Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward Danis Zaripov and Barys defenseman Maxim Semyonov spoke to KHL.ru in the aftermath of the teams’ Eastern Conference semi-final series.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk became the first team to secure a place in the 2016-17 Conference finals, having swept Barys 4-0 in the semi-final series. One of the stars of the contest, and indeed, of the playoffs has been 35-year-old forward Danis Zaripov, who struck two hat-tricks against Barys to add to the treble he scored against Red Star Kunlun in the quarters. This puts the four-time Gagarin Cup winner into the record books as the first player to celebrate a hat-trick of hat-tricks in the KHL knockout stage.
- Danis, congratulations on your victory! What was the mood like on the way home after wrapping up the series?
Danis Zaripov: “Thank you. First I want to congratulate all the Metallurg fans on this victory! All those who supported us and followed us on their TV screens. All those who were able to come and cheer us on in Astana. We appreciated your support, and we thank you! Together, we have taken another step through the playoffs and gone further. As for emotions, we gave our all. The last game was a little tough. We had our chances but the puck just would not go into the net, and the Barys guys were not going to surrender - they fought to the last. Thankfully, luck was on our side. Despite the 4-0 sweep, every game was interesting and fiercely contested. There is a lot of experience In the Barys roster, and everyone knows the threat posed by their foreign players.”
- Most say the main threat from Metallurg is your line, but Barys has an attacking troika that is just as fearsome, and one which can decide the outcome of any match. How do you counter that threat?
Danis Zaripov: “We were well aware of how much damage Dawes, Boyd and Bochenski can inflict, and they have been highly effective for many years, so we studied their game and we tried to starve them of space. It’s always interesting to play against experienced masters of the sport.”
- In Game 4, Barys came out with all guns blazing and played some powerful hockey all through the first period. They had nothing to lose, and it seemed they were going for broke. Did it feel that way to you?
Danis Zaripov: “Yes, I agree. Barys had nothing to lose – it was their last chance to stay in the series. To be honest, in Game 4, we expected they would come at us from the first minute and would do all they could to lay siege to our goal. We were prepared for this. We had to be patient, absorb the pressure, and wait for our chances.”
“My hat-tricks? On the one hand, it is the fruit of my labors over the season, and on the other, I want to thank my line-mates. Without their combinations and passes I would not have scored so many goals. I'm delighted, of course, that I managed to set such a record.”
- Did you notice that Barys tended to be very active for the first half of a match, but then ease off a little physically in the latter half?
Danis Zaripov: “Maybe. We are just the opposite – in the second half of a match we open up, go on the offensive and try to be more mobile. But I want to stress, again, that this Barys team cannot be written off and should not be underestimated. They deserved better, but we emerged the stronger.”
- In Game 4, Barys was leading after two periods. Magnitogorsk had an abundance of chances, but the puck didn't want go in. What did the coaches say to you during the second interval to cause such a turnaround in your fortunes?
Danis Zaripov: “We stuck to our task, as usual. All the guys in the locker room knew we just had to keep playing our game, creating chances, and the goals were sure to come. We could have scored earlier, but none of the bounces, ricochets, or rebounds went our way, we missed an empty net, and the goalie was having a great game… But in the third period, we not only leveled but took the lead.”
- And after you got that go-ahead goal, it seemed that Metallurg had won the series. Why were you unable to hold on to the lead?
Danis Zaripov: “I didn't see it like that. It's the playoffs, and nobody is going to go down without a fight. All the teams will battle until the very last second, so you should always play right to the end and never relax. Barys managed to pull level. In overtime, you just keep playing until the first mistake, and luck was on our side.”
“First I want to congratulate all the Metallurg fans on this victory! All those who supported us and followed us on their TV screens. All those who were able to come and cheer us on in Astana. We appreciated your support, and we thank you! Together, we have taken another step.”
- What were your impressions of playing at the new arena? Have you enjoyed your three days in Astana?
Danis Zaripov: “It’s a very good arena. The fans give passionate support and it’s pleasant to come and play here. The people of Astana are lucky to have such a modern hockey complex. As for the city, we didn’t really get much chance to see it, but they say it has many interesting and beautiful buildings. The city is growing all the time. Thank you for the hospitable welcome.”
- Was the key match in the series Game 2 in Magnitogorsk, when Barys was close to victory but lost in overtime?
Danis Zaripov: “No, I disagree. In my view, the key match was Game 3 (the first match in Astana). And the crucial factor was that we held our own in the first period, killed a lot of penalties, and then withstood that onslaught from the Barys guys in the third period. Thankfully, we managed to take our chances, although, when we were leading 5-1, we spoiled it a little by allowing them to claw back a couple of goals. So I would say the third match was the key to winning the series, because if Barys had won the first home game, it probably would have been a very different story in Game 4.”
- Which series was the easier or harder? Against Kunlun or Barys?
Danis Zaripov: “I don't want to compare them. I don’t think it would be right. They are completely different teams, and each has its own way of playing. And both were very worthy opponents.”
“We were well aware of how much damage Dawes, Boyd and Bochenski can inflict, and they have been highly effective for many years, so we studied their game and we tried to starve them of space. It’s always interesting to play against experienced masters of the sport.”
- For pretty much the entire season, we have been celebrating the exploits and the new records set by your captain, Sergei Mozyakin, and now it is your turn to be the record-breaker. No-one has scored three hat-tricks in the playoffs before. What do you have to say about this achievement?
Danis Zaripov: “(Smiles) On the one hand, it is the fruit of my labors over the season, and on the other, I want to thank my line-mates. Without their combinations and passes I would not have scored so many goals. I'm delighted, of course, that I managed to set such a record.”
- On the KHL.ru website, one of the headlines referred to you as the "king of the hat-tricks." Do you like the title?
Danis Zaripov: “(Laughs) I can hardly stop you, since it is true, after all. Now they have given me the title, I will try to live up to it.”
- Are ready to keep on surprising yourself and the fans with your scoring feats, and to delight us with more goals?
Danis Zaripov: “Of course, while I’m still fit enough and while things are going well, I will strive to play and score for my team. Let’s not focus on this, though, as the main thing is that we have won another series and have reached the Eastern Conference final.”
Among the Barys ranks, we at KHL.ru found Maxim Semyonov, whose foul on Evgeny Timkin and the resultant penalty was seen by many as the final nail in the Astana coffin, given that the reigning champion took full advantage. The 33-year-old agreed to speak to us about the incident-packed series.
- No doubt, before the match, Barys fully understood that there would be no room for error. Is that why the team launched such a furious wave of attacks on the Metallurg net in the first few minutes of the game?
Maxim Semyonov: “Yes, we played “from the knife” as some call it. It was our last chance to try and extend the series. The guys knew we had to attack more if we were to win, and that is why we made such a powerful start to the game. We even managed to open the scoring. Against a team as strong as Metallurg, it is very hard to fight your way back into the game if you lose a goal, so it is best to dictate the terms from the first minute and try to score first. And for most of the match we managed to stick to our game plan.”
- After your battling victory over Traktor in the first knockout stage, were the Barys guys a little too tired to take on the current champion?
Maxim Semyonov: “The strength and the desire were there, but we had trouble coping with their special team, and things like that can decide a series. And everyone knows how formidable the Magnitogorsk guys are in powerplay! Unfortunately, this time the game-winning goal was scored during overtime in powerplay.”
“On the whole, perhaps, the season was a good one, but as they say, when you taste success it makes you hunger for more. But losing is always disappointing, especially to lose both home games. I think we should have won at least one of them.”
- Which match in this series was the turning point?
Maxim Semyonov: “The second game in Magnitogorsk, of course. We could have held on for victory. A lot of things were going our way and we were even in the lead, but we missed our chance and so we lost in overtime. Nonetheless, we still went out onto the ice today in fighting mood. There have been episodes in hockey history where a team has fought its way back from 3-0 down in a series, but alas, it wasn’t to be.”
- Metallurg has a very strong first line. How hard is it to try to neutralize the most dangerous players of the reigning champions?
Maxim Semyonov: “If you look at the match statistics, the numbers speak for themselves, and of course, we also tried to dissect their game. Zaripov, Mozyakin and Kovar are great players, and they can adjust their plans and combinations in the course of a match. We didn't always manage to get to grips with them quickly enough to close down their passing and shooting.”
“The strength and the desire were there, but we had trouble coping with their special team. Things like that can decide a series, and everyone knows how formidable the Magnitogorsk guys are in powerplay!”
- How would you rate Barys’s season, overall? Are you content to have made it to the playoffs and progressed past the quarter-final stage?
Maxim Semyonov: “On the whole, perhaps, the feeling is a positive one, but as they say, when you taste success it makes you hunger for more. Having defeated Traktor, I really wanted the keep going, and losing is always disappointing, especially when it happens in both home games, in front of your own fans. I think we should have won at least one game.”
- Metallurg captain Sergei Mozyakin has broken many records this season. You played alongside him a few years ago, back during your days at Atlant, so what is your view of his achievements?
Maxim Semyonov: “I am just happy for him. Congratulations are in order for breaking so many records, and I hope he carries on doing it. God willing, he’ll set many more new records before he hangs up his skates.”
- Speaking as a defenseman, what is it like playing against Zaripov or Mozyakin?
Maxim Semyonov: “On the one hand, of course, it is a tough task, but on the other, it is fascinating. They are great players, and it is always interesting trying to predict their intentions and combinations.”