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07.12.2023 в 13:00

“If one is ambitious to play at the highest level, the KHL will be his main motivation.” Vladimir Grudinin talks moving to Severstal, Angarsk and progress of young players

The young defenseman left CSKA and has become a leading player in Cherepovets.

Vladimir was born in Angarsk, where he played for local team Yermak until he turned 14. In 2018, Grudinin moved to CSKA and started receiving call-ups to the national team to win the international Challenge Cup, participate in the Junior and U18 World Championships. He also played for the men’s team at the Karjala Cup. Young defenseman’s career kept rocketing forward – at the age of 18, he was already a key player of Krasnaya Armiya and played 13 games for CSKA, seven of which were in the playoffs when the team won the championship. The 2022/23 season was even more successful for Vladimir – 26 KHL games played. He started the 2023/24 regular season with the first team, and then got sent down to the VHL. That situation made Vladimir start negotiating a trade with other KHL teams. An option with Severstal appeared, and Grudinin already knew the team’s head coach Andrei Kozyrev from working with national teams. The blueliner’s hopes have come true, he is a top-pairing defenseman and is pursuing the common goal with his team – winning the Gagarin Cup.
  In an interview with the official JHL website, Vladimir Grudinin talked about leaving CSKA, Severstal’s playing style and also recalled playing at the WJC and in the JHL.

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“Severstal’s hockey is more enjoyable both for fans and players”

Tell us about moving to Severstal.
– I can’t say that it came as a surprise, because we had been negotiating it. My agent was the first person to notify me of Severstal being interested in me. Then during a practice with Zvezda, I was told that I had been traded. After that, Andrei Leonidovich Kozyrev called me. He congratulated me and said that he was looking forward to seeing me with the team.

Did CSKA explain this trade to you?
– No, I didn’t talk to anyone from the first team about it, except for CSKA sports director Denis Valerievich Denisov. He said that it had been decided to give me the opportunity to keep progressing, since being with a different club would offer me more opportunities. I mean, CSKA met my needs, which I am grateful to them for. I had been with the club since children’s school, they ensured my progressive development. CSKA opened the door to big hockey for me.

You played your last game for CSKA on September 5 and had about six minutes of ice time. Two months later you played for Severstal and skated 20 minutes. Were you surprised by such a level of trust?
– First of all, it was an interesting experience (smiles). When you return to the KHL, you are incredibly happy about it, emotions run high. I was pleasantly surprised to get that much ice time right away, at such moments you want to play more and more, I was ready to skate 40 minutes. I can’t say that I wasn’t prepared for such physical loads, because I used to skate many minutes in the VHL and was ready for such a playing rhythm. Severstal has an intense playing style, so one is to give his best every shift and always be on the move. When I joined the team, it took me a while to get adjusted, but I got used to it within a month.

What type of hockey is more effective: cohesive lines strictly sticking to the system or creative unpredictability combined with young players’ passion?
– This question is rather philosophical, because everyone will have his own answer to it. As for me, I think that the style promoted by Andrei Leonidovich is way more exciting, and it will produce stable results provided that the team sticks to some tactical standards. Even playing nice passing style of hockey players are to make sure to do certain little things right. Severstal’s hockey is more enjoyable both for fans and players themselves.

When moving to Severstal, you were referred to as a two-time Gagarin Cup champion. Is it what you identify yourself as?
– As for the 2022/23 playoffs, I did not play any games for CSKA, I only was with the team on the road. When we won the first Gagarin Cup, I did play for the team and was a full member of it off the ice, I was always dressed for games, but sometimes didn’t get to play. So, I do consider myself to be a 2022 Gagarin Cup winner. Of course, I want to win the Cup again, but as a full-time player who contributes a lot to team results.

“The JHL makes a huge contribution to the development of Russian hockey and national teams”

Severstal has many young defensemen who are eager to earn a spot on the first team’s roster. Does this competition worry or motivate you?
– Healthy competition is always a good thing, one should not be worried about it. Competitive environment encourages development. All defensemen compete with one another, no matter if they are young or more experienced.

In the 2023/24 season you played only one JHL game. Did you feel a big difference when returning to Krasnaya Armiya from CSKA?
– Yes, when joining a junior team after a first team, one makes faster decisions on the ice. The speeds in the JHL and KHL are already pretty much the same, because almost grown-up men play for junior teams.

You played 99 games in the JHL. Do you have a desire to play your 100th game on an optimistic note?
– 100 is a special number, but maybe 99 is even more special (laughs). I am game for anything. Shall the junior team need any help from me, I will comfortably play for Almaz.

You played at the World U18 Championship, World Junior Championship and the Challenge Cup. Can you evaluate the contribution the JHL makes to the development of Russian U18 and junior national teams?
– No doubt that the JHL makes a huge contribution to the development of Russian hockey and national teams, because it is the main championship for young players. Those who make it to the League after sports school, gain a wealth of experience from more experienced teammates’ tips when playing against older opponents. When young players make progress in the JHL, they can perform better at the international level. In any case, international tournaments bring the world’s best players together, so the speeds and decision-making improve, which only makes the game more interesting. The JHL allows players work toward getting into their top shape.

How can young players stay motivated when there are no international competitions?
– Young players still get to play hockey and enjoy it. They don’t even need to look for motivation, since they are already doing what they love to do. Speaking from experience, I can say that international tournaments are memorable and extremely enjoyable events, too bad that we are not able to participle in them these days. But every effort is being made to return the Russian team to the international arena. All young players want to move up the tiers and play in the KHL, this motivation should be more than enough. If one is ambitious to play at the highest level, the KHL will be his main motivation.

– You were the youngest defenseman of the Russian national team at the 2021 World Junior Championship. How did it feel to hear that it would be cancelled?
– World Junior Championship is a hockey festival where friendly atmosphere is maintained. Being there always feels great, all the teams are together, players get to know one another and communicate, but at the same time compete to win games. When the cancellation was announced, it was a terrible piece of news, we all were deeply upset. Of course, there were guys eligible to participate in the following WJC, but for most of the players it was the first and only tournament of such scale. I felt so great being there and then I heard the news and the ground dropped away under my feet.

“Maybe the coaches will read this interview and offer me to meet over the board”

You and Dmitry Voronkov are from Angarsk. Did you have a chance to see him in the summer?
– We were working in Moscow with different coaches, but sometimes I did see him at the rink and we talked. We didn’t have a chance to meet in Angarsk. Maybe some other time in the future (smiles).

You were selected by Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL draft, they picked quite a number of Russian players. Were you happy about it?
– Of course. Carolina already has not even a potential Russian five, but a Russian ten (smiles). Even Severstal has players drafted by the Hurricanes - Timur Mukhanov and Nikita Guslistov. We still have a long way to go. Of course, if Carolina builds two lines composed of Russian players, it will take its place in history! But first we need to bend every effort to make it there.

One of Carolina’s main assets is Alexander Nikishin, many young players consider him to be the gold standard of an offensive defenseman.
– He has huge potential. His size, good shot, skating skills and high game intelligence help him create chances.

Severstal has an experienced defenseman, Mark Barberio, who spent eight seasons in the NHL. Did you ask him anything about living and playing in North America?
– Mark is a very cool and interesting man who is always ready to give some pointers. One can learn a lot from him. Of course, having come such a long way, he has some stories to relate.

Tell us about your hobbies.
– When I moved to Severstal, I became keen on looking after my health. Guys and the coaching staff here promote proper nutrition, the “green vector” (smiles). The main hobby that I found for myself this season and that I want to grow in is chess. In the summer, I was scrolling on social media and saw a profile of a girl who plays chess. She posted a link to a chess school. I followed that link and they were offering a free trial lesson, I decided to give it a try and I really liked it. My grandfather tried to cultivate in me love of chess when I was a kid, but he failed to. And now I have been taking regular chess lessons since summer.

Have you already played a game of chess with any of the coaches?
– No, I haven’t. I still need to get to the point where they at least know about it (smiles). Maybe they’ll read this interview and offer me to meet over the board. Many guys in Severstal play backgammon, but I did manage to play chess with Ruslan Abrosimov, we have a true duel going on now.

Profile
Vladimir Andreevich Grudinin
Born on December 9, 2003 in Angarsk
Career
2011-2018 – Yermak, Angarsk
2018-2023 – CSKA, Moscow
From 2023 – Severstal, Cherepovets
Achievements
Gagarin Cup Champion (2022, 2023)
U18 World Championship Silver Medalist (2021)

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