In this translated interview, originally appearing on the Russian website Yarsport.ru, Blue Jackets prospect Vladislav Gavrikov talked about his debut in the KHL, his loyalty toward Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and playing for $15 a month.
* For the original Yarsport.ru article by Andrei Tarakanov, click here.
– Vladislav, can you tell us about your first steps in hockey?
– I was six years old when my father got me for the first time at the Torpedo arena. That same night I told my parents that I was interested in hockey and asked to get me playing. Initially I played with guys of one year older, then I was put into the group of my year of birth, 1995. Of course at first my skating wasn’t that good. I was trying to hold up along the boards trying not to fall. Then I met our future coach, Nikolai Kazakevich, who teached me to skate, and who was the coach of our 1995-born team since the start to the end of the youth championships cycle.
– Kazakevich is a well-known name in Yaroslavl. What can you tell us about him?
– I am very grateful to him, and I can only say positive things about him. He is a great person and an excellent motivator, but also a great pedagogist as he knows the right way to deal with kids. He knows how to pass his huge experience to the kids he works with. I can say that he shaped the way I play, the way I skate. It’s him that get me the right tools to go from kids hockey to pro hockey.
– It is known that you were the leader of the 1995 team and you didn’t allow anyone to relax too much.
– What separated you from the other players?
– I don’t really know, simply since my first practice I had an enormous will to play hockey and to train. I can’t really say that I was much better than other players.
– Did you start playing on defense or did you want to play as forward just as most of other kids?
– I started as a forward, but after about three months Kazakevich told me that I would have been better off as a defenseman, and I play on defense since then.
– Did you ever get any offer to move to other Russian clubs?
– I didn’t get any offer, and in case I wouldn’t even took the time to have a look at them. Lokomotiv is my home club, here there is one of the top hockey academies in Russia and there are all the best condition to grow as a player. Why should I move anywhere else? I became a hockey player thanks to Lokomotiv, I played for them in kids leagues, in the MHL, in the VHL, and now I have been trusted enough to play in the KHL. I have to give them back.
– How did your family react to this decision?
– Everyone of course was happy, my dad, my mom, my relative and friends. They keep on supporting me, attending games, and always getting involved in my interests. But the most important thing, of course, is that I truly wanted to play hockey. Just as other kids, I was watching Lokomotiv games, and I wanted to do the same. My father really loved hockey, he used to attend Lokomotiv games at Arena-2000, when they just built it. This is the period of my earlier life that I remember with the most pleasure. They had such a great team. They won two Russian titles, and that is better than any word.
– Do you remember the day when you signed your first professional contract?
– I signed my first pro contract with Loko Yaroslav of the MHL. Of course I was very happy that my home club would trust me to the point of signing me to a contract, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was in the 2011.
– And what about your debut in the KHL?
– It was at the start of last season, under Sean Simpson, in one of the first away games. Of course I was a bit worried before the game, but it quickly disappeared right after the first faceoff. I had a couple of shifts. I didn’t play much, but it was still a good experience. Then Dave King arrived, and I’ve been sent down to the MHL, then to the VHL. I started being a regular first-team member after the WJC, under Dave King.
– King never trusted young players too much. Did you feel this?
– Yes, I did, but it gave me more motivation, I wanted to show how good I was. But I wouldn’t say that King had bad ties with younger players. He was always around to help during practices, he told us a lot of things. He didn’t see us as main team players… but this, as I said, gave me more motivation.
– This year you scored your first KHL goal. Do you remember it?
– Yes, I do. It was during an away game against Barys Astana. It has been a bit of a “trash” goal, I shot the puck from a very bad angle, hoping that some of the guys would deflect it in… Of course I kept the puck as a memory. After the game everyone celebrated me, not only my teammates, but also my parents and my friends. Unfortunately my goal didn’t bring us any point, but scoring it has been great.
– Who is the hardest forward to face in the KHL?
– Well, I wouldn’t make it a question of names. There are no easy duels. In the KHL there are many good forwards, with good technique, skating and a high level of overall play. It’s hard to highlight a single forward. We can say that Justin Azevedo is very fast, smart, it’s hard to play against him. There are technique-sound players like Sergei Mozyakin, it’s never easy to play against him. Or Alexander Radulov, who is also physically very strong, not just good with the puck. Another guy who’s hard to play against is Evgeny Artyukhin, who is very big and always try to use his size at his advantage. He’s one of the toughest and most aggressive players in the KHL.
– During one of Lokomotiv’s home games you had a good hit on him.
– Oh, just a normal game moment. I forgot it already. I frankly didn’t expect any particular retaliation by him, it was just a normal hit.
– How did you spend your first salary?
– My first salary was 800 rubles (about $15) a month. I bought a cake to celebrate with my family, some flowers for my mother, and the money were gone already.
– In the MHL players earn only 800 rubles a month?
– No, it wasn’t in the MHL, it was still in the junior league. I was fifteen then.
– Nowadays do KHL salaries allow young players to live a good life?
– Well, it depends on what you mean with good life. But I’ll be frank, our salaries are good enough to live well and help our parents.
– Don’t you think that big money are harmful for hockey? Maybe a young player will lose motivation after getting so much money.
– It’s up to the single player. If he has a professional approach, everything will be good. It should be like that: having a good contract should mean having more motivation to give your best. A player should love hockey, and not money.
– Do you have a dream in hockey?
– I want to achieve the maximum with my home club Lokomotiv, that is winning the Gagarin Cup. Then life will show.
– You participated in the 2014 NHL Draft, but you haven’t been selected. Why?
– Well, you should ask the teams.
– Probably you were expecting a different outcome.
– I wanted to be drafted, But I wasn’t too upset. With other Lokomotiv players I practiced for a bit at a two-hours distance from Philadelphia. I attended the draft with Nikita Cherepanov, we liked it a lot.
– Then you have been named the WJC Top Defenseman. Did you expect to be drafted earlier than your 157th pick?
– The number wasn’t important to me. I was happy to get drafted, the number of the pick is much less important.
– Do you follow the Blue Jackets now?
– Yes, I do follow them, but I also follow the NHL in general. I try to watch highlights when I have some free time.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso