Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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If winning MVP in your debut season would be considered “taking the KHL by storm,” then you might categorize Dmitrij Jaškin as a hurricane. In his inaugural year with Dynamo Moscow, the Russian-born Czech forward set a franchise single-season record for most goals, anchored the league’s top-producing troika [alongside André Petterson and Vadim Shipachyov], and took home the 2020 Golden Stick Award for the best player of the regular season. Under the iron fist of legendary Soviet coach Vladimir Krikunov, Jaškin made an entrance that will not easily be replicated—and he is slated to remain in Russia’s capital until 2022 after inking a two-year extension.

Despite his import status, Jaškin was born in Omsk and grew up in the Czech Republic, where his father Alexej won six Extraliga titles in the verdant foothills of Vsetín. It was in this fairytale setting that hockey was implanted in Jaškin’s DNA, a calling that would take him as far as the NHL—where he would spend five seasons with the St. Louis Blues before a departure to the Washington Capitals. As playing minutes grew scarce, the skilled winger opted to move his career to Russia in August of 2019. It was a decision that would ultimately lead to a landmark season, with Jaškin logging 63 points (31+32) in 58 games played. Dynamo was poised to advance in the KHL playoffs before coronavirus concerns prematurely ended the season. The Russian Hockey Federation has since awarded Krikunov’s army the bronze for their strong showing.

I caught up with Jaškin on his blockbuster beginning in the K—which included a special reunion with his father, a club record, and some tire dragging.

Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Before I allow a deserved brag on the season you had, I want to go back to your Moscow arrival. That high-octane line did not materialize overnight. How would you describe the adjustment period?

Dmitrij Jaškin (DJ): I think it's the same everywhere you go. You need some time to adjust, get to know everybody, and get used to the game. It’s a little bit different here [in Russia]. I think that's what happened—I came to the team when everybody else had been training for two months [together] and I was on my own, so that was a little different. It didn't take me that long to adjust. I started playing games right away after I signed the contract. I think on my third day, I was already playing a game. It was pretty much the same as the NHL training camps where you get in, you have two practices, and then there's a game right away. With the three of us [Jaškin alongside Vadim Shipachyov and André Petterson], I think it clicked at some point after practices and a few games. We understood each other a little more.

GK: Did Vadim Shipachyov call the shots for the three of you?

DJ: I think he was the brain. He’s also got the hands, the vision, and everything else that we needed from him. I think we spread roles over the whole season. He's really smart, and we were just trying to work together and give ideas to each other. I think it worked pretty well this year.

GK: André Petterson was interviewed on Icecast this spring, and he attributed some of your line’s success to the opportunities that you were given on the power play. He said that those minutes made him better at even-strength.

DJ: On the power play, we had five great guys. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but most of the time we had success. You do feel way better when you get time to play on the power play and have some chances. I think that's the part where everybody leaned on us and were expecting us to decide games. I think we did that.

GK: In watching those final games you played versus Spartak, it appeared as if they got a better handle on your troika midway through the series. How did their play evolve? 

DJ: Yeah, I think they were trying to rattle us a little bit because obviously they knew that we were the best players on that team. I think it's the same everywhere, so we were just trying to fight through it. They have really good fans at their arena, and they play much better at home. It was a tough couple of games. I think in Game Three, we should have won that one, but we lost it. They got a little fresh air and won Game Four. I think all around, it was a really good series and everybody enjoyed it. It's just too bad that it ended the way it ended—playing without the fans, it wasn't much fun.

GK: I’d imagine that atmosphere is a big factor, especially in a Moscow playoff derby.

DJ: I think it killed Spartak more than us. It was hard for both teams, but especially for them—the fans that they have, playing without them at home in pretty much the deciding game—it was really hard for them.

GK: You had some difficulties in North America, and then posted an MVP season in your KHL debut. Can you point to any one factor that contributed to your success in Russia?

DJ: Obviously the NHL is the NHL, but I do believe that the KHL is a really good league. I think it was just about getting opportunities and trust from the coaches, and everything around it. When you find your way, and you get good players like I got, and you understand each other and everything clicks, then it's much easier and you just go with it. I didn't think there was anything special or different. It's about the time you get on the ice, and everything revolves around that. You just feel more comfortable—playing twenty-plus minutes is a little different than playing twelve or ten.

You can do more things when you have more time on the ice. When you feel comfortable, things start happening and you start to become successful. Once you have the minutes, you can do things that you can't even do in the NHL, or were not even trying to do. Everything comes together after that.

GK: Your current head coach, Vladimir Krikunov, is the definition of “old school” in a sport that evolves at lightning pace. Why do you think his methods stand the test of time?

DJ: It is just about being strict. I think he's probably closest to Ken Hitchcock, out of all the coaches that I’ve had. He's trying to do his thing and not go in any other direction. It worked before, so it's going to work again. It's a matter of guys sticking to the plan. Maybe it's not the way that everybody would want to play, but I guess it works!

GK: What’s the most notorious of his tactics?

DJ: When we have a day off or a time without games, there's “balloons.” That's his thing where you drag a tire behind you. We call it balloons here, but it's tires. You're just dragging the tire and sometimes there's one guy sitting on it, sometimes there's two. I don't think everybody likes that, and that's the one thing where everybody knows it's bad…

GK: Wait, this was during your “time off?"

DJ: Oh yeah. When there were tournaments in Europe, or when there was a national team break. I went to two of them, but I didn't go to the last one. When we had a week without games, there was probably four or five days when he was trying to get something out of us. He wanted us to get ready for playoffs or for the remainder of the season, to be stronger.

GK: Krikunov is one of the funniest head coaches in a press conference setting. Sugarcoating is not a weapon in his arsenal.

DJ: He's really straightforward. He's not cutting any corners, so he will say whatever he wants to say. He's that type of guy, and Ken Hitchcock was the same. We just have to take it and not really think about it. After the game, he's a really good and smart person. We don't talk just on the bench or at practices. A lot of guys talk to him off the ice, and it's fun.

GK: Your father, Alexej, won the Czech Extraliga—I think it was six times.

DJ: Yeah, five times in a row and then once after that.

GK: An unbelievable run. What are some of your memories of his hockey career?

DJ: Well, I never played with him. My brother had one shift [with him] when he was 14, during the last game of my dad's career. It was just the best memories, the best city, the best locker room, everything. I can't say anything bad about Vsetín. It's such a small city and everything's just so perfect. It’s pretty much in the middle of the mountains in the Czech Republic, on the border with Slovakia. I always love to go back there and spend some time with my friends.

GK: Did you ever entertain becoming a defenseman because of his legacy?

DJ: No. I think my brother did, but I never did. I always loved to score goals. All I remember is that he had such strong hands. I couldn't even pass with him for ten minutes—I will always remember that. The memories around how they loved him there, and the way that he played…those memories will last forever. They’re great.

GK: Do you consult him after games or break down footage?

DJ: Yeah, every time. We're on the same team now because he works with Dynamo too, so we're together all of the time. Even when I was in the NHL, we talked about [my] games that he watched. Now we’re in Moscow together, and we talk after every game and all the time pretty much. He never leaves me be!

GK: What is his role at Dynamo?

DJ: I don't know the exact name, but I think he's an advisor or whatever. He's with our sports manager and general manager everyday, they're working all together. I think he's involved in all kinds of things—not just player contracts, but everything else around the team. He's always with us. He was even [at Dynamo] before I got here, so that was kind of funny. Last year when they had the first training camp in Nizhny Novgorod where we're going to go this year again, I went there to see him. A month after, I signed the contract.

GK: Six Extraliga titles aside, I have a feeling that your Dad can’t sway Krikunov on his decisions about you.

DJ: No, definitely not!

GK: You grew up in the Czech Republic and your name is always spelled in the Czech convention, yet you were born in Russia. You are classified as an import in the KHL—but do you feel like one?

DJ: No, no, I don't feel that way. Nobody feels that way about me. I think some guys don't even know that I'm counted as an import. It's my fourth summer spent here. I only go back to the Czech Republic for a little bit, and this year, I couldn't even go because the borders were closed. I feel at home, and the more time I spend here, the more I get used to it. Obviously with the language and everything, it is going to improve and I guess I will start feeling more Russian. But it's always about where you spend your time.

GK: I was going to ask if you spoke Russian at home as a kid. Did you have to brush up?

DJ: Well, I have a Russian wife, so she was all over me about that. For how long, I can't remember—probably from day one because my Russian wasn't really good seven years ago. My parents would speak Russian, but my brothers and I would answer in Czech. That was our thing because it was easier. We knew all of the words, but the speaking part wasn't that great. I'm slowly getting back to it. I guess now it's pretty good since I'm giving interviews and everything.

GK: I saw a video of you singing Трус не играет в хоккей (No Coward Plays Hockey) with Alexander Ovechkin. That’s the one Russian song I know, so maybe we can have a karaoke battle. Who’s the worst singer on Dynamo?

DJ: [Laughs] Sure. I don't think that there can be any bad ones! It's always a fun time, so they're all good. I’m not a great singer either, but I think karaoke is always good.

GK: Vocal exercises aside, how are you preparing for training camp?

DJ: Obviously it's going to be a hard couple of weeks at first, but then I think everybody gets into it. I didn't really take that much time off. I probably didn't do anything for a month, but then I built a gym in my garage. I work out pretty much every day and I'm trying to stay in shape. Now we have started skating everyday. I'm not that worried.

GK: What is the general schedule, and are tires involved?

DJ: Tires are going to be there, for sure. I think the guys said that it's going to be five days in a row, and then a day off or something like that. You get up, then you do something in the morning, then you go on the ice, then you do something in the evening, and you go on the ice again.

It’s not that different from North America. It's just that in the NHL, it's much faster. You skate twice a day too, but it's a little different. You come fully prepared there, but here you use camp to get ready because you still have two months to go.

GK: Lastly, how did Dynamo players entertain themselves on the road trip to China last year?

DJ: Well, I'm a TV show guy. I'm getting through Netflix pretty fast, especially on those long trips. But late in the season, I got into poker, so we started playing with the guys a little bit.

Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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