the offer but it turned out that the club’s managers wanted to do all at once. They wanted to run practices and coach the team at games. It was impossible to coach there so I went back to Moscow. And once again one thing led to another. Krikunov was appointed the head-coach of Dynamo and Buran is their VHL affiliate. That’s how I ended up in Voronezh again.
- And you almost made the playoffs.
- Obviously, I’m not shying away from responsibility. But it’s difficult to work with a team when it hadn’t been you who had built it. When you build your future team from February till April, you have the core to begin pre-season with. And when you come to a team in October, and it’s already shaped as it is, it’s difficult to make adjustments. Yes, we did find a way. However, late in the regular season a lot of Dynamo players got injured and they had to make a few trades, so my best guys got called up to KHL. I didn’t have enough players and couldn’t achieve the goal.
PLAYERS HAVE TO LISTEN AND HEED TO YOUR WORDS
- What kind of coach is Alexander Viktorovich Trofimov? What are his main demands of the players and what is his hockey philosophy?
- I have a philosophy. I was a skilled player myself. That’s why I like my team passing the puck and improvise. But then again – you have to build your game model around the players you have on your team. If you don’t have a lot of skilled players, you’re not going to be able to play the kind of hockey you want. You have to do with what you have. Currently, we’re building our team. Before the season starts, when we finalize our roster, we’re going to look at what we have.
I also like it very much when my players worked hard for real and you don’t have to check if they dog it or not. It’s obvious – everyone wants to go easy on himself when things get rough. I understand it very well. When I was going through the pre-season with Krikunov, I could dog it here and there, even though I was considered pretty tough. That’s one thing. Another thing is that everyone has to do what he’s told. They need to listen and heed my words. That’s a key factor and it’s crucial. If you have a listening and hearing team, then you can achieve a lot even without having superstars.
- Is the core of the team shaping up already?
- Yes. We have a few guys who are not in their first JHL season. They have to be lead the team. We have a few rookies – and they have to follow the core players.