The captain of Dinamo-Shinnik is helping the KHL team in the playoffs and is keeping his fingers crossed for the junior team in the play-in.
Timofei Kovgorenya is in his first and final JHL season. The Belarusian blueliner was making progress in his native country, spent a year in North America and returned from there to prove to be a solid offensive defenseman in the JHL. He scored 22 (11+11) points in 37 games. Dinamo-Shinnik coaching staff duly appreciated Timofei’s personal qualities and selected him as the captain for the team. In winter, Kovgorenya started to receive call-ups to the main team and made his KHL debut in the playoff game against SKA.
In an interview with the JHL website, Timofei Kovgorenya talked about returning to his homeland, Dinamo-Shinnik’s success, communicating with imports and also promised to make a parachute jump.
– How did beating SKA in your very first playoff game feel?
– A win is a win. But we did sag late in the game and allowed two quick goals. It always feels good to win, every face is smiling, plus it was my first KHL playoff game, it was an interesting experience. I am grateful to the coaching staff for their trust and letting me play such an important game. I tried to take it as a normal regular-season game, because pressure and their home-ice advantage can affect your performance in a negative way. I was as focused as I always am, tried to do the right things on the ice and fulfill the coach’s task.
– Do you feel the difference between regular season and playoff games?
– Yes, even when performing a body check, you feel that those are not kids weighing 70-80 kilograms, but men closer to a hundred.
– You had a bit of a scrap with Dmitrij Jaskin. What happened?
– It was usual sports aggression, nothing much. We dropped a couple of phrases and continued to play.
– You stand out for playing physically. Did you have to change anything playing in the KHL?
– Playing physically is what my style is. As my elder brother says, you need to develop your strengths and use your strong points. I might not be too good at dangling, but I do know how to throw a check.
– Is it easier to play in the JHL after the KHL?
– I won’t say it’s easier. The level of opponents is not important. You always need to respect them, because they can surprise you at any moment. No one should be underestimated, otherwise it can play a dirty trick on you.
– Who do you consider to be a man of gravitas in terms of physicality?
– Nobody. As they say, nobody is superior, nobody is inferior. The same is true for me when I am on the ice. If you are a smaller player, you can be sort of a speed bump. If you are a bigger player, you need to know where to hit to make an opponent lose his balance. There are certain nuances in both cases. Anyways, you are to respect opponents and never play dirty. But if you play tough and go by the rules – why ever not?
– Did you feel greater responsibility when hitting the ice right after your team has allowed two goals?
– Yes, the first three minutes after a goal is allowed or scored are extremely important and form a key part of a game, because an opponent can turn the tide of it. But it was just a coincidence that I hit the ice right after goals were allowed.
– Do you have an explanation of why you deserved a call-up to the main team for the playoffs?
– To be honest, I don’t (smiles). I am glad I got the chance to play here. In the other scenario I would do my utmost with Dinamo-Shinnik, especially since I am wearing the ‘C’ there, the team also needs me. It’s nice to be called up to the main team – playing in the KHL gives invaluable emotions and experience.
– Was leaving Dinamo-Shinnik hard for you given your captaincy?
– The alternate captains are still with the team, they are good guys. I know they are always ready to back me up both on and off the ice. I believe in every player of the team, God speed.
– Have you already taken the floor in the KHL locker room?
– It is not the done thing to turn the floor over to someone. If you think you need to say something to the guys, you just say it. We all talk on the bench. If a player makes a mistake or underfulfils his task, everyone supports him and helps correct his mistakes. Hazing is not Dinamo’s thing, not only veterans speak, but so do young players too.
– Does the fact that the letter ‘C’ is worn by an import affect anything in the main team? Language barrier cannot but be mentioned.
– I believe, language and nationality of the captain are of no importance. His goals must always be the same. The captain must lead the guys and support them, he is to play right, perform well and encourage others to do the same.
– You shaved before the start of the playoffs, do you plan to grow your facial hair during elimination games?
– Yes, of course, it is a must (smiles).
– Three players of Minsk Dinamo sustained injuries in the first five minutes of Game 1 of the series. Will it influence further team performance?
– Some of our important players got injured. Let’s hope they return soon, but it is for the coaching staff to decide. Maybe some young players will be given an opportunity to play in order for key players not to get overworked. There are still many games to be played.
– Are discipline and special teams of particular importance in such games?
– Being on the penalty kill means being greatly responsible to the team. The same is true for the power play, as it can be a game-changer.
– Did you feel pressure because of skeptical predictions for Dinamo pulling off first-round upset?
– The head coach took this topic very seriously mentality-wise and helped us to focus on hockey, but not on what is happening around. Playoff games is an entirely different story. It doesn’t matter whether you clinch a playoff berth or backdoor your way into the playoffs.
– How did it feel to play against former Dinamo player Stepan Falkovsky?
– There was nothing extraordinary about it, the same thing had already happened in the game against Sibir. Max Sushko plays for them. There are no friends on the ice, only hockey.
– In the JHL, you average four shots on goal per game. In the KHL, you have one shot in five games. What prevents you from taking more shots?
– Firstly, I don’t have as much ice time as in the JHL. Secondly, there is a significant difference in speeds which is really felt. Thirdly, KHLers block way more shots. I don’t see such corridors as in the Junior Hockey League. In the KHL, when you gain puck possession, you hardly have time to look around and find your teammates. You must assess the situation before getting the puck, make a move or dangle and then take a shot right away. In Game 1 against SKA, I tried to take a shot on goal twice, but both shots were blocked.
– What can you say about young players’ development with the main team?
– The coaches kept their word about young players’ development and let many guys try their hand at the KHL level, feel this drive, speed. I believe, six young players were called up during the season. Perhaps, the number will be even higher in the next season, because everyone grows and makes progress. More and more young guys unlock their potential in Belarus, new talents appear.
– Will it be exciting to play at the Minsk-Arena packed with fans?
– Excitement does not help, but we feel the responsibility. We want to justify hopes of coaches, fans, relatives.
– What can you say about the Dinamo system in general?
– The Dinamo system is built so that a player progresses and moves up the tiers higher and higher. The structure is pretty much the same at all levels, it only differs in terms of players’ performance and skills
– What is the reason for the success of Dinamo-Shinnik in the very first year after returning to the JHL?
– The structure of Dinamo is focused on the development of players: some of them were called up to the Belarus national team, some guys have experience of playing in North America, others – in the Extraliga. This means that Dinamo-Shinnik has promising young guys and good coaching staff. We have gone to considerable lengths, the play-in is the result of all the guys having worked hard since the summer.
– Can you share your impressions about the atmosphere at the arena in Bobruisk?
– The arena is always sold-out. God willing, we will make the playoffs, and we are sure, at least 5 000 fans will attend each game. I am in my first and final JHL season, I want to make Bobruisk happy. Even taxi drivers recognize us and wish good luck and wins, it’s really nice.
– What were the things that did not allow the team to become the division winner?
– Hockey is hockey, things don’t always go the way you want. I think that we did not become the division winner because of personal mistakes, because we didn’t get points in some games against teams that we had to beat. Instead, we were playing childish hockey and underestimated opponents.
– You have 11 goals and 11 assists. What do you enjoy more, scoring or assisting on goals?
– I’ve never been a super goal scorer. A defenseman’s main task is not to allow goals. When I get a chance to join a rush, I try to take a shot on goal. If any of my teammates happens to redirect the goal, it’s great, if I myself score, it’s also great, I’ll thank my teammates (smiles).
– Given your style of play, what do you prefer: a nice goal or a big body check?
– (laughs) tough one... I’ll go with a nice goal, because big checks are sometimes likely to cause injuries. It’s unsportsmanlike attitude, opponents need to be respected.
– You spent the 2021/22 season in the Western Hockey League. Did this experience help you when you returned to Belarus?
– Yes, I think that season helped me to mature and get used to playing at a higher level after kids’ hockey. Even though I didn’t play against veterans, I was facing skilled and aggressive guys. Teams there believe in offensive hockey and play physically, and they do enjoy the game. When I joined the JHL team, I started to share my experience with younger guys, and they listened to me. We tried to play high-paced games with lots of energy. I try to do the same with Minsk Dinamo, I believe that enjoying the game is an integral part of playing hockey, you hit the ice with can-do attitude and energy, do what you love and have fun. When you stay focused and trust your teammates, confidence comes about of itself.
– Dinamo-Shinnik is one of the highest scoring teams of the JHL. Did you have to get used to a new system after returning to the team?
– Well, yes, it can be highlighted that we have scored many goals. We have talented players: Danya Sotishvili, Vanya Anoshko got off to a very good start of the season, Miroslav Mikhalyov, Vadim Moroz. They had a good preseason with Minsk Dinamo, so it was easier for them to prove themselves in the JHL. Such players ensure that the team has many points and ranks high.
– Did your good level of English help when adjusting to Minsk Dinamo, since there are many foreigners there?
– In fact, it did, as language barrier plays a big role. I even used to help young guys to communicate with imports, I acted as an interpreter. Knowing English allows you to talk to the coach, or answer some trivial questions. I am staying with Shawn Lalonde. If I did not know English, I would teach him some bad words only. But we are able to talk, which is nice (smiles).
– You said that in North America the style of communication between players and coaches is different and they can talk off the ice like friends. In that regard, is Craig Woodcroft’s coaching approach similar to what you saw in the WHL?
– I haven’t had a chance to talk to the head coach outside arena. But I see imports talking to him and I understand that the style is almost the same. I mean, there is no room for friendship on the ice, only work and practice stuff related to hockey. But in the locker room we can make some jokes and have a few laughs. It is one of the things I saw in the WHL which is quite the same here, even though the level of this league is higher.
– Dinamo has many big names among imports. Who impressed you the most?
– Shawn Lalonde. He told me about some of the moves of his, I stated my outside point of view, we shared some of our experiences, or, rather he shared his experience with me (smiles). But I don’t think that I need to model myself after anyone. If I am with the team, it means that I have done some useful and right things and I just need to move on the right way.
– You wear number 76 for the main team, number 8 for the JHL team. However, your favorite number is 13, why?
– My elder brother was wearing number 13 until he retired from hockey. I liked this number as well. Plus, I was born on February 13, it is sort of my life path number.
– Being a child, were you motivated and inspired by your elder brother’s example?
– Yes, I was. I saw him skate, score goals, play physically. My brother was my idol back then.
– You have a younger brother who also plays hockey.
– His team (Minsk Junior – note) has made the playoffs. I believe they are able to have a good run, even though their team is not the highest-placed finisher after the regular season. They have a good team and some skillful players, they are able to hit the podium. I would love to see them win the championship, but it’s hockey, who knows what the future holds for them. My younger brother is also wearing number 13, he was born on May 13. We even have a photo somewhere with three of us as Yunost school trainees all wearing number 13.
– In one of the interviews you mentioned that you are working on a track and already have draft lyrics. Tell us the story of writing the song and the main idea of it.
– When I was in America, we were spending a lot of time on the road. I was tired of just being glued to my phone or listening to music, so I tried to clink some verses about life in America, about me being there, it was my side of the story. I have one track about America, another one about hockey with some hockey slang in it. We will only be able to continue working on it on the summertime. I already have a guy to help me record the track, he made the Dinamo-Shinnik promo for the season.
– You have been considering making a parachute jump for quite a while. Are you ready to promise to do it in the event of some team achievement?
– Yes! I can make a promise that I will make a parachute jump this summer if we are in any medals.
– There are some pictures from the WHL with you on the ice holding some stuffed toys, what kind of event was it?
– It was a charity event: people bring stuffed toys to the game and throw them onto the ice when the first goal is scored, then they are collected by players and arena staff. My teammate and I picked one toy each and decided to take a commemorative picture. I remember that the game was attended by ten thousand people, and almost 11 thousand toys were thrown onto the ice.
– Is there any interesting story from North American stage of your career to share?
– Once I blocked a shot and my skate shattered. I remember: the puck hit the skate and I felt foot pain. I came to the bench, checked my skate, and I could see my toes – the toe cap was shattered, I even have a picture somewhere.