It’s no secret Russian players come with a stigma. They’re looked at as pompous, cocky, in it for themselves. They’re not traditionally thought of as team players. Many feel they don’t have a willingness to learn or listen to the coach. They’re about being fancy, putting up points, getting their paycheck and going home. It’s an unfair assumption for players like Radel Fazleev, a young Russian from Kazan, the capital of Russia’s republic of Tatarstan.
Fazleev is the antithesis of what many North American hockey fans think of Russian hockey players. I spoke to him at great length yesterday after the final day of rookie camp concluded. You’ll see in this interview different aspects of the player and person Fazleev is. It’s difficult to make the transition from Russia to North America, especially with the language barrier, but Fazleev meets all of his challenges head-on, works to no end to get better, and has the fire in his eyes to be a successful hockey player.
Enjoy!THW: Did you go back to Russia in the offseason?
Fazleev: When we lost in the playoffs in Calgary I went to Moscow for the Under-18 Team Russia training camp. Then I went for the World Junior Cup then I went back home. From June 1st to June 21st we had a training camp for the Under-20 Team Russia then came here [Philadelphia] for development camp. Then I went to Montreal for the U-20 camp and played a few games there then came back home. Had four days off maybe and went to Calgary. I came here from Calgary.
THW: Do you miss playing in Russia compared to Canada or are you enjoying your time in Calgary?
Fazleev: I’m enjoying it so much. I love Calgary. I’m happy to be apart of the Hitmen. It’s a great organization. I like Canadian hockey. It’s different from Russian hockey. Sometimes when I’ll play Russia against Canada, I know how they play so it will be easier for me. It’s a good experience for me. I like being in Canada.
THW: Were you worried at all about not getting drafted after your injury? Were you expecting to get drafted at all?
Fazleev: I knew that I will not go high. My agent said you will be drafted for sure. I really didn’t think about it because I did all that I could do. I was just waiting for the draft and was excited. If nobody drafted me, I would still work hard, play hard, and just wait for an NHL team.THW: Were you in Russia when you were drafted?
Fazleev: Yeah, I was in Russia. Actually I didn’t know I was drafted. I was following the first day of the NHL draft. It was 3am in Russia when the first day started and I thought the 2nd day will start at the same time, but it was earlier. And I didn’t know that. I was just following on the internet. On the 2nd day at 1am, my agent called me saying, “Congrats! The Philadelphia Flyers drafted you.” I was so surprised and confused I didn’t know what to say so I just told him, “OK. Thanks.” (laughing)
Then a few minutes later, a guy from the Flyers called me and said, “Congrats! Welcome to the Flyers organization.” Then I began to understand what is happening. I was actually happy.
THW: What are you looking forward to most about training camp and playing against NHL players?
Fazleev: It’s a much higher level and is much faster with much bigger guys so it’s harder to play here than in the CHL. I just want to get better and stronger. I mean, look at this guy (points to Steven Deslisle who is 6’6”, 209 lbs). It’s crazy playing against him in practice. I think I’m getting better so I’m excited.
THW: Are you excited about playing in the rookie game against the Washington Capitals?
Fazleev: Yes, absolutely. It’s my first NHL experience. I don’t think I will sleep tonight. I’m not nervous, just excited. I’m at the NHL level, with an NHL team, in an NHL organization. It was my dream all my life and I’ve dreamed about it the last 18 years, so dreams come true.
THW: Did you follow the NHL back in Russia or were you a KHL fan?
Fazleev: No, I’m an NHL fan. I wasn’t following the NHL in Russia because it’s different time zones. It was really hard because I had school and had to sleep so I just caught some highlights, but now I’m on NHL everyday seeing results and following all the teams who have Russian guys.
Randy Miller: Who’s your favorite player?
Fazleev: Datsyuk. He’s very smart, good hands. He’s unbelievable.
Randy Miller: Did you go watch some of the morning skates from the other teams, too?
Fazleev: Yeah, I saw the Chicago Blackhawks. They work hard. I understand that if you want to play in the NHL, you have to work hard and they work hard even in morning practice.
Randy Miller: Talk about your game a little bit.Fazleev: I just want to play how the coach wants and what he asks from me because every team has a different coach. The junior Russian team, Team Russia, now the Calgary Hitmen changed the coach and different coaches want me to play different and that’s what I’m trying to do. Play hard, play how the coach wants, help my team, and I also want to play smart like Datsyuk.
Randy Miller: What are your strengths?
Fazleev: Assists, playing smart, I can find my partners and assist them. That’s what I’m trying.
Randy Miller: Did you know any English before last year?
Fazleev: I couldn’t speak it. When I came to Calgary to my billet family I asked them to text me. If they write, I understand because I didn’t understand how you speak with your accent. I just needed some time. I had some English classes, but not a lot.
Randy Miller: And you had a teammate from Ukraine?
Fazleev: Yeah, Pavlo Padakin. He speaks Russian because most Ukrainian people speak Russian. There’s a funny story. We both needed an American visa and we went to get one.
It was in Calgary and they said, “You guys play for the Hitmen?”
And we were like, “Yeah.”
They asked, “Where are you from?”
He said, “Ukraine.”
They asked, “Are you guys OK?” (in reference to the Russia/Ukraine political situation)
We’re best friends. He helped me a lot there and had great support.Bill Meltzer: How was the experience in the tournament last month in Montreal?
Fazleev: It was a great experience. I played with the guys who are one year older than me. Good players from Russia who already play in the KHL. I played against Canada in the 2nd game. I played against good guys. I played against Sweden, too. I played against Robert [Hagg] and Oskar [Lindblom]. It was a great experience and pretty hard games. If I want to make the junior team for the World Juniors, I should play good and play hard. I’ll have one more chance playing for Team Russia in the Subway Series. I need to work hard and play hard if I want to make the team.
Bill Meltzer: You said that Datsyuk is a role model and your two-way game is really a big part of the reason you got drafted. Are you looking to push your offensive end of the game in Calgary?
Fazleev: Yeah, of course. I want to score. I don’t say that I don’t want to score. I’m trying, but I think I can assist better than score, but I’m trying to score, too. I worked on my shot this summer. I want everything. I want to play powerplay, penalty kill…
THW: Want to play goalie, too?
Fazleev: (laughing) If the coach wants, I will.
THW: What are your expectations going into this year with Calgary?
Fazleev: We have a new coach. A good coach. [Mark French] was coaching in the KHL last year. I want to be the 1st line center on the team. It’s a very important year for me. I need to show all the people, the coach, and all the scouts that I can play good. Again, I want to play everywhere, all the time, and help my team to win the WHL.