About the League
2020 Junior Hockey League alumnus Alexander Romanov was online in the league’s official Instagram page. He looked back at his junior hockey career, spoke about two World Junior Championships and shared his plans for next season.
“YOU CAN MAKE UP TO TEN MOVIES ABOUT THE 2020 WORLD JUNIORS FINAL”
- You played for two Moscow teams in Junior Hockey League – Krylia Sovetov and Krasnaya Armiya.
- I have always considered myself a Krylia Sovetov alumnus. I will always be grateful to the club because Setun arena has always been my second home. After school I would go to practice and spend a lot of time there. CSKA put me on the next level. They gave me a huge burst in development. So both clubs played a huge role in my life. I have deep respect for both of them.
- You didn’t spend much time in Junior Hockey League – just 56 games over two seasons. However, you did win a trophy with Krasnaya Armiya – 2017 Junior Club World Cup.
- I keep all of my trophies at the same place – I put all of my medals in a big bowl. There are World Junior medals, KHL gold and that medal from the Junior Club World Cup. The bowl is in my room at my cottage. Although, I’m rarely there.
- You didn’t score a lot of goals in either JHL or any other leagues. Is it something that bothers you?
- These days we’re getting more and more defensemen how play as the 4th forward. It’s a new trend in hockey. But I believe that a good defenseman is the one how plays ideally on defense. Joining the rush comes second. The most important thing is to get an A+ for defense. So I was never worried about points. It’s a forward’s job to score goals. I focus on defense.
- Pundits compare you to your grandfather Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.
- I don’t think we’re alike, maybe only play style wise. But I still have a lot of room to grow to get to his level! It’s going to be awesome to get to his level one day. Granddad always gives me advice and consults me. Not just about hockey but about some everyday life things, too. For instance, recently I got into an argument with my mom, so he pulled me aside and talked sense into me. So he’s very positive on me and vice versa.
- You competed at World Juniors twice. What impact did those tournaments have on your life?
- World Juniors changed a lot in my life. It’s a very short but a difficult tournament. Every young player has to aim to play there because the World Juniors show what he’s really made of. It’s exciting to compare yourself against players from other nations, especially at such a high level. On top of that, World Juniors teaches you to deal with constant stress. You play at a huge arena and a lot of people cheer for you. All sports news is focused on your team, the whole country follows the games – and it gets really stressful. But to see the fans cheer when you score, to hear them break their voices and leaping in the air when the puck hits the net – it’s a fantastic feeling!
- Would you say the loss to Team Canada in the 2020 World Juniors is the hardest you suffered so far?
- You can make a movie of the game. You can make even ten movies about it and they’re all going to be the same – that Team Russia had everything to win gold medals and go home happy and how we lost everything in just eight minutes! Eight!!! You can tell about the camera, silly penalties – all of it can be in the movie.
- Valery Bragin, your head-coach at U20 Team Russia, is now at the helm of the national squad.
- It’s a great pleasure to play under his command. He never pressures players too tight. On the contrary, he allows you to be creative, ‘Do whatever you want out there, just don’t make mistakes!’. For example, he permits his defensemen to join offensive rushes and he lets you improvise in the offensive end.
- Igor Larionov is going to be the head-coach of junior Team Russia now.
- He’s a high-level professional, a very smart person – hockey and life-wise. He worked on our powerplay at the World Juniors so we need exactly what to do while on the man-advantage. To the point that we knew where exactly the puck needed to go in certain situations.
- Have you been to his Larionov Grill & Bar?
- Not yet, but I really want to go! Perhaps, I’ll take a peak after the quarantine ends (laughs).
- You made your debut for the national team last year.
- The difference is colossal. I was called up to Sweden Games and it felt like the pace of the game was just enormous over there. We spoke about it with two other players from junior Team Russia, who were also called up to the tournament, and we decided that we just didn’t recover enough after the World Juniors. I just didn’t have the energy. I would skate for a rush and I would be out of gas already. So it wasn’t an easy tournament for me.
“MONTREAL FANS BEGAN TAKING PICTURES WITH ME RIGHT AFTER THE DRAFT”
- Recently you signed a 3-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens.
- It’s difficult to say right now if I’m going to crack the Canadiens’ lineup next year or not. Nobody is certain of anything. Everyone I discussed it with says that I have a 50/50 shot. And it’s difficult not knowing what to expect exactly. Despite everything, I practice almost everyday now to be ready to hit the ice tomorrow should I have to.
- Looks like you already have fans in Montreal.
- Actually, their passion for hockey is very different. Last year I went to Montreal right after the draft. I haven’t played a single game for the Habs or even had a practice so I was shocked when people would walk up to me and take pictures. Check out the the level of the passion – in Montreal people take pictures with a guy who played only in JHL and KHL but was drafted by the Canadiens! Canadians are mad about hockey in a good way and it’s super awesome!
- Montreal is located in Quebec. Have you started learning French?
- I haven’t touched French at all yet. I know just a couple of general words. But I study English. It’s easier and I have a certain foundation already. I’m far from perfect but I can talk. As for Montreal itself, it’s a great city, I recommend everyone to visit it. It’s a lot like Moscow in terms of climate, for example.
- Have you followed the Canadiens last season?
- Of course. I know how the team plays, I know my new teammates. I’ve even met Jesperi Kotkaniemi before. In 2018 we faced each other at the U18 World Championship in Chelyabinsk. He led Team Finland to gold. What can I say, the guy is a beast. He cracked NHL lineup in his first year after draft, scored goals, played with grit and showed leadership.
- Who’s your idol?
- If I’d say Wayne Gretzky, it would be too obvious. But fair. He’s a real legend and no one has been able to beat his records yet. Although, I do believe that one day Alexander Ovechkin will beat some of his achievements.
- By the way, are you ready to play against Ovechkin’s team and get in his way of setting a new record?
- I think, I’m ready. I’m not going to make a huge announcement but that’s exactly what I’m going there for – to play against the stars! Svechkinov challenged Ovechkin to a fight? Perhaps, it was said in the heat of the moment. I want to play against him, not fight him. But if the fight would be unavoidable, I’m not going to run away.
- After one tournament, which was held in Canada, you said that Canadians don’t know how to peel potatoes.
- You’re right, I did say that! Actually, they peel potatoes only for fries. They leave the peel on for everything else. And I just hate unpeeled potatoes! Although, other than that I like American-Canadian cuisine, but I prefer Russian dishes in everyday life. I love borsch and blini (laughs). My fiancée is coming to Montreal with me so I’m not going to be hungry. She cooks excellent cakes!
- Your peer SKA-1946 St. Petersburg alumnus Dmitry Semykin left for North America as well this summer. Although, unlike you, he has only Junior Hockey League experience and a few VHL games. Do you think JHL experience is enough to make such a jump?
- If he goes to North America, that means he’s ready to show what he’s capable of at that level. Nobody goes over there just for the sake of it. He’s going to work hard – he’s got great work ethic. Actually, it doesn’t matter what experience he has, even it’s only JHL experience. The most important is how he’s going to play next year.