About the League
Forward Matvey Zaseda spent over three seasons in Khabarovsk and then two more in Omsk, becoming of the fans’ favorites in both conferences. In this interview to Junior Hockey League official website Omskie Yastreby alumnus talks about the cancelled season, his journey through junior hockey and breaking out to a new level.
- The season was cancelled. What do you do in your spare time now?
- I study most of the time. Aside from that I also work on my shape. We were given a program to work out individually, so that’s what I have been doing. I also do some chores around the house. I live in a house so there’s always something that needs to be done.
- What does your average day look like?
- I wake up around eight or nine in the morning. I drink a glass of warm water and 15-20 minutes later eat porridge for breakfast. Then I work out a bit. I go jogging around my yard. I do push-ups and sit-ups. My dad and I recently built a pull-up bar so I use it. I work out for about an hour or 90 minutes. I usually don’t like studying in the afternoon. I watch TV shows and movies. Or I play videogames – World Of Tanks or FIFA. After that I do house chores, which always vary. I hit the books in the evening. That’s my average day.
- What’s your take on your last Junior Hockey League season – where did you improve the most?
- Every season has its positive and negatives moments. This season it was mostly positives. Unfortunately, the season was cancelled. Our team had ambitious plans and we were looking forward to live up to them. But it is what it is. You can’t let it get to you. If there were any negatives this year, they should be seen as directions in which I have to improve. I will do best and move forward. I believe I improved my game skill-wise and in terms of how quick I make decisions. This season I fully understood Avangard system - Bob Hartley’s system - which is followed by all of our teams. I think my game matured this season. When I was in the VHL, I was told specifically that it wasn’t my goals or points that mattered, it was all about how I play my position, how I see and understand the game. I had to prove that I was ready for the next level.
- How strong were Omskie Yastreby this season?
- I believe that we were so strong that we could have made it all the way to Kharlamov Cup Finals. We had a strong team. We had great young players and a lot of promising players, who will continue to get better in the following years and move hockey forward not only in Russia but at international level as well. The most important thing is to give everyone an opportunity to develop and get a chance to play at professional level.
- Was there any specific moment that stood out in your JHL career?
- There were a lot of exciting moments. My first practice with a JHL team, first goal, first hat-trick, first 4-goal game. There were a lot of stories but the one about the hat-trick is probably the most interesting. I was playing for Team Finland when I was 17 years old. When we landed in Moscow coming back from Helsinki, I had two hours before my flight to Khabarovsk. I didn’t even have time to pack up my things I left at the camp in Novogorsk. It was a long flight and I landed right in time to make it to morning skate and we had a game to play later in the evening. I didn’t go for the morning skate. I worked out for a bit and went to catch some sleep because I only slept for about 90 minutes because of the flights. Since I was missing some of my equipment, I got gloves and pants from [Amur sports director deputy assigned to JHL team] Alexander Serafimovich Blinov. We found some helmet I could use in the dressing-room. I hit the ice and my teammates, who were born in 1996, dished the puck nicely to me and I scored a hat-trick. I was refusing to give up the equipment for some time. They brought me too much luck. I didn’t want to give it up until I get all the goals I could out of them.
- Which teammate’s talent and style of play stood out the most for you – on Amurskie Tigry as well as Omskie Yastreby?
- It’s difficult to single anyone out because every hockey player has a role on the team. Some are good at physical plays, some can score and others are talented when it comes to forechecking. There is a good player in every aspect. There were talented players on both Amurskie Tigry and Omskie Yastreby and there were a lot of them. I would have to give a long list for every year I played for and give them proper credit.
- You had a chance to play in both Junior Hockey League conference. What are the strengths of each of them?
- West and East are not that different. There are teams who rely on physical plays in both conferences as well as those who opt for skill. So all in all the strengths of both conferences are the same.
- You had a long journey through junior hockey. How and in what regard did Matvey Zaseda change? What are your biggest upsides right now?
- Being an all-around player is my upside right now. I can play at any skater position. I can play at both wings, center and even defense. Being systematic is what Bob Hartley taught me. I feel more comfortable and can be more productive at my usual position but I can play anywhere. I’m versatile in the roles I play – I can be a playmaker when you need me, I can forecheck, I can be a defensive forward. When there’s cycling in the offensive zone, I can easily cover up any position. I can skate back to defense and play there. I try to improve a wide range of skills so I can replace anyone at any given moment. I can play on a power play unit as well as kill penalties. This versatility helps me to understand the big picture of the game. You begin seeing the game from every angle. In professional hockey it’s important to create quality chances and interfere with opponents’ plans. That’s why seeing the game from different angles helps in achieving that.
- Did the league change over this period of time?
- It did. I think the teams began using the same systems as their KHL teams. They follow the same game structure. It develops junior hockey and eases up the jump for JHL players to professional hockey.
- Junior players get more attention these days. You were one of the fans’ and media favorites in JHL. How did you manage to build up such popularity? Did it help you along the way?
- When I was just a little kid and would go to hockey games with my family, I always enjoy to see ho people approached their jobs and how dedicated they are on the ice. I wanted to have as much of it in my career as I could. I really wanted to make young kids to come to the game and see the same qualities in my game. I did everything I could for it. At the start of my professional career I got a huge help from Amur [Khabarovsk] media relations department. They taught me how to present myself, how to interact with the fans and when it would be better to keep my mouth shut. I owe a great deal to them and, obviously, to my mom, who educated me and even edited my Instagram posts. For example, my parting photo from Amur Riviera – it was she who took it. I want to thank everyone for their help early in my career. I’m very grateful to Avangard Omsk for giving me a warm welcome. A lot of people have helped me here and continue to help.
- In one of your interviews you said that you look up to two Alexanders – Ovechkin and Mogilny. Do you have any other idols now? How do you regard as great hockey players?
- I don’t have idols but I do have people I look up to – the two Alexanders are among them. Right now I see professional hockey a little bit differently. I try to snatch something interesting from every player. I learn from everyone who is involved in hockey. You have to move forward everyday to get to the level of Alexander Mogilny or Alexander Ovechkin. I want to be a great hockey player and make my towns – Khabarovsk and Omsk – proud.
- Next season you won’t be eligible to play in Junior Hockey League. What are your goals for immediate future?
- I prepare for the season physically and mentally. I sharpen my game in every aspect I needed to improve on. I will do my best to make the KHL team and be as helpful as I can there. That’s my main goal right now. Obviously, I want to help my team to achieve the greatest results, which the fans and club management expect from us.
- What advice would you give to Junior Hockey League rookies as the league’s alumnus?
- The most important thing for young hockey players is to improve and not dwell on what they have right now. It’s important for them to understand that everything is in their hands. Junior hockey is being profoundly invested in these days, as well as the infrastructure. The salary cap was also introduced for us so we could move forward and get better everyday. All of that helps in our development. I want to wish everyone to be worthy hockey players and good people. It’s important to be open and interact with the fans and media because that’s what our sport needs.