About the League
KHL vice-president of junior hockey development Alexander Guskov spoke to Junior Hockey League media relations department and touched on the hottest topics after first week of Parimatch JHL regular season came to a close.
- Alexander Alexandrovich, what is your take on the first month of the regular season? What difficulties did you come across and how did you deal with them?
- The start of the regular season was very tough. Some teams weren’t ready to host games due to the spread of coronavirus infection and being tested positive. Currently, there are 74 people in Junior Hockey League who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 312 who have recovered from it. We had to reschedule several games, taking in consideration the interests of parties involved. Currently, we have some wiggle room but the regular season can only be stretched so much and soon enough we may run out of empty dates. This is why we would like team managements not to take advantage of the situation too much. Having said that, we’re grateful to all who treat it with understanding and do their best to let the games be decided on the ice rather than off it.
- Postponing games mean longer pauses for some teams. How does it affect their shape and overall morale?
- Everyone is currently almost in the same boat in terms of waiting. It’s impossible to stay in good physical shape on 2-week quarantine. It just can’t be done. For instance, Loko [Yaroslavl] players didn’t skate for three weeks. It’s a very long pause and that’s what several other teams go through, including Kuznetskie Medvedi [Novokuznetsk] and Stalnye Lisy [Magnitogorsk]. But it’s not like we have thorough spread of infection within teams. What we have is that there some players who practice and play, and there’s another group who recover and wait. It’s not an easy time and we have to survive it. Besides, time shows that teams who come back from these pauses don’t hit the slump and look good due to great work of team employees, doctors and coaches who spread the workload the right way.
- There were several unexpected results. For instance, Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk were recently at the bottom of the East, while Sputnik Almetyevsk topped the conference. How would you explain that?
- Sometimes there are plenty of surprises early in the season, besides this year the pre-season was bumpy and it also played a role. Some teams were able to do everything they planned and some weren’t. Besides, the teams made major adjustments to their rosters. Experienced players left and younger players took their places. Due to the epidemiologic situation some teams can’t dress their optimal lineups. I think, it’s also one of the factors why we see these unexpected results. Also, slumps are still a part of the game. Belye Medvedi didn’t look too good early in the season but they’ve gotten better as it went along, won a few games against serious opposition and already back in the playoff zone. There are teams, who, on the contrary, played well but have hit a slump recently. This is what junior hockey is all about. Every team can make some noise.
- All-Star Week was postponed for a year as was JHL Challenge Cup. How difficult was it to make the decision?
- Every decision is a tough one these days. JHL Challenge Cup, which features the top Junior Hockey League players, deserves a sold-out crowd. Due to the restrictions, it’s very problematic to pull off. In that case the players will be deprived of the cherished emotions, while many fans won’t be able to see JHL stars in action. We play for the fans so it was a difficult decision to postpone the All-Star Week. We have seen in the past how the fans learned some new names because of JHL Challenge Cup and those players have already made some noise in the KHL. Yegor Chinakhov, Anton Kovalyov, Nikolai Kovalenko, Igor Geraskin have competed for JHL Challenge Cup. All of them now play important roles on their KHL teams. I’m certain that next year the list of such names will get longer.
- A lot of young players get a chance to prove themselves on KHL teams these days. How difficult it is to play in two leagues at the same time?
- It’s definitely demanding physically-wise. But I’m certain that it gives an emotional boost and it negates the fatigue that these young players feel. Many couldn’t even dream about playing in the KHL this season already and that they would score their first points in the big league, so the emotions do the trick. Besides, young players recover faster. I’m certain they will have enough energy to compete in both leagues and prove themselves. It’s great to see such flagman teams as SKA [St. Petersburg], Neftekhimik [Nizhnekamsk], Torpedo [Nizhny Novgorod] and Dinamo [Riga] called up so many young players for their recent games and that sometimes they played a big role. Take a look at Yegor Chinakhov, Danila Yurov and Glebs Prokhorenkovs, who had just recently made their debut in Junior Hockey League and now can be the difference at pro level.
- Speaking of Yegor Chinakhov, who have already played on Avangard Omsk top line. What role did Junior Hockey League play in his progress?
- In any case JHL is the first professional step towards success in KHL. Right now junior team players have more opportunities to prove themselves. Whatever the times may be, their chances are really high. As I have already said, there are plenty of players in the league who are already able to compete for roster spots on KHL teams. There is plenty of talent in Junior Hockey League and all they need is a chance, which they would definitely take. I have listed several examples already and I’m certain that there’s going to be more in the near future. It’s great to see young players receive more ice-time and trust from their KHL coaches.
- Danila Yurov made his KHL debut at 16. Back when you were a player, how did you help such young kids?
- First of all, I have to say that qualities necessary to play in KHL can manifest themselves earlier than anyone may expect. Yurov is a vivid example of that. His 2003 peers have a role model. As for help, it has been my experience that it needs to be done in two ways. First, you need to physically help on the ice. You have to land a hand when needed, help, give advice and clean up if he makes a mistake. If needed, you have to literally protect him from opponent. Secondly, you have to provide mental help. Young player needs to understand that he and the team are whole and that the result depends on his individual effort. It’s not just up to coach to help him with that, but up to his teammates as well. They should help the rookie integrate in the team the right way. That way he’s going to adapt quicker, feel the support of his teammates and experienced players. Everything else depends on him.
- In Junior Hockey League a lot of goals get scored in the last second and it often turns everything upside down. How do you explain the phenomenon?
- On the whole, fraction of a second can change a lot in hockey – sometimes even everything. Having said that, you also need to consider the higher unpredictable nature of junior hockey. It’s great to see Junior Hockey League players keep their heads in the game till the very end, trying to prove that they’re just as good as players from the top leagues of the world. It’s always great to watch such hockey.