Interview with the leader of Stalnye Lisy and the top scorer of the first round of the playoffs, Nikita Grebyonkin.
In the 2021/2022 season, Stalnye Lisy won the JHL regular season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2016. A weighty contribution to the team’s success has been made by Nikita Grebyonkin, who has scored 10 (1+9) points in four games. Based on the results of the first round, Grebyonkin is the top scorer and the assists leader of the Kharlamov Cup playoffs. In an interview with the official JHL website, the forward talked about the series against Loko-76, the expectations of the matchup against Omskie Yastreby and his personal point production.
– You are to face Omskie Yastreby. Are games between Magnitogorsk and Omsk principal at any age?
–These are principal games for us. It is already appearing in the media that we will lose, that we will not be able to advance to the following round. We set ambitious goals for ourselves. We play to win and we do not think about what could go wrong.
– What was the series against Loko-76 remarkable for? Did the opponent surprise you with anything?
– It was remarkable for letting our team advance to the second round. For me, it was the first playoff series win. The only thing that surprised me was that we did not manage to score more than two goals in the second game. We made 49 shots on goal, but lighted the lamp only twice. Then we pulled ourselves together and ended the series in game four.
– Do you have an explanation for the low opportunity conversion rate in the second game?
– It was not our day. Loko-76 played well, guys were blocking shots, but it was still because of us not managing to pocket chances.
– Were you ready for a playoff game to go to a shootout?
– No, we were absolutely not ready for it. We did not expect a game going to a shootout in the first round. We thought that if a game went to overtime, we would finish it in the extra period.
– How happy are you with not only winning the series, but also becoming the top scorer of the first round?
– It adds confidence and desire to meet the expectations of the coaches, fans and the team. We have young guys who look up to us, elder players. I try to play better to improve my level and be an example for younger guys. I want to justify hopes and help my team win.
– It has been your second season with the team and you already consider yourself an elder player. Do you feel like a leader?
– Yes. I used to wear the “C” when I played for the school, I do have leadership skills. The coaches let me demonstrate them – it gives confidence.
– Your generosity is unparalleled: nine assists and only one goal. Do you derive more enjoyment from earning assists than scoring goals?
– I would not say so. Being credited with so many assists is nice, of course, but it would be great to score more goals too. Many people ask me why I score so few goals. Sometimes things don’t work out. Not because I don’t want to score goals. It’s just that my teammates move into space so well that it’s easier for me to make a pass than to try and score myself.
– You scored your only goal in the game that your team lost. Maybe you’d better stick to being an assist man?
– I thought about it, but no (smiles). I need to help my team with assists, goals and blocked shots.
– Didn’t Roman Kantserov have a thing about not managing to score? He has at least four shots on goal in each game, but scored only two goals in the series.
– Roma is a goalscorer, he likes scoring goals. He is a little nervous when he can’t find the back of the net. We try to cheer him up so that he moves on. He does well. He makes a positive contribution not only with his goals. He blocks shots, clears the puck the right way.
– You’ve mentioned that you were not ready for the game against Loko-76 to go to a shootout. Have you been working on this aspect before the second round?
– We paid more attention to our actions, studied Omskie Yastreby. We are working on tactics in order to play the right way.
– What conclusions can be drawn from the regular season games against Omskie Yastreby?
– None. Playoffs is a completely different story. As our main team Metallurg shows in the KHL, playoffs is a different kind of hockey. It doesn’t matter how you played in the regular season. Now we need to be fully prepared. Guys from the Supreme Hockey League are also playing for the Omsk team. We take these games very seriously and work even harder than in the regular season.
– All regular season games against Omskie Yastreby were high-scoring ones. Should we expect many goals to be scored in the playoffs or will the teams be playing defense first?
– I don’t think you should expect many goals to be scored. But the teams will definitely not be playing defense first. I believe we should expect to see some nice patterned offense and a lot of blocked shots. This component will play an important role.
– Did you watch the first-round games of the Omsk team?
– I did. I studied their penalty killing. It is very interesting to me. Much depends on the power play. I analyze the way they play shorthanded, I also do it by myself. I will not unlock secrets, everything is in the process of preparation.
– Which players of Yastreby should special attention be paid to?
– Serdyuk is a prominent player of their team. He was credited with eight assists in the first round. I would also like to mention Gleb Trikozov. But all their players are good and skilled. We do not focus on a particular player. We analyze how the whole team plays.
– Is it important for you to keep leading position in the list of goalscorers and not let Yegor Serdyuk surpass you?
– No. I don’t have such motivation. The main thing is for my team to win. It will be nice if Ilya Kvochko and Roma Kantserov get their minds right and start scoring some goals. On the other hand, it does not matter at all who exactly will score. Even if it’s the goalie who does it. The most important thing is for us to advance further.
– Stalnye Lisy were productive in the regular season and in the first playoff round. Are you ready to switch to playing the type of hockey where one mistake, one goal becomes a game-changer, if it will be necessary?
– Yes. We’ve played some tough games against Irbis. We lost the first one and won the second one. The coaches explained the tactics to us, we got it right and accomplished the task. If the coaches tell us to play defense first, we will do it. I think calling it patient hockey would be the right thing to do. I mean, when you are focused not only on scoring goals from the very first seconds of the game, do not rush to the net, but start playing with confidence first of all. You do not allow goals, move the puck to the offensive zone and then increase the pace. We are pretty good at doing it.
– You are the leader of the team, you have a high point production. Do you feel additional responsibility for the team’s result?
– I surely do. I understand that if I don’t try my best and make a positive contribution, things will be way harder for the team. It serves myself well too. I’m starting to motivate myself in a different way. I want to be more solid defensively, block shots in order to be more useful to the team.
– How do you prepare for games? Are there any certain rituals?
– There aren’t. I try to stay calm before games. I don’t watch TikTok, I don’t play PlayStation, so as not to squander energy. A player needs to hit the ice being confident and calm. And if you waste your emotions before a game, your state of mind will no longer be the same.
– Did you discover the need of conserving your emotions yourself or did the coaches suggest this?
– My elder teammates and coaches told me it needs to be done, and I also realized it myself. Back in the season, I found out that the emotions wasted before games do not add strength and energy.
– Is there a hockey player you look up to?
– I try to learn something from every hockey player. I like the way Ivan Telegin forechecks and plays solid defense. Nikolai Goldobin’s skills are impressive. Brendan Leipsic is great at controlling the puck. A perfect hockey player does not exist. I like Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary. I’d love to play the way he does, that’s what I am aiming for. But we can’t play that hard and physical, can’t be that aggressive at the slot – the rules are different.
– D-men might punish for playing that way at the slot.
– Well, it’s fun (smles). The romance of hockey. I have absolutely no fear of it.
– Stalnye Lisy managed to advance to the second playoff round for the first time since 2016. Is it an encouraging achievement?
– We’ve been working for this all season. We knew we could do it. We were not aiming for winning the first round only. We have a plan - to advance as far as possible, play for medals and the cup. It's nice to win, of course. We have already made history by taking first place in the regular season. But it is not a “wow”-thing. We have been working, striving for it and now we are preparing to continue playing playoff games.
– Do you feel that this season Lisy have a great group of guys who are ready to make some noise in the playoffs?
– Yes, it is indeed the case. We have many skilled and gutsy players. The atmosphere in the locker room is great. We all support one another. It is the main aspect in the playoffs.
– You played your first playoff games a year ago when you were 17. Does this experience help you now?
– It helps a lot mental-wise. In the previous playoffs, we faced older guys born in 2001 right away, they now play in the KHL and the SHL. It was hard to play and tune up for games. Now I feel more confident.
– Can we say that the main thing Nikita Grebyonkin has improved is confidence on the ice?
– Yes. I have gained experience in playing both defense and offence. The coaching staff helped me a lot. They treat us very well. We have a great team.
– This is proved also by your jokes with Nikolai Lemtyugov on social media.
– Yes. When Nikolai Aleksandrovich answers some players’ comments, we try to keep it up, to laugh. Then we discuss it trying to think who will be the next one teased by him.
– Is there a teasing queue?
– I believe, there is a long one.
– How useful are his hockey lessons?
– He shares experience with us, shares hockey life hacks that work in games. When changing, you hear him say: “What did I tell you! You are doing everything right. Keep listening to me and everything will be fine.”
– Can you reveal one life hack? What did he open your eyes of to?
– Many things. He always speaks frankly and directly, sticks to the point. There are many life hacks he shared with us. We work on redirecting the puck, focus on stick control. He says that we need to shoot from any position, try to hit the goalies’ helmet from behind the net. His pieces of advice help us to progress.