“I was running 20 laps with my skates on as a punishment for being late.” The Kharlamov Cup winner joined Kapitan in order to make his KHL debut

30.12.2021 в 15:00

“I was running 20 laps with my skates on as a punishment for being late.” The Kharlamov Cup winner joined Kapitan in order to make his KHL debut

Defenseman Yegor Smirnov, the current holder of the main JHL trophy, plays for the 17th team of the Western conference to fulfill his dream.

Last season, 19-year-old defenseman Yegor Smirnov won the Kharlamov Cup with Dynamo Moscow. It was the first time for the team to win the main JHL trophy. A few months later, the defenseman scored the first goal of the 2021/2022 season. In that game, Dynamo beat Loko, the team they played against in the finals in spring.

Games against Yaroslavl team were the only ones for Smirnov to play for the blue-and-whites in the season. After that, he joined Dynamo St. Petersburg, and then Kapitan. In an interview with the JHL press service, the defenseman talked about his hockey journey, emotions from last season and his further expectations.

“90% of my success is to my father’s credit. He still watches every game.”

– How did you start playing hockey?
– My father signed me up for hockey when I was six years old. He always loved this sport and wanted me to play it. My dad put a lot of effort into me, 90% of my success is to his credit. He worked day and night, but was always taking me to practices. I think that many talented hockey players do not have the opportunity to develop, because their parents do not contribute to it. There might be a Russian Connor McDavid growing up. So, I am very grateful to my father. He still watches every game, roots for me and criticizes me if I don’t play well. When I have days off, I always go to my native city, Nizhny Novgorod, to see my family, my sister and friends.

– What were your emotions from hockey in the beginning?
– At first, I did not understand what was happening, but then I fell in love with this sport. In hockey, character is vital, you need to use your head – mentality and seeing the ice are of top importance, and only then go size, skating and everything else.

– You started playing in Nizhny Novgorod for Torpedo. When did you join Dynamo Moscow?
– I was invited there when I was ten years old. My parents couldn't go with me, so I stayed at a sports boarding school. Dynamo was coached by Sergey Suyarkov. I think he is the best specialist in kids' hockey - he taught me everything, always supported me, but at the same time he was pretty strict. I am very grateful to him for this, because I have always been a slob, and Sergey Vladimirovich taught us discipline and often punished (laughs). For example, I was running 20 laps with my skates on as a punishment for being late for practice. I dare say he made a contribution to our champion's title, because our players born in 2002 were coached by him. The fact is that I've had a run of good luck with coaches - Yaroslav Lyuzenkov has also contributed heavily. He is a man of principle, a very honest specialist, character is the most important thing for him. And now I work with Dmitry Alexandrovich Kokorev in Kapitan. He is also a good coach. He inspires the team, makes us battle even when we are losing.

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“All the players of championship winning Dynamo are still in touch. We are like family”

– Last season, you won the championship with JHC Dynamo. What did you feel when you won the Kharlamov Cup?
– I can't describe it to you enough! Especially when everyone started bull-rushing the ice at the end of the final game. We had a close-knit team. We knew one another well: I’ve kept company with some guys for two years, with others for five years, and I’ve known some of the guys for my entire life. We still have a group chat and we send messages to it. If someone scores a goal - everyone congratulates. We are like family.

– What else is the last season to be remembered for besides winning the championship?
– The first game at VTB Arena. JHL games are not so well attended, but at that time there were so many fans there! I remember we played shorthanded against Tolpar in the second period, the fan section was right behind us. It was so cool, they were cheering loudly, it was a driving force for us, it added energy. I just knew that I had to block shots and stop the puck.

– Did you get to spend a day with the Kharlamov Cup during the off-season?
– No, I would have to go from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow, spend one day with the Cup and bring it back again. But I managed to enjoy the Cup when we won – I have hung on to the trophy all night.

“My main goal is to play in KHL. I've been dreaming about this since childhood.”

– You started the season with JHC Dynamo SPb, but played only nine games and joined Kapitan. Why did that happen?
– Daniil Gutik and I had an offer from Dynamo St. Petersburg, we decided that we needed to move to the next level – they have a SHL team there. But we were not called up to Supreme Hockey League games. Then I was offered to join Sochi system. I knew the head coach of Kapitan well - he is a great specialist. I realized that it would help things along, so I decided to change the team again and now I feel good.

– How does the system in this club differ from Dynamo Moscow?
– Everything is well-organized here - JHL, SHL, KHL teams. Sochi often calls up young players. Here I have a better chance of playing in the main league of the country, because making it to Dynamo Moscow was very difficult. I think that if I show my worth, I will be called up to the SHL or KHL team.

– What are your personal goals for the season?
– My main goal is to play in KHL. I've been dreaming about this since childhood. I want to make it to the team and become its full-time player.

– You were dressed for Sochi – Vityaz game, but you did not play that night.
– That’s true, I didn’t get any ice time. I was an extra defenseman, and I was ready to get into the game at any moment. Well, I just watched hockey from the first row. People pay money for it, and I got a best seat for free - not too bad at all (laughs).

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“I’ve always been taught to play physically – that’s the reason for so many penalty minutes”

– How do you usually prepare for games?
– There are certain things I always do on game days: I have a lot of rituals. For example, I always lace up my left skate first, I also dress left-to-right. When I come to the locker room, I tape my stick first and only then I start dressing.

– Does your left blade have to hit the ice before the right one?
– No, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I can even hit the ice with a two-foot jump (laughs).

– Do these rituals bring good luck?
– To be honest, I don’t know. I just do same things every time. I like things to be clear, disciplined. It’s like in the army, everything is according to the charter (laughs).

– How do you cope with losing games?
– All human beings have human feelings, I get disappointed when something doesn’t work out. It’s better to leave me alone for an hour after a loss. I hate losing, I take it hard and get angry. Then I walk it off and regroup. That’s when I can be talked to (smiles). But in general, it’s better just not to think about failures - to laugh and forget. After all, everyone makes mistakes, the main thing is to keep yourself well in hand.

– You have many penalty minutes (46 PIM in 35 games – note). What is it due to?
– I’ve always had many penalty minutes, the main reason for this is playing tough. I’ve been taught to play physically, I'm a defenseman. When I am to make a legal hit, but the opponent is short in height, it happens to be a check to the head. That's it – you get a 5 + 20 and watch a couple of games from the stands.

– How often do you fight?
– I don’t mind fighting, but it has to be justified. Let’s say, if you fight because of losing your temper, you let your team down and make things worse. When an opposing player tries to instigate me, I know that it's kind of a cheap trick and I tell him to calm down. But if somebody makes dirty plays, it is a different story. Standing up for goalies goes without saying, if only they’ve been touch you are to rush there and protect them. Performing a task is one thing and being choked with emotions and sitting in the box is something totally different. It’s not for me, I prefer playing hockey.

Ksenia Goryunova