Dinamo Riga captain, selected by fans for the Team Jagr starting five in the KHL All-Star Game, is expecting only good feelings and a lot of pleasure from the forthcoming contest.
No one in Russia or Latvia is under any doubt that Sandis Ozolins is a star. Stanley Cup winner, and veteran of seven NHL All-Star Games, Sandis returned to his homeland half a year ago and is already the second most popular foreign player in the KHL. Proof of this was provided by the supporters’ choice of the starting fives for Team Yashin and Team Jagr. Sandis polled more votes than any other player bar defenseman Kevin Dallman, with whom he will step out onto the ice in Minsk.
- Were you following the voting by fans of the KHL?
- I found out I’d been chosen for the starting five on the day the voting finished. It was a real surprise! I myself don’t think that after the break my game is so good that I deserve a place in such a game, but I really appreciate the support the fans have shown for me.
- Dinamo Riga are currently in the bottom half of the table, but suddenly two of their players make the starting line-up for Team Jagr. Are you glad you’ll be playing alongside your teammate Marcel Hossa in Minsk?
- Marcel has really earned the right to appear in the All-Star Game; indeed, he is the League’s best sniper. And it’s goals which the spectators value most of all, it’s what makes them happy. Not for nothing do the front lines of Yashin and Jagr’s teams feature the highest scoring players.
- You’ll go out onto the ice paired with Kevin Dallman, the Barys captain and the highest scoring defenseman in the KHL. What can you tell us about him and your other partners?
- They are all really good players. We played against Dallman’s team at the start of the season and it was tough. And in the front three for there are also Weinhandl and Radivojevic. We at Dinamo Riga know how much you have to concentrate on your game when these players come onto the ice. Oh yes, this season these guys really gave our nerves a battering! So here it will be great playing with them, and not against them.
- In Minsk you’ll be playing once again alongside Jagomir Jagr, with whom you appeared together in the NHL All-Star Games.
- It is always a pleasure to play with real masters of the game, like Jagr. Matches like these are not as stressful. For the players it is more pleasure than it is business.
- Does an All-Star Game differ greatly from games in the regular championship?
- Yes, the championship is your job, it’s a mission you have to accomplish at all costs, where every game is important. And here the accent is more who scores the most, so the teams will play more open hockey, and not devote so much attention to defense. It’s like a game in the street: they fill the rink, and you charge around and play at your leisure! Although such games do not make the goaltenders very happy; they have to save a lot of shots.
- You took part in the NHL All-Star Game on seven occasions. Which one holds the most memories?
- The very first. I was 21 then, I had terrible nerves, and thought that a very serious and tense game laid ahead. But it all turned out to be a lot easier and more interesting, the guys were trying to show off their individual skills and please the crowd. Also, for me it was a big event to find myself in the same changing room as Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and other stars!
- They say that in one All-Star Game, having found out you were moving to a different club, you ripped your old club’s stripes from your shoulders out of spite.
- It wasn’t me who took the stripes off. But it was a complicated situation. They didn’t just send me to a different club, but to a different conference! In the All-Star Game I was meant to represent the Eastern Conference, but officially I had already become a Western Conference player. I even thought about refusing to take part, but the coach said no way. So they made the decision that I would play without the traditional stripes of the club - out of political correctness.
- Before the All-Stars Game in the NHL they have a skills competition. Did you ever take part?
- I always took part in the relay race with the puck.
- In Minsk, they have promised the players some new experiences: measuring the strength of shots, and a speed contest. Which one will you try?
- I want to test myself in any contest where I can be the leader and commander! I’m joking, of course. If I’m honest, I really don’t know which tricks I’ll have to show, but I’m ready for anything.
- Is the result of this game important to you?
- In any game, you want to win.
- Does it bother you that in Team Yashin there are a lot of reigning world champions?
- If the guys from the Russia team see this game as preparation for the Olympics, then it will be a tough game for us.
- Olympic preparation or not, Team Yashin will be after revenge for last year’s victory by Team Jagr, all thanks to a hat-trick from Hossa.
- Really? I didn’t know! So if we don’t score enough goals, we’ll know it’s Marcel’s fault, for not completing the usual mission.