About the League
Kazakhstan’s Altay new head-coach Oleg Bolyakin had gotten the reins of the team shortly prior to the start of the season. Ust-Kamenogorsk have already defeated several serious opponents and are placed mid-table in the Eastern Conference after the first month of the regular season. Parimatch Junior Hockey League media relations department spoke to the coach about the start of the season.
- You were appointed the head-coach of Altay just four days prior to the season. How did that come to be?
- Last year I worked with VHL’s Yermak Angarsk. This August due to certain circumstances I had to vacate the position. I received an offer from Ust-Kamenogorsk almost immediately. I was happy to accept it and coach Altay for several reasons. First of all, I have worked in Ust-Kamenogorsk before, albeit with the pro team – Torpedo. Second of all, I have worked in junior hockey before. I have worked with U18 and U20 Team Kazakhstan so I knew the workload ahead of me.
- Did you follow the junior team when you worked with Torpedo? Ust-Kamenogorsk joined Junior Hockey league only in 2016.
- I have always followed junior players within our club structure. As the matter of fact, I keep following junior players. I have visited two games of our junior team this season. I liked several players and will ask our club management to have them called up so they could further develop with Altay. I believe several local junior hockey school alumni will join our team soon. The league gives us every opportunity so that young players could gain the necessary game experience. They will develop their skills over years and gain experience, which will help them to pursue a career in professional hockey.
- Sometimes it’s a recipe for disaster when one coach prepares the team for the season and another overtakes it.
- Alexander Sergeyevich Artemenko, who has worked with the team before, is my assistant now. We have known each other for a very long time. We played for the same team and stayed in touch even after we switched to coaching. For instance, when I was with Yermak he asked me to comment on several players. So there was never any tension between us in our line of work. We are both professionals. Alexander Artemenko have done a lot of scouting and conditioning work and had a great pre-season. So I inherited well-prepared players.
- Nevertheless, you did make a few adjustments.
- Every coach has his own approach. For instance, I’m a system coach. I expect my players to follow my gameplan to the letter. If players can stick to our system, it’s going to make their job easier. They will know for certain what their teammates are going to do and will be able to see the plays develop with their eyes closed. When I first joined the team, I pointed out a few shortcomings and now we work on fixing them. We have adjusted our practice process a little bit and work on our tactics now. You can notice that the moment our team stops playing systematic and disciplined brand hockey – we’re getting negative results. After one loss I said in the dressing-room, ‘If you think that anarchy is the mother of order, we’re not going to be a successful team.’
- Have you been given any specific goals for the season?
- Management didn’t give us any certain tournament goals. Our priority is to develop a pool of players for the pro team. However, a team that is expected to produce high-end players for professional hockey has to win and be successful. Only winners will make the pro team so we set the bar as high as possible for our players. We have decided that our first priority is to make the playoffs.
- For the first time in years Altay is a mid-table team. What were the reasons behind its transformation?
- It’s important that the boys began believing in themselves. For instance, we went into the season missing a lot of our key players. We dressed just 15 players for games in Orenburg and Togliatti and had to make do with just 14 at times. Many of our top players couldn’t join us for the road trip. It was a great toughing experience for our players. Every win gives you an emotional boost and solidifies your confidence in that we can battle with every team in the league.
- It’s become sort of a thing for Altay players to appear in sheepskin hat for post-game media scrums.
- It’s a good tradition. After every game the top player of the previous game relays the hat. It excites the boys, they almost ready to fight for it (laughs). It’s an extra motivational tool for them. Why haven’t I given an interview in the hat? If we’re going to have a great season, make the playoffs and go deep there, I will buy a sheepskin hat for everyone on the team. We’re all going to wear one!
- 2020 World Juniors are not far down the road. Are there any players on Altay who will be able to represent Kazakhstan at the tournament?
- Our priority is to develop players for national teams so that our club would be represented on them. However, competition is still a thing in sports and national team candidates have to do better than their counterparts. Nobody is going to force them to World Juniors. Personally, our coaching staff will give such players a little more attention so they would be better prepared physically and tactically wise to help the team at the World Juniors.
- Another Kazakhstan team in Parimatch Junior Hockey League – Snezhnye Barsy Nur-Sultan – is basically the core of Team Kazakhstan.
- They purposefully brought promising players together to Nur-Sultan so they could avoid a short-term camp. There’s almost no reason to have a 1-week camp prior to World Juniors. It’s better to work with the team step-by-step throughout the season and that’s why the core of the team was brought together. I think, last year’s result – when they survived in elite division – proved the approach to be correct.