About the League
Krasnaya Armiya Moscow defenseman Vladimir Grudinin will make his Junior Hockey League debut next season. JHL media relations department spoke to the rookie about his first steps in hockey, joining CSKA Moscow system and getting ready for the season on Baikal Lake ice.
“I PREPARED FOR MY ROOKIE JHL SEASON ON BAIKAL LAKE ICE”
Grudinin began his hockey journey in Angarsk. With local Yermak-2003 he won five regional Siberia and Far East championship titles. It was much more difficult to win medals at All-Russian championship. Angarsk players born in 2003 couldn’t get higher than 4th place in all those years. However, it was at the 2018 All-Russian championship that Grudinin was noticed by CSKA Moscow scouts.
“I have always dreamed of playing for one of the top teams,” reminisces the rookie. “I was glad to receive and offer from CSKA but I had to seriously think about it. In the end, I decided to move to Moscow and didn’t regret it once. I moved to Moscow with my Yermak teammate Daniil Nichukhrin. We lived together at CSKA board-school and helped each other so acclimatization went smoothly.”
At CSKA junior hockey school Grudinin played on Rinat Khasanov’s team. Last season the ‘army men’ won regional championship title and as many as 15 graduates were offered professional contracts with CSKA. Rinat Khasanov will continue to work with the players the following season as well – this time as Krasnaya Armiya head-coach.
“It’s not my first time coming to Junior Hockey League this way,” notices Khasanov. “Since 2014 I have worked with boys who were born in 2000. And in 2017 I was called up to Krasnaya Armiya along with the graduates. The boys were making a lot of progress back then. Many of them are currently leaders on [VHL’s] Zvezda and some won Gagarin Cup with CSKA. Hopefully, these players will make as quality progress as them.”
Since a record number of CSKA junior hockey school graduates were offered professional contracts in 2020, the level of competition on Krasnaya Armiya is going to be rather tight next season.
“There are a lot of promising rookies on the team,” says Rinat Khasanov. “We’re still working out line combinations so without exhibition games it’s tough to say who’s already ready to play at the new level. Nikita Shalyshkin, Vasily Dronyk, Matvei Vasin, Steven Sardaryan, Vladimir Grudinin, Danila Karpov, Matvei Averochkin, Evgeni Gorfinyak, Dmitry Gamzin, Artur Dzhilovyan – every rookie has a special trait and everyone is a good player in his own way. It’s important to find line combination that would allow them to fully live up to their potential.
However, Grudinin has a slight advantage. A year ago he had already been invited to Krasnaya Armiya camp and had a chance to meet his new teammates and get used to coaching staff’s demands.
“The biggest difference between this camp and last year’s is a gradual augmenting of workload at practices,” believes Grudinin. “Due to the pandemic we were able to exercise only at home for a long time so the coaches didn’t put a lot of work on us in the first days of the camp. We’re getting ready without any sudden lurches. Other than that, everything is the same. We practice everyday in the gym and on the ice, we have already begun working on combination exercise and gradually get in shape.”
“The main nuance of the camp is that due to the pandemic the boys were left on their own for three months and practiced individually,” explains Khasanov. “These days the focus of our work is to bring everyone on the team up to the same speed. So the players are under a strict control.”
During the pandemic Vladimir Grudinin practiced at an unusual place – Baikal Lake ice.
“Our family has a cottage at Baikal Lake bank,” shares Grudinin. “Usually, I go home for the summer but this time I went there in the spring when the lake was still frozen. My brother gave me his skates so I could fulfill my dream – to practice at Baikal Lake ice! Although, it wasn’t perfect because of the snow, it was still a great joy to practice. I skated for 10-15 kilometers and worked on my shot!”.
While Grudinin is yet to make his Junior Hockey League debut, he has already laced it up for Team Russia and achieved decent results. Last season Grudinin won World Junior A Challenge with U17 Team Russia.
“I think that win is the biggest achievement of my career right now,” says Grudinin. “But it was difficult to make the cut for the U17 Team Russia. In 2018 I only practiced at camps with the team and didn’t play at tournaments. Early in last season I was invited for exhibition games in Finland. I scored an overtime winner in one of the games. I scored on a breakaway off a great assist. I was very proud and happy to score the winner for my team to the point my hands were shaking! It seems that the coaches noticed my success and later invited my to play at the World Junior A Challenge.”
“Last season Grudinin competed at several tournaments with Team Russia and won World Junior A Challenge. The level of those competitions is quite comparable to Junior Hockey League. Even though the participants of those tournaments are younger but the teams boast the most talented players of their countries. What I’m saying is that Grudinin made a name for himself playing for Team Russia and was able to compete at that level so Junior Hockey League level is not going to surprise him”, adds Rinat Khasanov.
“SMALL FRAME DOESN’T STOP HIM FROM WINNING BATTLES”
Rinat Khasanov is the best man to speak to about Vladimir Grudinin’s upsides and shortcomings as he worked with him in his final two junior hockey school years.
“Grudinin is playmaker with excellent and soft skating,” believes Khasanov. “He seems to sneak up on opponents and materializes in front of them out of the blue. He has a very good understanding of the game and he’s skilled at starting offensive rushes.”
As for Grudinin’s shortcomings, he stands at 5’10 and 154 pounds. However, his coach doesn’t see it as a problem.
“Many prefer huge defensemen these days. But Grudinin’s small frame doesn’t stop him from winning battles. He didn’t lose them to huge Swedes or Czechs when he played for Team Russia. He was able to take on guys who were a couple of years his major. He’s crafty and swift and because of his great skating he’s able to deal with tricky situations. Sure, he’s going to lose physical battles to opponents who are bigger than him so right now he needs to find other upside in his game and use them. After all, defenseman Brian Leetch didn’t have a big frame either but that didn’t stop him from playing 19 full seasons in the NHL and compete at three Olympics,” says Khasanov.
Grudinin points out that he doesn’t like physical hockey and plays a different style.
“I try to be an all-around defenseman,” reasons Grudinin. “I’m not the biggest guy out there. If I need to, I can lay a hit but I don’t really like doing that. I try to be useful for my team at every inch of the ice. I like to join offensive rushes and start them from my defensive zone. Although, my priority is to play solid defense.”
Parimatch Junior Hockey League regular season kicks off in about a month. Krasnaya Armiya rookies have a lot to learn over the stretch.
“The priority for all rookies right now is to get a grasp the tactical details that our team works on,” shares Khasanov. “We have hard work ahead of us. We need to adjust the boys from playing ‘wild’ hockey to more organized. This year they’re in for a different game. It’s obvious that you can’t cover that ground in one month so we began working on it already last year. Last season I did my best to make the boys understand that they were potentially Junior Hockey League players. They had to be motivated to work and grasping tactical principles.”
Krasnaya Armiya coaching staff is ready to give every rookie a chance to compete in Junior Hockey League. Time will tell who will seize the opportunity.
“We have a very good rotation of players within the system. Many Zvezda players are invited to KHL camp, while Zvezda in its turn take a lot of our players. That’s why every rookie will get a chance to prove himself,” explains Khasanov. “Krasnaya Armiya coaching staff relies on these players. We hope that they will be able to show their leader abilities and become the key players on the team as soon as this season. But everything is going to depends on the boys themselves. It’s important for them to get their feet wet as soon as they can – they have to be able to not only practice-ready but game-ready as well.”