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Dmitry Afanasenkov: It was OK with Tortorella, but Heikkila’s plan just didn’t work


In 2004 he won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay Lightning, but last year he was plying his trade in the Belarusian Championship. Dmitry Afanasenkov is now searching for a team and hopes to return to the Kontinental Hockey League, and he spoke to our correspondent about how he has spent the past few years and of his annoyance at some of the unjust claims made about him.

Last year in Yekaterinburg it was written that you demand huge sums in wages while refusing to sign a contract.
I blinked with disbelief when I read that article. I called the club but the Avtomobilist general manager wouldn’t pick up the phone and the president had no idea what was going on. We had agreed a contract for a certain sum and then when the paperwork arrived for me to sign it indicated a lower figure for my salary. I didn’t ask for sacks of money, it is just that we had agreed terms and then they changed them at the last minute.

But you still signed the contract, didn’t you?
Yes, in the end I compromised.

And yet you only played three games.
It was a strange situation. I trained with Avtomobilist and played in the preseason tournaments. Then I was injured in an exhibition game in Donetsk and I was told I would be out of action for a month. For 18 days I didn’t even train, but then I was called up for a lengthy trip on the road. I remember in Kazan I went out to skate in the morning warm-up and they gave me a hard workout, but the coach came up to me and said, “You’re playing tonight.” I tried to explain that I wasn’t ready, because I wasn’t fit enough after a long layoff and so I would not be of much use, but the coach said I must try and that I’d only be sent on in powerplays, to help out in defense. So I agreed.

And the team lost 1-6
I could barely skate, as you’d expect in the circumstances, and yet they gave me a lot of ice time, nearly 13 minutes, which was really tough going. Two days later I was back on the ice at Nizhnekamsk and three days after that I played in the home game against CSKA. I couldn’t understand what they hoped to gain by selecting me. But after the CSKA game the guys told me I’d been fired. It seemed a done deal and I didn’t even get an explanation. To be precise, I couldn’t find anyone who would explain it, since the management avoided meeting me. I stayed on in Yekaterinburg until November, as my daughter was at school there, and then went home to Archangelsk. Sometime later Andrei Skabelka asked me to join HC Gomel in the Belarus championship and I ended up playing five games for the club. The quality of the opposing teams, by the way, was very high.

It is likely that the leadership of any club would be a little concerned that you’ve been in conflict with every team you’ve played for in Russia. Your spells at Dynamo and Lokomotiv did not run too smoothly.
I’ve never provoked any conflict myself. With Dynamo it was a dispute over finances: the club promised one thing and delivered something different, so I resisted on principle. I don’t know, maybe if I’d played a couple of games for their farm club it would have all worked out. Anyway, they placed me on waivers and Lokomotiv hired me.

So your dispute with Dynamo was that you demanded more money?
Not as simple as that. My agent said he’d secured certain bonuses but when I was due to receive them the management said it was the first they’d heard of it. Who is telling the truth in situations like that? Looking back now, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that my agent was up to something.

But the move to Lokomotiv did not go well either.
I found it very tricky trying to adapt to Kari Heikkila’s style of play; he’s not my kind of coach, and it can’t be just me, since I’ve played under John Tortorella and Vladimir Krikunov and always felt confident that I could meet these guys’ high demands. But with Kari I couldn’t get used to his game plan. We did an awful lot of training without the puck, for example. Then they replaced Heikkila with Pyotr Vorobyov and my relations with him went really sour, to the point where he made this strange threat: “You’ll never find another club in the KHL.”

So you were in conflict with Vorobyov?
Never in direct conflict, but there were many trivial things. For example, in the break for the Olympics we went to Switzerland and played three games. I failed to score in the first two but in the third I got a double, including the game-winner. We had a long journey home and arrived back in Yaroslavl at five in the morning. In the locker room was a list of players who should report for training at six that evening and my name was on it, among all the youngsters. Vorobyov said that because I had played badly in two games I needed extra training.

As you said, you worked with John Tortorella. Tell us how you remember that era.
Even though he’s a hockey man through-and-through and a true professional, for him family always comes first. He was always telling us that while we should regard the game, the team as very important it must not be at the expense of our families. There was one occasion, just after my wife had given birth, and I was spending a lot of time with her, helping her, and this time I overslept. It was during the play-offs and we were to meet at six, and I woke up at 5:55. I jumped up, got dressed in a couple of seconds and hurried off to the arena. I was still late, but when I walked in John just asked me how things were with my wife and child

Did you play in the game?
I played, yes, and for quite a while. Although I was very groggy.

You’re from Archangelsk. Did you take the Stanley Cup there?
Yes, I did, I thought it might help in some way to develop the game up there, and that they’d build a rink or something, but sadly that didn’t happen. Well, they did build a rink but it’s already falling apart. I would never turn my back on any request from friends to train with some kids or take a master class, but that’s all I can do.

Alexei Shevchenko, special to