The player of Russkie Vityazi is the best scoring defenseman of his team and the blocked shots leader.
The 2022/23 season was David Shvangiradze’s second season in the Junior Hockey League. The defenseman of Russkie Vityazi came into the spotlight as a hard hitter and a leader of various rankings. He scored 15 (3+12) points in the regular season and became the best scoring defenseman and the leader in blocked shots with 90 blocks.
Russkie Vityazi lost to Kapitan in the play-in and will start the 2023/24 season in the Silver Division. In the interview with the official JHL website, David Shvangiradze talked about why it may work in team’s favor, failures in the 2022/23 season, physicality, sporting family and the dream of starting a Georgian restaurant.
— How can you evaluate the 2022/23 season for Russkie Vityazi?
— It was quite unsuccessful. We have been through a lot of ups and downs. We could beat a strong team and then lose to an opponent which was not that good.
— How have you changed over the two years of playing in the JHL?
— The preseason was tough, I was preparing for the season in my hometown of Penza with my father, he is a former professional rugby player. I also hired a conditioning coach. This season allowed me to gain more experience. Many older guys were not eligible to playing in the JHL, so us, players born in 2003-2004 were to lead the team. It was a cool experience. Whether I did well or not is the question to be addressed to the team. In general, I am not really happy with the season, I could have played much better. I felt quite jittery at the beginning, I felt all the responsibility. Then things started getting better and I kept moving forward.
— You have the most points by a defenseman in the regular season. What is your attitude to such achievements?
— I did not check the ranking, I was only following the standings. There was sort of a scoring race in the team, but we didn’t know exactly who was the leader of it. I don’t make much account of points. So, this achievement does not prettify the season result.
— Why didn’t Russkie Vityazi manage to make the playoffs?
— In the first play-in game Kapitan’s goaltending became a game-changer, Artemy Pleshkov was really solid in net. We created chances, but failed to convert them both in the first and second period, Artemy came up with some nice saves. We didn’t manage to gain a toehold. And in the second game Kapitan had complete dominance. We discussed with the coaches that after the first game we were very depressed: the moments when we failed to score into the open net or hit the post were on our minds. The first game was emotionally draining and we had emotional numbness in the second one.
— How did your team take the demotion from the Gold to the Silver Division?
— It’s frustrating. Some manly tears were shed. But, as our coach said, young players born in 2006 will join the team next year and it will make things a bit easier for them. We will be wins-hungry, perhaps being a Silver Division team will work in our favor. It was hard lines on us, so we are to show our true worth. It will give us some extra motivation.
— What are your plans now?
— We are to keep practicing till the end of April. Maybe I will practice with the main team. I hope to be called up for preseason training camp with Vityaz. We’ll see, let's not make premature plans.
— How did you become a bruising defenseman?
— I have been a true believer in physicality since childhood. I attended my father’s games, watched rugby a lot. Rugby techniques are completely different, as it is a full-contact sport and games consist of pushing, pulling, wrestling, tackling. Physicality became a part of me on the subconscious level. I don’t try to inflict injuries on anybody on the ice, I just aim at gaining possession of the puck. And seeing your hit as a highlight is cool, it boosts motivation.
— How do you make a decision of throwing a body check?
— I watch the player move. For example, an opposing defenseman is coming from behind the net, I see a forward he can send a pass to and I notice that he is not ready. At the moment of receiving the pass, the forward raises his head, and there I am rushing at him to gain possession of the puck.
— Do clean hits give you pleasure?
— They are fun, but these are my teammates who enjoy my hits even more, because when I return to the bench, they start cheering on and making some flattering remarks. And I tell them: “On, guys, on, I am doing all this for you.” Hits get the team fired up. The thing I like most is my teammates’ reaction.
— And how often do you get hit?
— Opponents do look to hit a player like me. There have been several occasions when I was lost in thought for a moment and received a body check. I always smile when such things happen, it is a game, after all. Sometimes you give body checks and sometimes you receive them.
— You often come up from the blue line and hit an opponent player. Is it your signature move?
— When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching best hits highlights. I saw defenseman Niklas Kronwall doing it this way. I can’t say that I tried to copy his ways, it just happened by itself.
— What is the coaches’ reaction to your hits?
— I have never delivered any really dirty hits. I checked a player to the head in the 2021/22 season, but I didn’t mean to. It was an accident since he was pretty short. In general, the coaches don’t mind and sometimes even say: “Come on, David, get the team fired up.” After all, hits are not only aimed at separating an opponent from the puck, but also at raising the team spirit.
— In the 2022/23 regular season, you were the blocked shots leader. How do you make the decision of sacrificing your body to prevent goals?
— I am able to cover the most goal area for a shooter. It happens that having blocked a number of shots, I would prefer to do without blocking another one, but I still do it subconsciously and think: “You people can’t even hit the net.” Once I took the puck to the same spot three times and I even started yelling at opposing players. I got a terrible bump and had to leave the ice - I tried to continue playing through pain, but then I realized that I could not be of any help to the team anymore. But I feel joy and pride when I return to the bench and guys tap me on the pads and thank for the blocked shot. These are the moments that make it worth living and playing hockey – you see that people believe in you and appreciate what you are doing, because hockey is a team sport.
— Who is your favorite defenseman?
— Victor Hedman from Tampa Bay Lightning. Guys even call me Vic sometimes. I cannot say he is a tough physical defenseman, but he is also tall and skates well for a player of his size. He has great shot and loves joining rushes. He is the one I look up to.
— You said that you saw hockey on TV when you were a kid and got a craving for playing it. Can you tell us this story?
— It was some kind of show giving tips on how to play hockey – how to tape a stick, how to skate. I was a highly active kid, but that show made me glue myself to the screen. I did gymnastics back then, but I was tall and lacked flexibility. My parents are both professional athletes: my mom is a basketball player, and my dad is a rugby player. Everyone wondered why they hadn’t signed me up for these sports, but apparently, they wanted me to do something different. I also had some nose problems and a doctor advised me either to swim or do some winter sports.
— Are you keen on basketball and rugby?
— My parents are officials now. I attend some games when I have a chance. I like basketball for game episodes, and rugby for speed and physicality. These games are really fascinating, even though they are completely different.
— You started playing hockey with Penza Dizel, but then moved to Vityaz. How was this decision made?
— I was offered to join Vityaz when I was 13 years old. At that time, I was not yet able to make any decisions myself, so my parents made all the arrangements with the scout who noticed me. We were offered good terms, provided with an apartment to stay at. And I moved there with my grandmother. She said, “Wherever David is going, I’m going his way.” We took a train together to scale new heights in Moscow Region.
— Is your grandmother an expert in hockey now?
— Sometimes I think she is a better expert than I am. She spent four years staying together with me and soaked herself in hockey. When I played in Penza, she knew a little of this sport. And when we moved, she started attending KHL games and liked it so much that she became a true fan. I remember I came home after practice one day and she was surfing the net and started telling me about games and some roster moves.
— How did you manage to balance hockey with school?
— For this, tremendous credit goes to my grandmother. There’s no concealing the fact that she did my homework for me most of the time. My grandmother is my right and left hand, and legs, and head. Now I am staying at the base with the team, and think of her delicious food every day. The food we are served here is also good, but my granny’s food is always better.
— How do you get prepared for games?
— The only ritual I follow is doing everything left to right: getting dressed, stepping on the ice with my left foot first. This superstition stems from my dad and I have been used to it since childhood. Other than that, there is nothing special I stick to before games, I just try not to be overfocussed. I can crack some joke so that guys relax a bit and have a few laughs. Hockey is my passion, but I always try to keep a cool head.
— How do you deal with failures?
— Failures are painful and handling them is tough for me. But luckily my parents are athletes, so I call them and we discuss everything. All my relatives support me, which I am grateful to them for.
— What type of person are you?
— I am a barrel of laughs, a sociable fellow, a game for anything (laughs). I can’t keep still, even when we are at the base, we always think of something interesting to do, play some games, have fun. Staying at the base is tough for guys from other cities, because we spend a lot of time being far away from our families, so we understand one another. We can play computer games. We always have a shooting area available. First, we get some work done and stay silent so as not to distract one another, and then we can fool around a bit, have one guy in net and shoot a tennis ball.
— What else do you like to do in your spare time?
— I hate being alone, so I often go on walks, spend time in Moscow with my friends. I talk to my family a lot. I visited them a short while ago when we were given some days off after the last game. I have many friends in Penza, they follow my career. Even when we played in Vladivostok, they messaged me at four in the morning Moscow time to give a word of encouragement. Penza has a special place in my heart.
— You said that if you didn’t play hockey, you would start a Georgian restaurant. Why so?
— It is my dad’s dream, I want to make it come true. Why Georgian? Everyone loves Georgian food, it’s delicious. But my greatest love is my mom’s food (laughs).
Born on March 26, 2004 in Penza
2011-2017 – Dizel, Penza
From 2017 – Vityaz, Moscow Region