After a rocky season at home in Russia, forward Vladimir Kuznetsov decided to cross the ocean and try his fortunes in the CHL. In this translated interview, originally appearing on the popular Russian website sports.ru, 2016-eligible Vladimir Kuznetsov talked about his move overseas, being the CHL Import Draft first overall pick, and life in the QMJHL.
* For the original sports.ru article by Dmitri Groshev, click here.
** Note: the interview was taken before the Acadie-Bathurst Titans got out of the QMJHL playoffs after the first round.
** Note 2: the interview was taken before the recent Team Russia U18 events and Kuznetsov’s call to the final roster.
– Your last season in the MHL wasn’t all that great, yet you were picked first overall in the CHL Import Draft. What is the secret?
– I agree, last season wasn’t good for me. Regarding the CHL Draft, I don’t think that much was up to me. Accadie-Bathurst wanted me in their roster, we negotiated before the draft. And when they had the chance to draft me, they did. And thus I ended up as first overall pick.
– Do you think it would have been bad for you to try playing in the KHL?
– I wanted to try playing different hockey and thus far here it’s going better. Life is different, many things are different. I don’t think that it would have been easy to get to play in the KHL, but I wasn’t scared by it or anything else. I am sure that I could progress in Russia too. But I want to play in the NHL, and I think that I’ll have more chances while playing in Canada. We’ll see what happens. There were some talks about staying in the KHL, I seriously thought about that option too, but I decided to move overseas anyway.
– Was it hard to take a final decision? Did you have any doubt?
– Just like other choices. The hardest thing for me was moving from kids hockey to the MHL. “Reconstructing” myself was hard, I had to change the way I see hockey, many things of the way I played.
– Do you feel more attention because you were drafted high in the Import Draft?
– I don’t feel any pressure. Most of things weren’t that scary as I thought before getting here. Yes, there were some hard moments due to the language barrier, or because I needed to understand more the different game. I am not going to say that everything is perfect, but this season for me was just much better than the latest one, which I played in Russia. Here the coaches trust me and give me good ice time. I think I finally realized the Canadian way of playing, more or less. I don’t know if I missed the expectations of an Import Draft first overall pick, but for me it’s much more important to be up to the expectations of the team’s coaches and fans. I play trying to show the best I can do. I don’t really think about what number I was drafted with. Everyone is much more interested in the upcoming NHL draft. People are following all the eligible players, and I hope they try to follow me too.
– Every player has his own adaptation process. What was hard or easy to you?
– I’m gradually getting used to everything. The better I play, the faster I’ll get used to hockey here. I already mentioned the language barrier. It was a hard one especially in the very first days. I remember that my billet family and I went to a restaurant. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I could only blink my eyes. I sorted it out somehow, but I had to start studying the language at a good rate. And anyway everyone was laughing when I talked in English.
– A hockey player has to eat well. Did you get used to the Canadian cuisine?
– It’s not a problem for me. Generally speaking, food isn’t all that different. Of course I feel closer to the Russian cuisine, but you also have to think that it was all home-made. Here I am eating everything I get offered, I don’t have anything to complain about. I haven’t tried “Putin” yet, but I want to try it.
– What impressed you more in Canada?
– There was one thing, it was very strange. In December, with one of our defensemen. We had our morning skate before the game. Our player gets to the rink and as usual parks the car. His car was a little inclined. So, he parks the car and gets to the rink. That was the first night where we had snow, and it was very slippery. So he walks towards the rink, turns, and the car is running over him! Maybe he didn’t pull the lever of the hand brake, I don’t know… He tried to stop the car, but it ran over his leg and crashed into a tree. Everyone just ran outside the rink, we were all scared. He was then rushed to the hospital, but it wasn’t nothing serious and he was playing again after one week. Bit what surprised me the most was that the game was re-scheduled. I never seen anything like that before.
– And how does a hockey player spend his time when there are no games? Girls, clubs, cocktails?
– Well, we don’t have much free time. If there are no games, there are practices. If no practices, then away games. I try to meet Russian players from other teams, either after the games or through the internet. For example, Vitaly Abramov. Then, how to get yourself busy… I try to entertain myself with books and movies. I haven’t met many Canadian girls yet, Russians are better (laughs). I like to have a walk, breathe some fresh air. But there was one moment, when I just got here. Bathurst is a little town, but there are all sort of towns. We got to one strange district. It was dark there, no streetlights, abandoned houses, and strange people around. We heard some loud yells. To be honest, it was scary there. Then we were told that it is a dangerous area and it is better to avoid it.
– Do that kind of people follow hockey too?
– Yes, of course, here everyone follows hockey. You are recognized on streets. Everywhere, at a restaurant, or at the mall. They get to you and start talking. They ask you something and ask for an autograph. It’s not like in Russia, here hockey is very popular, and it’s very pleasant. In our town everyone recognizes players just watching at the face. Therefore I think that we had good chances to get out of that district alive anyway (laughs). There is pretty much no crime here, police patrols the streets, but you don’t get to see them very often.
– Did you enjoy other places?
– I liked it in Quebec City, of course on a different plan. It’s a beautiful place and a hockey city. There are some great views. Our city is very small, the only remarkable things are the rink and the Ocean.
– Your team is going to play in the playoffs. What are the goals of the team?
– We’re getting ready for that. We’ll see what teams we’ll get to face and we’ll pick the tactics accordingly. We are having a good season, even if our team is very young. We have big plans for next year, but let’s start by playing well this season.
– Yes, of course. They helped me a lot. Miromanov is here in Canada for long time already, he played in the minors, therefore he’s not counted as a foreigner. Yegor and I are the two foreigners allowed to each team. It would have been harder for me without them. Sometimes I want to talk in Russian with someone. And the mentality is different, Canadians sometimes take things very seriously. For example, recently we had a golf tournament. I never played golf, therefore I was interested. But I grew tired of it pretty fast. Thankfully there was the car there, it all ended up with me with Yegor and Daniil driving the car around watching Canadians play. It was fun!
– Soon there will be the NHL draft. Most likely for you will be important to get drafted, and not much the team itself. What about if the Caps will draft you?
– You’re asking because of Evgeny Kuznetsov? No, we aren’t related, we just have the same surname. He’s doing great. But I have my path and my career. But in any case I think that in the NHL there is enough room for two Kuznetsovs.
– Let’s image that you’ll fullfil your dream and you’ll get to the NHL. What are three players you want to face and why?
– Three players… Semyon Varlamov. I really want to score on him. Just a normal forward’s will (smiles). Then Zdeno Chara. I’d love to hit him (smile). And third, it’s Alex Ovechkin. It would be great even just to shake hands with him. That would be enough.
– It’s pretty much clear about Varlamov and Ovechkin, but why Chara?
– He’s cool, what can I say. But I’m working and trying very hard myself. And I think that I’ll give him a hit anyway. Hopefully it’ll be very soon! (Smiles.)
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso