The team had the best season in their history.
The 2022/23 season was Stupino Kapitan’s most successful ever. The team started the regular season coached by Dmitri Kokorev, but Vadim Khomitsky stepped behind the bench for play-in and play-off games. Kokorev joined Sochi coaching staff and turned the reins over to his colleague for him to work with the junior team that was the odds-on favorite for winning the Silver Division of the Western Conference. Khomitsky picked up the torch to do really well in his first head coaching job. The Stupino team made it to the Gold Division and won the play-in series with confidence. Kapitan made their first playoff appearance since 2015 and squared off against defending champion SKA-1946 in the first round.
In an interview with the official JHL website, Vadim Khomitsky shared his impressions of his first experience as a head coach, talked about working with Matvei Michkov and the KHL team, the difference between adult and junior teams, and summed up Kapitan’s successful season.
– What grade would you give Kapitan for the season?
– I would give the team a solid B. We didn’t win the Kharlamov Cup, so I can’t give an A. But the team was playing solid confident hockey. The guys were giving their best in every game and were committed to win.
– What did the team lack in the series against SKA-1946?
– We were sort of testing the waters in the first game, since it was the first playoff experience for 95% of our players. Only Matvei Michkov, Vasily Machulin and Matvei Sumin had played playoff games before. We were explaining to the guys how they should play and they regrouped the following day. We must give credit to our team, after a 1-7 loss in Game 2 the guys started playing completely different hockey, which we wanted them to play. The series was closely contested and it could go either way. However, the opponent happened to be more productive and was a bit better at converting chances.
– What was the reason for Matvei Michkov’s underperformance in the series?
– Matvei’s will to win was evident in all games for Kapitan, he gave a hundred and ten percent every night. Sometimes he happened to overreact and we had to calm him down. But it was quite predictable: Michkov is still a young player. We did expect such a course of events. The teammates were of great support for Michkov. But some things worked out well, while other things didn’t. In my opinion, he did quite well in those games.
– Were there any issues with integrating Matvei Michkov into Kapitan since he came to Stupino as a KHLer?
– Well, Matvei had quite a considerable experience of playing at a high level, including for the Russian national team. But there were no issues at all. He understands our system very well. As for his character, there was nothing too special. Like all other players he would hit the ice to go all out to win games and defend the honor of the club.
– Today Michkov is often compared to Ivan Demidov. Which of these two players do you like more?
– I have never worked with Demidov, I can only judge from the outside. In my opinion, they are players of slightly different styles. Every strong player is good in his own right.
– Did you have to explain that for the KHLers to join the team, some other guys had to give up their roster spots for the good of the team?
– The guys knew it fully well. We rotated some lines so as to make all four of them more efficient, and each player would fulfil his role. There were no problems with that. This was our great advantage — the guys were imbued with the collective goal and joined their hands to pursue it. Thus, and only thus should a team play.
– You spent several years as an assistant coach in the KHL, but you had never been the head coach before moving to Stupino. What was your reaction to joining Kapitan?
– It is beyond argument that three years as an assistant coach in the KHL is a big plus and a huge experience. After each season, profound analysis was performed. I tried to learn from all the specialists I worked with both as a player and as a coach. I was fortunate enough to meet very strong coaches. Joining Kapitan was by no means a stressfull situation, I was ready for the new role. Moreover, I knew some players from working for Sochi. I did feel quite jittery during the first game though. And, credit goes to our players, we beat SKA-Varyagi 4-0. Further training process allowed me to get back into the swing of things.
– Which coach had the greatest impact on you?
– It is hard to single out one coach. Experience comes with games, training process and communication with colleagues. I am in touch with many of the KHL coaches — we are on good terms and share experiences. As the phrase goes, we all learn from one another.
– How challenging was it in terms of communication with the team? In the KHL, you were coaching mature players, and in Stupino you had to work with young guys.
– Yes, you are right, it was different in a way. Working at the junior level requires more detailed explanation, fuller presentation of aspects of the system and mistakes made. Being with a JHL team, you have to walk the players through some things time and time again, because at that age they tend to forget things in a week’s time, which is quite normal.
– Did you talk to your predecessor Dmitri Kokorev after he joined Sochi?
– Dmitri Alexandrovich and I always stay connected. After almost every game, we had a discussion of the players and rotation. As many as 11 players of our JHL team debuted in the KHL in the span of a year, which is quite a large number. We always discuss the conditioning of the guys and the way they play games. Sochi and Kapitan have a very similar system, so that players get adjusted quicker. Our task is to minimize players’ discomfort when moving from the JHL to the KHL and from the KHL to the JHL.
– You came to Sochi in 2016 as a hockey player and have been working in the club system since then. Have you already grown roots by the sea?
– I would like to thank the management of the Sochi club for giving me the opportunity to work as a coach after my retirement from playing. Being appointed as the head coach of Kapitan is evidence of the management’s trust. As for growing roots by the sea, my family lives in Moscow, my kids do sports there, so, no, we haven’t.
– Kokorev left a promising team for you to coach. Did you feel the pressure from high expectations?
– I was fully aware of what team I am to coach. I knew that it had been built for three years by then and coaches were committed to ensure orderly development of players. I was ready to take on the task. It was important to keep the lead and Kapitan managed to do it: we took first place and made it to the Gold Division. I must thank the guys for adjusting quickly to working with me. We were on the same page right from the start.
– Was mid-January the most stressful segment of the season with the four-game losing streak your team had?
– I wouldn’t call it stressful. We should bear rotation in mind, there were many roster moves and we had to change line combinations. Moreover, we played against the leaders of the league. Two of the four games were lost in overtime. Probably, that segment served a useful end – sometimes such losses give a boost to the team. After all, Kapitan had an eight-game winning streak after that.
– Did playing for Sochi make any of the players stuck up his nose when returning to the JHL team?
– We don’t have players who would behave like that. All the guys see that our system works both in the KHL and in the JHL. That’s no small feat. Maybe such a situation could happen if only one or two players made it to the main team. And we had 11 such players. There were no issues of that kind.
– Is power play the team’s weakest point?
– I guess so. But we did work on power play. Even with the rotation, we tried to build strong special teams. Sometimes we didn’t make enough shots, but played too fancy instead. This component should undoubtedly be improved.
Having said that, I would also like to mention our penalty killing. We are the regular-season leaders in shorthanded goals with 13 scored.
– Alexander Kulagin, Matvei Sumin, Alexander Losev and Yegor Samoilov are the true leaders of Kapitan. What do they need to improve to become full-time KHLers?
– These guys have spent quite a while in Stupino, they kept progressing with Kapitan. In the 2022/23 season, they gained a lot both mentally and physically. Now they are ready to move up the tiers and battle for a KHL roster spot. But to do this they still need to work a lot in the summer on their conditioning, they need to improve all the components of their game. The KHL is a completely different league. We tried to make our players understand it. It’s all in players’ hands. The main thing is to keep progressing. I know that the guys are capable of playing in the KHL.
– If we make Michkov and Machulin out of question, who should definitely make it to Sochi next season?
– I’d rather not give prominence to any of the players or make snap judgments. Now Sochi is to decide on the players who will participate in the preseason training camp. And the guys should understand that they should be not even 100%, but 120% ready for the training camp.
– How did the considerable experience of playing for Sochi affect Artemy Pleshkov in terms of confidence?
– Artemy was already playing with confidence when he left for Sochi. He got a wealth of experience playing in the KHL, where speeds are way higher and decision-making should be much quicker. Of course, he returned to Kapitan with these acquirements. Here it is important to make mention of our goalie coaches — Mikhail Mozart from Kapitan and Oleg Romashko from Sochi. It can be seen that they work in cooperation. It’s great that Pleshkov performed well in the KHL and continued to do so after returning to the JHL.
– Having made it to the Gold Division, were you worried that before the playoffs the players would consider the minimum goal achieved?
– No, I was not worried about it. Nobody could even think about it. We had an ultimate goal of winning the main trophy. Yes, we got eliminated in the first round, but we played well, battled hard to pursue our goal. I definitely saw no such sentiments in the team.
– Do you continue to follow the playoffs?
– I do try to follow playoff games. I don’t get to watch all the games though. But I attended Game 3 of Moscow Dynamo vs. SKA-1946 series in Moscow. Current semifinals are really interesting. I will watch both KHL and JHL games.
– Which opponent impressed you the most during the season?
– I didn’t get to coach against Loko because Kapitan had already played all the games against Yaroslavl before I stepped behind the bench. But I watched those games. It would be very interesting to coach against them. I will also single out SKA-1946, they are a very strong team. Those guys already play men-like hockey.