SKA-1946 captain is leading his team to the second Kharlamov Cup.
Yegor Gurzanov – SKA-1946, is one of the team’s most experienced and prolific players in the playoffs. His door to success was not easy to open. Yegor was born in Fokino, a town in Primorsky Krai. When he was two years old, he moved to Kuznetsk, a town in Penza Region. He started playing hockey with Penza Dizel and moved to Ska-Varyagi in the 2016/17 season. In one of his first JHL games, the forward suffered a serious injury - cruciate ligament rupture – and was out for the entire 2019/20 season because of it. Not only he was able to return to play at the same level, but also became one of the main victory makers in the triumphant playoffs, having scored 19 (4+15) points in 17 games. Yegor spent most of the 2022/23 season in the VHL. He returned to the JHL for the first playoff round to go towards the aim of winning the second Kharlamov Cup with his team.
In the interview with the JHL website, Yegor Gurzanov talked about Michkov’s lacrosse-style goals, success in the playoffs, his injury and title defense.
– You have won two playoff rounds with confidence and are now preparing for semifinal. What mood is the team in?
– We are in good mood and have a positive attitude. We were lucky to win both series 3-0, but in any case, all the guys did a great job. We are committed to keep up the good work, previous rounds are already forgotten.
– Don’t you think that such a winning streak might give the team too much self-confidence?
– Our team is not a young one. Many of us played last year, and we tell the younger guys before each game and during meetings that it is just the beginning. Even when we had a 2-0 lead in the series against Dynamo, we kept saying that it did not guarantee anything and that we had no right to make a mistake, we had to win the game right there right then. We are not overconfident, we just work hard and prepare for next games.
– As a captain, do you give more pointers to younger players?
– I do, but I am not the only one who does it. We have two alternate captains – Semyon Demidov and Yegor Zelenov. Semyon says some things to the team after off-ice workouts, I speak before we go on the ice, Yegor speaks before pregame skates. We all try to talk and build contacts with younger guys, if something goes wrong, we support them. We have many older guys, so there are no problems with communication, we all are on friendly terms with one another.
– Do you and the alternate captains have a clear order of addressing the team?
– We sort of do. But it is more of a tradition than a strict order. We were following it during the previous season and ended up winning the Cup. So, we stick to this tradition and try to take turns supporting one another.
– Did you ever happen to be at a loss for words in a tough situation?
– The words might not come out right when there is nothing bad happening. In tough situations, on the contrary, giving speech to your feelings is an easy thing to do, because you speak from your heart. You even happen to use coarse language, because emotions run high.
– Is there an inspiring speech you have heard during your career that stuck in your mind?
– Specific words do not reside in the memory, but they do make you feel supported, and the general idea is memorable. When I was with SKA-Neva, there was a situation when we lost two playoff games in a row and in an intermission of Game 3 Evgeny Kalabushkin managed to find the right words that were of great help. Listening to such speeches is adrenaline inducing and makes you feel that we will stand by one another through thick and thin.
– Does wearing the “C” imply added responsibility on the ice?
– I am already used to this responsibility, because I was wearing the “C” throughout the 2021/22 season as well. Being a captain is emotionally challenging, because you need to always support the guys on the bench. If something does not go well for someone, you are to find the right words, and it consumes emotions which are sometimes hard to restore. The most challenging thing is to find energy to support everyone when they feel down. At the same time, you are to play too, and it also requires energy and emotion, so sometimes you happen to lack them.
– Why were SKA-1946’s playoff games so different in score: 3-2 and 7-1 against Kapitan, 3-1 and 8-2 against Moscow Dynamo?
– I guess, playing back-to-back games leads to accumulated fatigue. There are games when almost every shot leads to a goal. And sometimes you just can’t find the back of the net or a goalie is on a roll and you just can’t score on him. I can’t say for sure what the reason is, teams’ commitment is also of high importance. Game 2 is usually the most difficult one, since in Game 1 you usually try to see what an opponent has to offer and it can lead to a lopsided win. The next game is usually hard-fought, teams already know what to expect. If you happen to get a lopsided win in Game 3, it most likely means that the opponent’s spirit is broken by the first two games, that was the case with Dynamo. We had a 2-0 lead in the series after two home games. Perhaps some of them no longer believed they could come back and win.
– Over the past three years, SKA-1946 hasn’t lost a single game in the first round of the playoffs.
– It is where mental approach plays an important role. The idea at the back of our minds is that we are the higher-seeded team and we are facing opponents who are at the bottom of the standings, and whom we have already played against in the regular season. We feel that we outperform them and it makes winning the first round easier.
– 3-0 win in the series looks easy on paper, but is it really so?
– One might think that since we won 3-0, it was easy. But in fact, this is far from being the case, because every game is tough. You are to stay focused and committed to play till the final buzzer. Let’s say, your team has a 2-0 lead in the series, then you lose one game and your lead is cut. If you lose another game, the series is tied 2-2 and no one knows what the decisive game holds for you. It’s only on paper that a 3-0 win looks easy.
– What was it like to play against Matvei Michkov in the first round vs Kapitan?
– He has deserved high attention with his performance, he is a skilled player able to score goals. When you are on the ice, names on jerseys don’t matter and you don’t even pay attention to who you are playing against. The only thing you think about is helping your team win. Michkov does a great job, even though for some reason things didn’t go well for him in that series. Maybe he wasn’t prepared or felt psychological pressure playing against his former team. We knew we were to face a strong team. Maybe we should have played harder and more carefully, because he is a skilled player, he can create chances. We are glad that we won the series against Kapitan and that Michkov did not score any lacrosse-style goals (smiles).
– How unexpected was it to see Michkov fighting?
– It’s hockey, emotions run high, and he discharged them by fighting.
– In the 2021/22 season, you said that the team’s trump card was its unity. Is it still the same this year?
– Yes, it is. I believe, it goes without saying. Even from the stands one can see how we support one another, how active we are on the bench and how we can stand up for one another, punish an opponent for being rough by scoring a goal. Team unity might not be a key factor in the regular season. But when the playoffs come, we are to fight side by side for the team, it is the only way to win games and the Cup, unity is of great importance when failure is not an option.
– It has been the second year for you to play with Dmitry Buchelnikov on the same line. Did the fact that you returned to the JHL together make this transition much easier?
– Yes, we hardly had any issues, we have been playing with Dima for a long time, it’s our second season as linemates. It’s nice to play when the chemistry is there, we always practice together and already feel each other to the point that when he is behind me, I know where he will skate to and how I can dish him a nice pass. Having that mutual chemistry is really great.
– SKA-1946 is a team where any line can score goals. Is it a big advantage in the playoffs?
– I think, it’s a tremendous advantage in the playoffs. You get to celebrate your own goals on the ice and those of your teammates on the bench. It makes you feel confident that even if your line doesn’t manage to light the lamp, any other line can do it instead. There is no clear division into five-man lines, and lines are rotated during the game after the first power play or shorthanded situation.
– In five regular season games in the JHL, you were credited with four assists, but you didn’t score any goals. Did it make you feel concerned?
– No, it didn’t. It might be the case with younger players, when they don’t get to score goals, they get concerned and worried about it, but having played enough games, you already understand that the main thing is to benefit the team. It can be done by a nice pass, a body check or just motivating the guys on the bench. It’s not that widely believed that scoring goals is the most important thing any more. Obviously, goals are important and you can’t win games without them. If I manage to score, it makes me feel happy. But if I can’t find the back of the net, I will focus on sending good passes and help my team this way.
– You have a high plus-minus, SKA-1946 scored seven goals and didn’t allow a single one when you were on the ice. Do you follow your stats?
– I do keep an eye on goals and assists in the regular season, as the schedule is not as busy as it is in the playoffs. I didn’t even know that I had +7 and that we didn’t allow a single goal when I was on the ice, I didn’t even think about it, to be honest. If goals and assists are something I follow, then plus-minus is actually not.
– One of the main peculiarities of the JHL playoffs is the shootout after overtime, if it is not a decisive game. How do you feel about it?
– I guess, this is as it should be. In any case, the shootout is only used in non-decisive games, meaning if a team has a 2-0 lead in the series, there will be no shootout in Game 3. There is an opinion that a shootout is a lottery, but in any case, everything depends on skills of skaters and goalies. I am fine with shootouts, but we’d better decide games in the regulation and not push the luck too far.
– It has been a while since SKA-1946 earned a shootout win. Do you have any concerns about it?
– We don’t actually have any concerns, we hardly had any shootout wins last season as well. We just shouldn’t let games go to shootouts, we should decide games in the regulation or find a way to score in overtime ... or do better at shootouts (laughs).
– What are your expectations of the series against Omskie Yastreby?
– We are getting prepared for the semifinals. Experience shows that it is a tough stage, last year the series against Irbis was the most difficult one for us, although it can hardly be compared with the one against Krasnaya Armiya. Kazan squeezed us against the wall, but we managed to stay alive and got the overtime win. Should SKA-1946 lose that series, there would be no Cup, rings and gold medals for us. Omskie Yastreby is a strong team, I didn’t actually follow them, but I sometimes see some videos - they play well. They have great power play. We will focus on playing solid defense, analyze their special teams, we are preparing to face a good strong team and move full steam ahead.
– You have not played against Omskie Yastreby before, do you think it might be an issue?
– I cannot say it’s a big problem, since those guys haven’t played against us either. So, we all are on equal terms and it makes games even more interesting. Playing against Kapitan was also a new experience for me, the first game was the toughest one, I didn’t know what to expect. Watching some of their games was not enough to understand their behavior on the ice. But after three or four shifts you understand the pace and the idea of the game and start playing hockey that will bring results.
– You are now in your final JHL season, will it be sad to leave the League?
– I don’t think “sad” is the right word. I understand that any story has its logical end. Make way for the young, so that they develop and progress. I want to exit gracefully and make this story have a happy ending – winning the Cup. I am not the only player of our team who is in the final JHL season. It feels nice, just like it did in the first season, when everything was a new experience and every game was some kind of a big event, and it still is. Playing games is so much fun.
– Has the team changed a lot compared to the triumphant lineup?
– Hard to compare, because, let’s say Maxim Krovyakov, our former linemate is not with the team any more. Young guys joined us, they are fresh and hungry and it’s their first playoffs. At the beginning, their young age and lack of experience showed, but now everyone has gotten fully adjusted.
The team is pretty much the same in terms of performance: last season we had two 3-0 wins in the first two rounds, and this year the result is the same. We will see at the end of the season which lineup is stronger. If we defend the title, everything will be clear.
– Does the status of the current champion add responsibility in the playoffs?
– I think that in any opponent’s locker room coaches tell their guys that we are the current champions, so they need to be more aggressive, confident and angry. They get prepared to play against us in a special way, that’s for sure. It does not bring extra pressure for us to bear, it’s just that we understand that we are champions and we need to defend the title. But when we hit the ice, we forget about everything and just play our game.
– Having raised the Kharlamov Cup once, are you highly motivated to experience victorious emotions again?
– Those emotions got forgotten. Winning the championship is an incredible experience, we enjoyed that moment, and all the precious emotions remained in the past and are captured on video. Now we only think about the current season. Our champion’s title is a thing of the past, we are to write new history and do our best to win the second consecutive Kharlamov Cup.
– How often do you watch that triumphant playoffs and your personal plays?
– In the first week after winning the Cup, we watched such videos even if we didn’t intend to: people were tagging us on social networks, we were among YouTube’s recommendations. So, of course, we watched them. It was nice to be in the high light. I still happen to come across such videos. Sometimes I can’t sleep on a day off and at three o’clock in the morning I see a video featuring myself or just moments of winning the championship. But I don’t look for such videos on purpose.
– One of the highlights of the previous playoffs is Matvei Michkov’s lacrosse-style goal you assisted on. What was happening on the ice at that moment?
– If Mich is behind the net, it will most likely lead to scoring a lacrosse-style goal. But for some reason, I wasn't thinking about it at that moment and expected another pass. In one of the games against Krasnaya Armiya, he tried to score a lacrosse-style goal, but the goalie knew it and covered the top corner with his trapper. So, Michkov started practicing scoring lacrosse-style goals lower, at a knee level. I sent a pass and saw him lifting the puck onto the blade of his stick and then whipping it past the post. The goalie was confused, I also did not understand what had happened (smiles). He started celebrating, we did the same, the stands were hurrahing, everyone at the bench was shocked. No one but him understood anything. Mich was the only one who knew what he would do.
– Some of the SKA-1946 players said that the Kharlamov Cup is really heavy.
– It is pretty heavy indeed. I would say, it can be compared to a barbell in a gym. But we often work with barbells, so it was not an issue (smiles). On the contrary, raising the Cup makes you feel relieved and gives a sense of euphoria. We skated towards our fans, all cameras were pointed at us, it was great.
– Tell us about championship rings that SKA-1946 players received.
– Soon after winning the championship, we were told we would receive the rings, everyone was so excited. It turned out that they would be ready only by the middle of the season. Emotions had already settled down by then, but it was still very nice. Many thanks to the management for making such championship rings for us. The memory will remain with us forever, plus the ring itself is really beautiful. You can hardly wear it, though, because it is heavy and looks huge (smiles). 20 years later, you will look at it and re-experience victorious emotions.
– In the semi-finals of the triumphant playoffs, Dmitry Buchelnikov was seriously injured. Are prominent players being “hunt for” by opponents?
– If it’s a clean hit – I am fine with it. After all, if the rules are not violated, then you yourself are most likely wrong, since you were not ready for a hit and didn’t receive the body check properly. But if it’s a dirty hit that leads to a serious injury, of course no one wants any part of it.
– You also suffered a serious injury – you had cruciate ligament rupture in 2019. How did it happen?
– It happened during my minor-to-junior transition, it was my eighth game in the JHL. The guys were much bigger in size and three or four years older than me. I didn’t know how long it would take me to recover, so it wasn’t that hard to deal with the injury. But it was like groundhog day: rehab - school - home. My family, friends and teammates were helping me a lot. They kept asking me: “Well, when do you start skating again?”. I was telling them that I needed one more month, and a month later I was still not allowed to skate. They kept asking me the same question, I was telling them I needed two more weeks, but again, I was not given permission to skate. It was tough for me to be in the locker room and watch games, see guys practice and go to road trips. Looking back at the past, I realize that it took me very long to recover, but if you don’t think about it, it’s not as difficult as it seems.
– Did you consider quitting hockey back then?
– No, never. I was kept busy, I was treated by professionals at the medical center, plus I had a valid contract, so I didn’t consider quitting and had no suchlike worries. SKA helped me to get surgery, recover and return to hockey. I was wrapped up in work, so I didn’t even have time to think about quitting.
– You were out for the 2019/20 season in which the team had the longest winning streak. Did players’ emotions boost your motivation to return to hockey as soon as possible?
– Of course, it was really motivating. I saw how happy the guys were. They were texting me, we kept in touch, they helped me through those times. Such moments make you understand what all of it is for, especially when you see progress day by day. Two weeks pass and you don’t need crutches, a couple of months pass and you can run and jump. Seeing guys winning made me want to return to playing as soon as possible. I was thinking about our road trips, jokes, and these positive thoughts were speeding up the healing process.
– There are other examples of hockey players’ heroic returns. For instance, Kirill Tankov who is recovering now, and Ivan Miroshnichenko who is already playing. What do you think about such stories?
– Obviously, my situation is not a one-off. Dozens or even hundreds of players suffer serious injuries. Such information is usually not subject to disclosure, so we don’t know all the stories. But some names are known to us, including those of some guys of my age. Kirill Tankov is now recovering, we talk every now and then, he feels great and soon he will be well again. Ivan Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with a major illness, but he fought bravely against it. Such stories become inspiration for others, they get people motivated to never give up. When people see those who overcame serious illness or injuries, they realize that the problems they have are not that terrible. I hope that my story will also help and motivate some people, if they happen to find out about it (smiles).
– How were you studying during that period?
– The biggest inconvenience was that I used to have a two-hour workout at seven in the morning after which I would take metro to get to school, which wasn’t that close. If I wasn’t studying, I don’t even know what I would be doing. Perhaps that would be the time for unnecessary thoughts to pop into my head. But I was busy preparing for Unified State Exams, so I managed to steer on the right course.
– How did you do on Unified State Exams?
– I passed the exam in biology with 67 points, in Russian – with 75. I have entered the Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health to study to be a coach. It’s what many players do, because we want our lives to be connected with hockey even after we retire as players. I started cramming biology from basics six months before the exam and managed to pass it with a good result. There was no special preparation for the exam in Russian, the idea I had was: “How can I fail an exam in Russian if I did well in my studies and know the rules?” So, I sort of neglected to prepare. I believe, had I prepared, I would have passed it with 85-90 points.
– As a future coach, do you make a note of some things your coaches use in their work?
– It happens unconsciously. If you like the coach and the way he treats players or you personally, in any case, you start learning from him, taking his advice, and so on. It can start from childhood, when impressionable young mind absorbs everything: the coach says something and it sticks in your memory.
– You joined SKA-1946 after your VHL team being eliminated in the first round. What was the main reason for the failure?
– Game 5 of the series was fatal – a 3-0 loss. It was a turning point that allowed Novokuznetsk Metallurg win the series and advance further. We were highly motivated because we had stormed back from 2-0 series deficit by winning two games in our barn in front of our fans. Unfortunately, we lost that big game and got eliminated. In any case, unpleasant surprises often happen in the playoffs, that was the case with SKA-Neva. It is what it is – hockey is hockey, you can never predict anything.
– Did it add to your passion to win in the JHL?
– That stage was over. We were told to get ready to play in the different League and not dwell on the past, but to turn over a new leaf and have a cool head. There is no use in thinking about past losses, our only goal is to win, now with SKA-1946.
– You were recognized as the best rookie of a week and a month in the VHL, what helped you to be so successful in your debut season at the senior level?
– It was coaches’ trust that helped me, I was getting a lot of ice time. When you feel that the coach is confident in you, it translates into points and solid performance on the ice. VHL guys were also very supportive, shared their experience. Dima Buchelnikov joined the team almost at the same time as I did, so it also made things easier. We helped each other on the ice and were scoring points. Getting adjusted was not an issue thanks to the support of the team and the trust of the coaches.
– Is playing in the JHL after the VHL easier in terms of speed, physicality and other components?
– Playing in the JHL is not easier, it’s just that each of the leagues has its own strengths. In the VHL, you have less time to make decisions, you don’t get much space and need to skate and move the puck faster. Junior teams rely on speed and energy, the great thing about the JHL is its unpredictability. I can’t say which league is more difficult to play in, there are positives and negatives everywhere.
– You take face-offs in the VHL, why don’t you do it in the JHL?
– In most of the cases, I used to take face-offs on the power play, it was a key element of our set play. In the JHL, we use different plays and the special team has a center who takes face-offs, that is why I don’t do it.
– You have already made your KHL debut. What did you feel when you were called up to the main team?
– I was extremely excited to receive a phone call and hear I would play for the main team. I was on the road with SKA-Neva at that moment. I was happy to be noticed and given a chance to play at such a level. The call-up itself speaks volumes. It means that you are being discussed and not forgotten. I didn’t get much ice time, but being on the bench with the players is a valuable experience. They were supportive and kept telling me to stay focused and have no fear. The emotions I experienced were nothing but positive.
– Did your shift in the KHL make you desire to play in the Ice Place again even stronger?
– It surely did. KHL debut is an incredible boost of motivation. It provides insight into what all of it is for. If I only got to play one shift, it means that I need to work on myself more and more.
– You were born in Fokino, a town in Primorsky Krai. What can you tell us about that place?
– It’s a town in Primorsky Krai located not far from Vladivostok. My father was serving in the navy and my family was there when I was born. I don’t remember much because I lived in Fokino until I was two years old, then we moved to Kuznetsk. It is a town in Penza Region my whole family lives in. My hockey journey began in a small town in the Penza region.
– The Penza school has many good trainees and alumni. Would it be good for them to have a JHL team?
– Yes, I guess, it’s time for them to move from the NJHL to the JHL. Statistics show that guys from Penza are achieving strong results. Penza management should think about moving to a new level and building a JHL team so that young players have perspectives for growth and do not leave for other cities.
– Does your size (180/80) allow you to feel comfortable playing physically?
– Well, yes. Player’s weight and size matter, but balance and skating skills are also important. Low center of gravity makes it easier to battle. There are many factors for being good at playing physically. Weight is only one of them.
– In one of the interviews you said that whatever skill one practices, he can build his career on it. What skills do you consider to be of top importance?
– I would say, physicality and speed. One always wants to have as many strengths as possible, but now speed, game intelligence and ability to read the game are of top importance.
– How did you spend your day with the Kharlamov Cup?
– The Kharlamov Cup was in great demand with the team and I didn’t manage to take it to my native town – it was not available on the dates of my travel. So, the Cup visited neither Kuznetsk nor Penza.
– Shall Kuznetsk expect to see the Kharlamov Cup this year if you manage to replicate the success?
– Yes, sure. I do want to take it to my native town, especially since Nikita Smirnov is from there too. We will bring the Cup to the Rubin school, show it to little boys for them to see what to strive for. Maybe they will draw some valuable insights and the trophy will help motivate them to continue playing hockey.
– You used to play chess when you were a kid. This sport is quite popular among hockey players. Who would you like to play it with?
– Many of the guys like chess, as it enhances the brain functions. Thinking one move ahead is important both on the chessboard and on the ice. I didn’t get to play chess with many of the guys, but this sport is quite popular in our team. Some guys play chess online, others can play a game even at a hotel.
– And if we speak about eSports, who is the biggest fan of it?
– Many of the junior team players are fond of computer games: Call of Duty, CS:GO. Nikita Dishkovsky is really good at the latter. I would say, we all are at the same level, so I can’t name someone as the most avid gamer. I enjoy playing with Nikita Smirnov, as we grew up together and were classmates since the second grade. We are like brothers.
Born on June 18, 2002 in Fokino
2010-2016 – Dizel, Penza
From 2016 – SKA, Saint Petersburg
2021/22 Kharlamov Cup winner