PAVEL VORONKOV: “SWEETROLL, PRE-GAME SKATE SWEAT – AND OFF INTO THE BATTLE WE GO!”

PAVEL VORONKOV: “SWEETROLL, PRE-GAME SKATE SWEAT – AND OFF INTO THE BATTLE WE GO!”
Interview
21.08.2019 в 17:30
PAVEL VORONKOV: “SWEETROLL, PRE-GAME SKATE SWEAT – AND OFF INTO THE BATTLE WE GO!”
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Kharlamov Cup finalist Pavel Voronkov, one of Avto Yekaterinburg leaders, spoke about moving to Ural from a Moscow junior hockey school, why he made his VHL debut only on third attempt and also named Top-3 players of the latest playoffs.

- What were you feeling in Game 6 of the final series, when Avto was just a couple of minutes away from winning the Kharlamov Cup?
- I didn’t have any peculiar thoughts at the moment. We just followed coach’s orders but went soft right at the end and couldn’t hold on to the lead – our opponents made us pay for that. Obviously, we were frustrated but we still had Game 7 ahead of us and it was on our home ice. We had to win it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that.

- Would you say that it was the most frustrating loss in your career?
- Most likely, yes. It was the most frustrating loss because our team was really close to winning the Kharlamov Cup but in the end we came up empty.

- You began your hockey career in Moscow junior hockey schools – CSKA and Belye Medvedi. How did you wind up in Ural?
- When I graduated from Belye Medvedi junior hockey school. I was selected 43rd overall by Medvescak Zagreb at KHL Entry Draft. But they didn’t offer me a contract so I joined Avtomobilist [Yekaterinburg] as a free agent, because the team showed the most interest in me. I decided that playing for Avto will help me grow and develop faster than in JHL-B or elsewhere in Moscow, where it’s tough to get a roster spot.

- What were your first steps in hockey like?
- When I moved to Yekaterinburg, I didn’t know anybody. It was like a new world to me. I knew of Junior Hockey League only from what my brother, who had played for Krasnaya Armiya [Moscow], had told me. I joined the team, had my medical the next day, and then we went on the road to Kirovo-Chepetsk and Nizhny Novgorod right away. I was dressed for the game against Chayka [Nizhny Novgorod]. They were reigning Kharlamov Cup champions back then and there were a lot of fans in Nizhny Novgorod. Coaches came up to me and said, ‘Relax, don’t worry, you’re ready, everything is going to be alright.’ Besides, my father came from Moscow to the game to support me. We lost that game but the coaches praised me for sticking to their orders. I wasn’t expected to do much else in my rookie JHL season.

- Starting from your sophomore season on Avto, you racked up a lot of points. Did you feel as one of the leaders of your team?
- Maybe only in the last couple of years because I got older. My second JHL season, when Vener Rasikhovich Safin was the head-coach, was the most successful for me. He gave me a lot of ice-time and put on a line with good teammates. In the past two years I was one of the most experienced players on the team so it was up to me to be a difference, to score goals and help my young teammates. I think, that’s the way it should be.

- How did you settle in Yekaterinburg?
- I was lost for the first couple of months. I didn’t know my way around. Then I got used to it and consider Yekaterinburg to be my second home. I know a lot of people there now, I have a lot of memories with the city and besides I enjoy Yekaterinburg itself, I got used to it.

- You also made your VHL debut last year. How did it come to be?
- I have a long story with VHL. I joined Gornyak [Uchaly], which is affiliated with Avtomobilist, back in the 2017-18 season. Late in the season I was sent there for two games but they couldn’t dress me because they already had 40 players and I was their 41st, which was over the limit. I began next season as a member of Gornyak. I went through the whole pre-season with team and everything was alright but they didn’t give me a chance to debut in VHL and sent me down back to JHL instead. I spent some time on Avto and they called me back up to VHL. And that’s when I finally got to make my VHL debut in the game against Khimik [Voskresensk]. I played about five minutes but after the first period they benched all of us, young players. Late in the season, when Oleg Yurievich Leontyev was appointed Gornyak’s head-coach, I was called up to VHL right from JHL team camp. The coach put me on the line with Alexander Torchenyuk and Alexander Borisenkov, who led the team in goals. I pounced on the opportunity and began racking up points right away. It seems that the coach liked the way I played, because he let me play a few more games late in the season. And that’s how I made my VHL debut on third attempt.

- How did you like it in Uchaly?
- When I first came to Uchaly for four days, I didn’t find the town unusual. But after you spend some time there, the fact that there’s nothing to do in spare time starts to weigh down on you. You have to be ready for it psychologically and keep self-improving in your spare time, always learning something new.

- The city offers gorgeous views from its nearby mountain ridges…
- In the winter Uchaly have a ski resort. But I visited the town in the summer so I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.

- Name your upsides as a player.
- I think, it’s work ethic and commitment. These would be the two main ones. One achieves result through hard work, blood and sweat. That’s why having such qualities as patience and work ethic are very important for every hockey player.

- Statistics show that you block a lot of shots. What do you feel when you get hit by a puck?
- Obviously, it’s not an exciting feeling. You feel pain and you realize that if you were to curl up and start crying, you would let down your team and teammates, who would be force to play shorthanded pretty much. That’s why the recipe is quite simple. You have to tough it out for 10-15 seconds, then skate to the bench where a trainer could freeze the sore spot and it’s going to get better from there. Then you apply ointments and icepacks. It heals in a couple of days. It takes some getting used to but I think I became less affected by the pain with time.

- Last season you scored a lot of points both in regular season and playoffs. And yet you didn’t score a single goal in the finals. Is that a coincidence or is there another reason for that?
- I think I wasn’t skilled enough. We faced Snezhnye Barsy [Astana] in the opening round. Their top-line really stood out. SKA-1946 [St. Petersburg] had a much more even squad but we out-gritted them. In the series against Loko [Yaroslavl] we had to spend more time on defense and played as the underdogs. Therefore, our forwards had fewer scoring chances. Perhaps, I lacked skill and maybe it’s my goal that Avto lacked to win the Kharlamov Cup.

- Do you consider yourself a 2-way forward?
- I can play anywhere – offensive or defense. My father taught me when I was a kid that I shouldn’t be a one-trick pony. I have to play defense just as well as at the other end of the ice. These skills are very important in today’s hockey. You have to play on a powerplay, kill penalties, in the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. It really helped me in Junior Hockey League games and most likely will come in handy in professional hockey as well.

- When asked who was the Most Valuable Player of the latest post-season, most people would name Vladimir Galkin.
- Yes, I agree.

- Who else would you include in your Top-3?
- I haven’t even thought of that. I would probably pick a defenseman for the second place – Alexander Sevostyanov or Daniil Valitov. And I would put Maxim Rasseikin third. He scored a lot of important goals in the playoffs.

- All Avto players?
- Yes, because many Yaroslavl guys almost didn’t play in Junior Hockey League last season as they spent the regular season on KHL and VHL teams, where they played important roles. As for our team, we had almost no guys with professional hockey experience. Everyone played in JHL and that’s why, in my opinion, their result is worth more.

- Despite that, you surprised quite a few people with your play in the finals.
- I think, we surprised a lot of people when we had won our first game in St. Petersburg and went home tied 1-1 in the series. Russia Hockey and SKA managers were at Game 5 and we won it. That’s when people started talking about our team.

- Do you already know where you’re going to begin the upcoming season?
- Yes, I knew that in December already. That’s when they announced that Alexander Derbenyov and I would join VHL team next season. That’s why it was easier psychologically to get on the ice. We battled for our club, our city and our logo.

- Let’s change the subject. What kind of music do you prefer?
- Anything goes, it depends on my mood. From violin, fortepiano and relaxing music all the way to rock.

- I can’t think of any other hockey player who listens to violin and fortepiano.
- Sometimes you have a long road ahead of you or you just feel down. That’s when I put fortepiano music on and just go for a walk to think. Everybody has his own preferences. Some people are more into upbeat and happy music. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

- Do you have a set pre-game routine?
- It’s important that the boys are ‘awaken’ before the game. That’s why we have a special drill – hitting the body. We purposely smash into each other at pre-game off-ice warmup to be alert when the puck drops. Other than that it’s important to eat a sweetroll, to work up some good sweat at the warmup – and off into the battle we go!

- So you’re not superstitious?
- Rather not. In hockey everything depends on you. You’re the one who’s responsible for your play. It all comes from the head, which is why it’s important to stay loose. It doesn’t matter what music you listen to before the game or which skate you put on the ice first. It’s all in your head.

- JHL Eastern Conference is interesting regarding how many underdogs can surprise you. Who’s going to be on everyone’s lips this season?
- There are several candidates. I expect Omskie Yastreby to be high in the standings because they have a lot of players who worn born in 2000 and 2001. I followed them a little during the season and I believe they will finish among Top-3. There’s also Irbis [Kazan]. They also have a young team but they feisty players. Kazan have built a good system and they have a great junior hockey school. That’s why a lot of their players can get VHL experience prior to important games. And I also think that Mamonty Yugry will remain among top teams of the conference. Their team stands out because of their physics. They can outlast anybody. I’ve heard some stories about pre-season in Khanty-Mansiysk. It’s really something else. You just have to survive it.

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