In this translated interview, originally appearing on Russian portal Business-Online, Bogdan Yakimov talked about life in the AHL, discussed Nail Yakupov and shared his memories from his first NHL game.
* For the original Business-Online article by Dmitry Belousov, click here.
– Hello Bogdan. What kind of emotions did you have in your first and thus far only NHL game, when the Oilers lost to the Kings 6-1 in Los Angeles?
– It was something incredible. Everything happened that fast that I almost didn’t notice it. It was a game in Los Angeles. The plane landed and it looks like it’s summer there, beaches, palms, Beverly Hills. It was really incredible. We got to the hotel and everything was great. You can feel the high level of organization. At the arena everything was so great that my head was going around in circles. However, I was feeling normal, and everyone around me started saying “come on, come on, congrats. Your first game, don’t worry, all will be great.” But as they tried to get myself comfortable, I started worrying (laughs). Then they announced the game, and they started broadcasting a video where they pictured center forwards, and who will play against who in the faceoff circles. And there appeared Kopitar, Richards, Carter, and some one else. I was so happy! Before the game I didn’t realize that I would be playing against such stars. I never had such emotions in my life.
– Did you manage to slam someone of them on the boards?
– I got a couple of good hits myself! (Laughs.) I hope I’ll return them back. But with goals.
– Nail Yakupov hails from Nizhnekamsk too, perhaps he helped you more than others.
– Yes, he told me many things, and helped me a lot. Maybe he didn’t want to offend a fellow-townsman. He told me anything I needed.
– Wasn’t it strange to meet on the other end of the world a person who hails from your same city and isn’t much known in Russia?
– This is a bit surprising, I’d say. This is good for both of us, we have a lot to speak about. We are both from Nizhnekamsk, there is a lot of people we both know. Now I’m in Oklahoma and we don’t talk all that often, but we are always in touch.
– Yakupov has a lot of responsibility on himself. After all he was the first overall pick, many people criticize him because they feel he doesn’t play up to the expectations. How does he cope with this pressure?
– I don’t agree with people who say that he’s playing bad. I watched a lot of Edmonton games, I follow the team and I see that in any game Nail creates scoring chances. He is a sharp, fast player, he knows how to create chances, simply at the start of the season the puck didn’t want to go in. Now he’s scoring more. They changed head coach and mixed up the lines, it went at his advantage.
– Yakupov’s agent is Igor Larionov. Did you meet him?
– Not that often. I managed to get in touch with in a couple of times. Talking with such a legendary athlete has been very pleasant, and he also gave me some good advice.
– The AHL is notorious for being an autobus league. What are your feelings about it?
– We only had one trip by autobus, all the other ones by plane. Just we didn’t fly on charters, but on normal routes. It has been okay, I can’t say anything bad about it. When we get at the airport, tickets are ready, we undergo the controls, sit down a bit and we are on board. All is fast. The common opinion is that in the AHL you would spend a lot of hard time due to the bad away trips, but I didn’t experience it. I have been lucky, because Oklahoma City is in such a geographical position that long flights aren’t needed.
– How do you like living in the States?
– I like it, I am in a good city and a good team. At first I was a bit frightened of being alone, it was the first time I was playing abroad, without other Russian guys. I was worried about it, but then I see that all was good, the other guys helped me if I needed help, or joked, always appropriately. The atmosphere within the team is very good, the players’ mentality is the same as in Russia. I don’t feel many differences. I started realizing it when I grasped more of the English language, I started getting their jokes and replying back. I don’t feel like I am on the other side of the Earth. Regarding everyday life, all is good there too, I live next to the arena. Differently from many other teams, we both play and practice at the same rink, so we don’t waste much time on the road. Oklahoma City isn’t very popular, but it’s the capital of its state. There aren’t any young people, they live in the suburbs, while in the downtown, where I live, there are many business men and offices. But I don’t have time anyway to communicate with young people. Sometimes I go to the movies or out for a dinner, this is how I have a good time.
– Probably at first it wasn’t easy to watch movies in original language. How is it now?
– When I got here, I think I could understand 40 percent, now I think I’m on 70-75 percent. I can understand the whole sense of a film.
– Did you buy a car yet?
– Frankly speaking, when I got here, I thought I would have been called up to Edmonton with a higher frequency, therefore I thought that I wouldn’t need a car, therefore I didn’t buy one. And it was a good idea. I have nowhere to go. To the arena it’s just a five-minute walk, seven minutes for the shops. If I need to go somewhere else, I can use a taxi.
– What American city did you like the most?
– Los Angeles is the city I liked the most so far. It’s an uncommon city, very beautiful and with plenty of emotions. It’s really like on postcards! I also liked Edmonton a lot, where I spent the whole summer. That city remembers me of Nizhnekamsk. Very similar, with the same relaxed pace. It’s interesting there, and you always have something to do. There aren’t many traffic jams, it doesn’t feel like there is too much, but at the same time there is anything you need. All is like Nizhnekamsk. And people truly love hockey! That’s what I need the most.
– And that in spite of the fact that the Oilers aren’t doing well for a few seasons already.
– Yes, they don’t care much about the results because they really love the team. The same can be said for Nizhmekamsk. I can imagine what kind of attention around the teams they will have when they will start winning more games.
– Do people recognize you on the streets in Oklahoma City?
– Everyone knows about the hockey team, but they don’t follow the players very much. Since last year about 15 players changed, therefore there isn’t much attention around the single players.
– Do they sell jerseys with nameplates?
– Everything possible is put on sale. My jersey is sold for $150, but if I’m not wrong on auction has been sold for $1,100. After a home game all our jerseys were sold on auction and then the profit was given out for charity.
– Usually parents have a big influence on their sons and daughters’ career. Do you parents try to give you any instruction?
– My parents are everything for me. I’m constantly talking about hockey with my father. He isn’t a hockey player, but he gives me good advice. For example he always tells me who to follow if I need to learn something new. He also remembers how I played in the past and we compare it with how I play now. If I do something good he helps me in turning it into a habit. He seen years and years of my practices and games, therefore he understands hockey very well. We watch every game and we try to analyze what should I work on. When he or my mama are near me, I feel much better. Only that I don’t discuss games with mama, of course (laughs).
– You aren’t in Nizhnekamsk for a while. Don’t you miss home?
– I’m here for eight months already, and once I’ll be back it will be ten. I think that I’ll have plenty of emotions when I’ll be back home. I miss my friends a lot and soon they will all get back to Nizhnekamsk.
– You are only 20, but you are among the leaders of your team. Other leaders are much older than you. Do you try to follow them?
– Of course I do! We have Jason Williams, who won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s a very good player and it’s very important to me to have a chance to play with such good players. I’m always watching what he is doing and the way he plays.
– Does he give you advice?
– Of course, he does. He helped me a lot in the faceoff dots, I remember that I wasn’t that good at it when I got here first. Only here in America I understood how important is to win faceoffs. This is very important because it can give your team the upper hand. I do not know what kind of winning percentage I have as we don’t have stats, but I think I win about sixty percent of my faceoffs.
– Who is your best friend within the team?
– We have a so-called European Company. Anton Lander, Iiro Pakarinen, Martin Gernat. Often a couple of Canadian guys join us. I have good ties with all the guys, with someone I talk more, with someone else a bit less.
– What kind of role do you have for the Barons?
– I mainly play as an offensive forward, and I liked it since the start. It’s good to know that they count on me, I can score and give out passes. In the last 30 games I played about 18-19 minutes a night, and this is a solid ice time. I’m glad to have a coach that makes me play. This is what is really needed to a 20-years-old player: play as much as possible, and not warm the bench.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso