15.11.2023 в 14:00

“When skating to the penalty box for the first time in the KHL, I tried not to look at my team’s bench.” Alexander Filatyev talks Kharlamov Cup final, Avangard and Komsomolsk-on-Amur

The young forward has earned a KHL roster spot in the space of a month.
Alexander Filatyev was born in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. It is a Far-Eastern city with a population of about 230 000 people. When Alexander was four years old, his grandfather signed him up for hockey. It took him a while to make it to a major franchise. At the age of seven he failed to qualify for Lokomotiv, two years later he decided to take another shot, tried out for Avangard and succeeded. Filatyev has moved all the way up to the first team in Omsk: he played more than a hundred JHL games, became one of the leaders of Omskie Yastreby in the 2023 Kharlamov Cup playoffs, and started his adult hockey journey the following season. His VHL performance (six points in nine games) caught Avangard head coach Mikhail Kravets’ interest, and the young center received a call-up to the first team in mid-October to stay with them since then and keep progressing.

In an interview with the official JHL website, Alexander Filatyev talked about stardom disease, winning silver medals with Omskie Yastreby and his favorite movies.

“My parents used to tell me that I was acting haughty, but it would fall on deaf ears”

  – You received a call-up to the first team in mid-October and you are still there, such a busy month you are having.
– Back in early October, when I was still with the junior team, I found out I would go on the road with the VHL team. After the very first game for Omskie Krylya I was messaged that I needed to get back to Omsk to join the first team. It was unexpected, especially since I didn’t know why exactly I was going to Avangard, no one told me anything. Having arrived at eight in the morning, I headed to practice right away. The game was scheduled for that day, but I didn’t get to play it, and two days later I made my KHL debut.

You made your debut in the game against Lokomotiv. What was it like to make your first KHL appearance in a game like that?
– To be honest, I didn’t think about the opponent we were to face, I was fully focused on my debut. I knew that one is to take his rookie lap during the pregame skate. With three minutes to go before hitting the ice, I started feeling jittery, the only thought I had was about avoiding missing the net and falling. The guys supported me and everything worked out well, I am very thankful to them!

After that game, Avangard head coach Mikhail Kravets said “I really liked the way he played. He had a beautiful start – dropped down and gave a push-up, then was only inches away from scoring a goal, and won an important faceoff late in the game. I am more than satisfied.”
– Hearing the head coach say so is really nice, but it is important to then avoid getting above yourself. Especially since I have already experienced such a thing. That is why I just give myself five minutes to think about it, talk to my parents, then forget about it and keep working further.

Tell us more about that experience.
– I was about 13 years old back then. Our club would award the best player of the season with the Kiselyov prize. I was one of the four nominees, one of the best players of my team, but the following year I ended up playing on the fifth line. Then a new coach stepped behind our bench and I returned to the leading position.

How can a young player avoid stardom disease?
– If you start thinking too much of yourself at such age, the main thing is to realize it, change your views without delay and work hard. My parents used to tell me that I was acting haughty, but it would fall on deaf ears. I thought that I was practicing and it was enough, but apparently it wasn’t. It came home to me later that I myself was an issue. I could work so-so, skip some drills. But when the new coach joined the team, I got much incentive to working hard and sprang into action.

You are a center, is taking faceoffs in the KHL challenging for you?
– Opponents do seem to be stronger and craftier. Alexander Nikolaevich Svitov always works with centers and I learn many new moves from my teammates – Ryan Spooner, Valya Pyanov, Vanya Igumnov. Every time I am surprised with how things happen. They play upon me, but teach me and explain all subtle details. I wouldn’t be able to name the toughest faceoff opponent in the KHL, because I don’t pay attention to who exactly I am lining up head-to-head. I am fully focused on my actions and team’s results.

In your third KHL game, you scored your first point by earning an assist. Can you say that the goal drought has been a monkey on your back?
– With three or four shifts I had in my first games, I didn’t really think about goals. But when I started getting more ice time, things could get to the point where I was angry at myself because I couldn’t score any goals. I understand that it is not what my current role with Avangard is about, but I still want to contribute to the success of the team.

In that game against Metallurg, you also took your first penalty. What were your thoughts while skating to the penalty box?
– It so happened that I took it too far and got dinged. When I heard the whistle and skated to the penalty box, I tried not to look at my team’s bench and thought: “That’s it, a sure flop.” It seemed to me that if I made yet another mistake, I would get sent down to the VHL right away. But everyone showed understanding and supported me. I apologized to the guys on the bench and we continued playing. In Avangard one doesn’t get benched for mistakes. We are always taught and explained where and how we could have played better. One can miss a shift let’s say when the team is chasing the game or protecting the lead late in the game.

“We wanted to gain revenge versus Chaika in the 2023/24 season-opener in front of their own fans”

What helped you beat SKA-1946 3-1 in the semi-finals?
– We were a family. We all supported one another, kept our chins up even after taking a penalty or allowing a goal. We had winning mindset and focused on nothing but the game.

What did your team lack in the final series against Chaika?
– We lacked composure and luck in away games – we lost three out of three.

In an interview after Game 5 of the series, you said: “We are the ones to script Game 6.”
– Well, the game did go as planned until we met with a slight mishap when our goalie lost his blade. He was temporarily replaced by a netminder who had never played any playoff games before, we allowed a goal in the same shift. In overtime we failed to stay focused and convert on our chances.

Did it take you long to get over the tough loss in the final?
– I kept rewatching our games against Chaika all summer, paid special attention to my own performance. It took me about five days to pull myself together. Then I flew home to see my family and left for the national team soon after. It was a tough loss indeed, but it is also a lesson that is not to be repeated this season.

Were Omskie Yastreby motivated in a particular way when facing Chaika in the 2023/24 season-opener?
– We were primed for getting back at them, especially since Nizhny Novgorod had sold out that game and all the management of Omskie Yastreby and the JHL were there. That’s why we wanted to gain revenge versus Chaika in front of their own fans. I think we did well.

Was the October game against Torpedo somehow special for you since you faced Atanasov, Konyushkov, Silayev, Vinogradov and Artamonov again?
– For me, all KHL games are special and important, because I am to make progress and achieve results. That game against Torpedo was especially enjoyable. I saw the guys who had won championship with Chaika, we praised one another and wished good luck.

In the summer, some Omsk players left for other KHL clubs or for North America. Were you worried that earning an Avangard roster spot would be tough in the 2023/24 season?
– Yes, I was. When I was sent down to the VHL after participating in Avangard’s training camp, I thought that it was highly unlikely that I would return to the KHL, since I failed to qualify for the team. But everything is working as it should. We never know what the future holds for us, so I prefer to take each day as it comes and do my thing.

“Today Avangard has all the conditions for rapid progress of young guys, for them to become better and stronger as early as possible.”

You were born in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, what kind of city is it?
– It is my hometown, the place where my family lives. The city is located 400 kilometers northeast of Khabarovsk. It was where my grandfather signed me up for hockey when I was four years old. I consider Komsomolsk-on-Amur a sports city, locals play many sports, a new rink was recently built there, one can practice individually, everything is at the highest level. Every summer I go there and always make sure to visit my first coach Artyom Ravilievich Nikandrov. He invites me to give master classes: I help young players and give them some pointers. I really want this city to keep progressing in terms of sports development.

What was youth hockey like in the Far East?
– As far as I remember, we only had three guys born in 2004 on our team, all the others were older, we even had guys born in 2000. We used to go to Khabarovsk, Vanino, Sovgavan for competitions. Arenas had open ice: in winter we would put on all the gear in hotels and walk to arena. It was cold, we even played with gloves and masks on. I have warm memories about that time, it did not break my spirit in any way, on the contrary, it gave me an impulse to keep progressing. Especially since my grandfather and my mom were doing everything in their power for me to become a hockey player.

Do you have strong support from Komsomolsk-on-Amur?
– Of course, people message me a lot, I get recognized and asked for photos or autographs. My KHL debut was a special piece of news there. It was on local media, my mom forwarded me a couple of things. It’s nice that people recognize me in such a small city. My mom is also very happy, all her colleagues congratulate her, she is proud of my success.

At the Future Cup in Minsk you said that you saw some NHL scouts there and it was an additional motivating factor for you. Do you already look towards North America?
– Yes, it is what I’ve been dreaming about. I think, every child who plays hockey fantasizes about becoming an NHLer. Everything has its time. I hope one day I will get this opportunity. I didn’t think about the draft because I was not on any of the lists.

Your favorite player is Connor McDavid. Has he won you over with his speed?
– I really like his style: speed, stickhandling, game intelligence – all the aspects are of some incredible level. I want to do my best to be the same type of player as he is, but at the same time to be mindful of defense.

Do you mean to say that McDavid’s level is achievable?
– Absolutely. Nothing is impossible. He found the way to do it, which means any of us can also achieve it through hard work. Each of us has two arms and two legs. It’s not only about talent.

If you could meet any person, past or present, who would it be and what would you ask him or her?
– Connor McDavid, although he is still young and has the world before him. I would like to ask him how he manages to do all the stuff he does.