Avangard defenseman and captain Evgeny Medvedev spoke to KHL.ru – on new coach Andrei Skabelka, on a possible return to Kazan, and on where his sympathies lay in the Eastern Conference final series.
The recent Eastern Conference final series between twice and reigning champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk and fellow two-time champion Ak Bars Kazan understandably attracted many of the Great and Good from the world of hockey.
One of these was the current Avangard Omsk captain, Evgeny Medvedev, formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers and Ak Bars, with whom he twice won the Gagarin Cup. We caught up with him in Kazan, where, in addition to catching up with old friends, he was visiting a smart new training complex – the Danis Zaripov Winning Shot Center - set up by and named after his former Ak Bars team-mate. Now, of course, Zaripov is the scourge of Kazan and the Eastern Conference as one the most dangerous snipers for Magnitogorsk, but before we tackled current affairs, Evgeny spared a few words of thanks and praise for this state-of-the-art training complex in the Tatarstan capital.
Evgeny Medvedev: “I come here in my spare time to work on my shooting, and I also do a bit of fitness training. I really like the set up here; it’s very good. See how they’ve thought of everything: there is a rest area for parents, with big screens so they can see how their children are training; there is a gym suitable for all ages, and they even have a mini football pitch with a great playing surface. There are separate coaching areas for goalies, and there is a hall set up for practicing dribbling skills.
When we were children we could only dream of having facilities such as these. We drew our goals on the asphalt, made boards from whatever we could get hold of, and played our hockey in the street. Today’s children have more opportunities in terms of training and developing their skills, but they still need to take advantage of them. Desire is the main thing. It is great that Zaripov, such an active player at the highest level, can still find time to devote himself to helping these children, monitoring their progress and keeping an eye on their performances here in training. Whatever he does, Danis puts his whole body and soul into it.”
- Evgeny, you are a frequent visitor to Kazan. Any plans to return to Ak Bars?
Evgeny Medvedev: “I still have one year left on my contract with Avangard. My heart and soul are now in Omsk, and I won’t waste time guessing what will come after.”
- An interesting combination: the captain of Omsk in Kazan as a guest of a Magnitogorsk player.
Evgeny Medvedev: “Yes, it is, but Danis and I go back even further than our Kazan days – we’re both from Chelyabinsk (smiles) and we’ve known each other a long time, both in and away from hockey.”
I came back from the NHL, and for me, this season was a very important one in playing terms. I was made captain of Avangard, which was a new and an additional responsibility. It is not for me to decide whether that was the right decision – that is for others to judge.
- Who were you supporting in the Eastern Conference final?
Evgeny Medvedev: “Kazan – it is my little homeland, the place where I'm currently living, so of course, I cheer for Ak Bars when I’m not playing against them. Mainly, though, I wanted to see some great hockey. Magnitka is a formidable team which plays attractive hockey, and the most important thing is entertaining the fans.”
- Why do you think the series ended so quickly?
Evgeny Medvedev: “You have to mention the performance and desire of Danis Zaripov and Sergei Mozyakin in particular, and the whole team in general. Plus they had some luck on their side, although they deserved to win. Ak Bars was neither outthought nor outfought, but the better side makes its own luck.”
- Where are the main strengths of players like Mozyakin and Zaripov?
Evgeny Medvedev: “The answer is simple: they want to win every day of every week of every year. There is nothing supernatural about them. Great players such as these two have that desire and passion to keep on playing and winning.”
- But there are times when even Danis Zaripov and Sergei Mozyakin go through dry spells.
Evgeny Medvedev: “That's also natural. It is rare for any hockey player to go through an entire season without some sort of setback.”
- How would you rate the current season, for Avangard and for you, personally?
Evgeny Medvedev: “I came back to Russia from the NHL, and for me, this season was a very important one in playing terms. I was made captain of Avangard, which for me was a new and an additional responsibility. It is not for me to decide whether that decision was the right one – that is for others to judge – but I want to give special thanks to the Omsk fans and to my team-mates. I tried my best and they were always supporting and helping me. The club, too, was always willing to make allowances and smooth over some of the bumps. Omsk is a hockey city, but it’s a while since they’ve had much to celebrate. The time has come to win something. We’ll have a good look at ourselves and try to achieve something next season.”
- Why did the team underperform this year?
Evgeny Medvedev: “In fact, there was no single factor, but several. Elimination in the second round of the playoffs is not good enough, neither for the management nor for the players and fans. In Omsk, they demand better. I can say that some improvements have already been made, but we’ll continue working on it.”
Creating a championship-winning team takes time, but we will work on it. We have certain goals and objectives: No-one is planning to give anything less than one-hundred percent.
- Former head coach Avangard Fyodor Kanareikin said at the end of the season that it is difficult to build a team in seven months.
Evgeny Medvedev: “It is hard, yes. There were about ten new players, a new coach, and changes made during the championship. We probably did the best we possibly could this year. It takes at least three years to put flesh on the bones and assemble a tough, formidable team.”
- What are your thoughts on the appointment of Andrei Skabelka as the new Avangard boss? Do you know the new head coach at all?
Evgeny Medvedev: “No, I don’t know him. The team is meeting up in Omsk on Monday, the 3rd of April, at which the new coach will meet and speak with all the players.”
- But hockey is a small world. Have you not heard anything from other players about Mr. Skabelka?
Evgeny Medvedev: “Honestly, no. I have played against his team when he was boss at Sibir, but it never entered my head that he would be coaching us one day. I was very surprised that club dismissed Fyodor Kanareikin. I only found out the other day, just after I came to Kazan. Anyway, to give an opinion about a coach you need to work together and see the results, so for now it is too early to say.”
- It is correct to say that, in your time at Ak Bars, the team had a great spirit of friendship?
Evgeny Medvedev: “Probably, yes, the team that won all those gold medals and trophies served as a kind of standard for many of us. For example, Danis Zaripov and I were of a similar age and both came from Chelyabinsk, and many of the other players had known each other for a long time. Some of us are playing at other teams and some are retired, but we still get on well and keep in touch. Such good relations can be a significant factor in building a team.”
- Do you think you can re-create such a great team spirit at Avangard?
Evgeny Medvedev: “Not in just one year – that’s almost impossible. Creating a championship-winning team takes time, but we will work on it. We have certain goals and objectives: At best, a trophy; at worst, to achieve the minimum demanded by the club management. No-one is planning to give anything less than one-hundred percent.”
- But where would you like to finish your career?
Evgeny Medvedev: “I honestly haven’t given that any thought. I still have a lot of hockey to play. You’ll see (smiles).”
It is great that Zaripov, such an active player at the highest level, can still find time to devote himself to helping children, monitoring their progress and keeping an eye on their performances. Whatever he does, Danis puts his whole body and soul into it.
- Have you ruled out a return to the NHL?
Evgeny Medvedev: “Time will tell. I have no plans to go back, but there’s no knowing which way things might turn. As I said, right now my heart and soul are in Omsk, and I want to play my best hockey for Avangard and achieve things with the team.”
- And how about the 2018 Olympics in Korea? Would you like to go?
Evgeny Medvedev: “That’s something else that I haven’t really thought about. I'll go if Mozyakin and Zaripov go (laughs.) With those two I’d go to to the Worlds, the Olympics…”
- What did you think of this season’s KHL All-Star Game in Ufa?
Evgeny Medvedev: “I have very pleasant memories of it. There was a great atmosphere, everything was superbly organized, and the new division-versus-division format was interesting. I think we should keep this format for future All-Star Game matches. Everything about the event was great, but the best thing was to meet up with my fellow players away from the official tournaments and spend some happy times with them.”
Evgeny Vladimirovich Medvedev
Born: August 27, 1982 in Chelyabinsk