Sabres goaltending prospect Andrey Makarov had an eventful season, playing in the ECHL and AHL, before getting a call-up to the NHL without playing. In this interview with Roman Kuznetsov, the goalkeper discussed playing in the ECHL and AHL, remembered the AHL playoffs, had a couple of words about Mikhail Grigorenko and praised Nathan MacKinnon.
– You had quite a season, playing in the ECHL, in the AHL, then getting called up to the NHL, then debutting in the playoffs for the Rochester Americans. What were your goals for this season? Did you get what you wanted?
– Yes, I did. They sent me to the ECHL and I got ice time playing in a professional league. This is a good experience and many good goalies started this way. They trusted me and I played 36 games. Then in Buffalo started suffering many injuries. At first I’ve been assigned to the AHL. I didn’t play the first two games, then they gave me a chance and were satisfied. And then they called me up to the Sabres. I should have played, but at the last minute the coaches changed their mind and didn’t ice me, even if at first they decided that I was going to play. But it’s ok, there is still plenty of time.
– How did you react to the demotion to Fort Wayne in the ECHL? It’s not a top tier league.
– I think that if you play good there, you’ll get attention. For example, the goaltending coach in Fort Wayne gave any information about my game to his colleagues in Buffalo. Then I had a chance to play for the Sabres’ farm team and they told me that they were happy about my game. As you can see, it’s all up to you. I liked being part of the team, the guys were good and helped me when it has been hard.
– It was curious that one of the coaches in Fort Wayne was Konstantin Shafranov.
– Yes, at first he wasn’t in the team, then he became an assistant coach. It was good that he was there, I could talk in Russian and he also helped me a lot.
– Shafranov played in almost any existing league in North America, from the IHL to the NHL. Did he give you any advice?
– Yes, he told me to hold on and stay in North America, as it can’t go any worse. He told me about a guy he knew, a very promising goalie who decided to get back to Russia and then disappeared from hockey. He told me that I need to work when things are slow and all will be good. Shafranov is a fellow with a lot of experience, he doesn’t talk just for the sake of talking.
Call from the Sabres a big step forward
– This year was your first in a professional team. Did you feel much difference? The game is much tougher and sometimes there are scrambles after the whistle and the refs don’t intervene.
– It’s hockey. It happens everywhere. Of course, there are more battles, more shots, the game is faster than among juniors. The puck flies more. The opponents try and get to the goalie and you need to be ready to this.
– What emotions did you feel after the call up from the AHL to the Sabres?
– Emotions… Of course I was very happy. It was a big step forward. Team mates were all great. It was all like I should play against the Islanders, but then the coaches told me that I played two straight games and they did not want to risk that I picked up an injury, and what can you do. Sure, I wanted to play this year, but it’s all in front of me.
– You started your AHL experience with some defeats…
– Yes, we lost the first few games, but the coaches told me they were happy with my game. The guys helped me a lot. They understood that I was worth of their trust and started blocking shots and playing better defense. It has been great to play with such help from defencemen and forwards. It was good with them. They liked playing with me, and I liked playing with them. Probably this is the reason behind the good results of the team. For long time Rochester could not get to the playoffs zone, but at the end of the season we had enough points.
– In the deciding game against the Chicago Wolves your team was up 2-1, but then ended up on the losing side. What happened?
– Two not needed penalties and two goals allowed. We should have won the first game of the series. We were up 3-1, then let an ugly goal: the puck went up in the air and kept on flying along the glasses. I moved to the right, and the puck ended up on the center right on the forward’s stick. Saving that was hard. Maybe if we won that game the series would end up differently.
– What did the coaches tell the team after the series?
– They told us that they were satisfied. They didn’t trust me much at first, but then they gave me a chance and they were happy. Now I will prepare myself for the next season. Everything will depend on how I will look next autumn.
– You played with Mikhail Grigorenko, who did not have a great season.
– We talked a lot. He did not manage to score, but I told him that he needs to work hard and all will come. In the first few games for Rochester he had four points, then it wasn’t that good for him. It’s hard to say why, but I’m sure that if he keeps on working, all will be good.
– Did you retain the nickname “Borscht” in Rochester?
– No, now I’m “Makki”.
– You said that at the start of the season you had some hard times.
– It was all in my head. I don’t want to talk about it. I had some injuries, I missed some games. Then I got quieter, more or less. My agent told me that I only needed to play and that all will be good. And it was so good that they decided to call me up to Buffalo. And all is good now.
– During last year interviews you praised Nathan MacKinnon.
– I said that he’ll be a good player. It was evident, although he didn’t score on me during the Memorial Cup (smiles). You can see that he’s a very good player from his skating, his way of play, his reasoning. He played great for the Avalanche.
– You’re not that tall if compared to modern goaltending models and players like Ben Bishop. There aren’t many small goalies, and maybe this was the reason you weren’t drafted.
– I don’t think that it’s about your height or weight. Reaction and positioning are more important. And about the draft… they did not pick me and let it be. Nothing special.
– Rochester is not far from the Niagara Falls. Did you visit them?
– Yes, I was there already for the second time. I was there for the first time already, on the American side, when I was a player of Ak Bars Kazan, with the team “Tatarstan Stars”. In that team there was Nail Yakupov too. This year we went there on the Canadian side. There are more places for tourists there. And I liked it a lot.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso