“If you're going to go, you had better make it worth your while, and play as well as you can and try to have success,” Wideman recalled of wife Caroline’s Herb Brooks moment. The results of this inspiration speak for themselves: Wideman leads all defensemen in offensive production, registering 31 points in 44 games played. He credits his quick transition to former college teammate and Torpedo alum Andy Miele, who helped the 2009 Ottawa draft pick get settled on Dave Nemirovsky’s roster. Wideman logged 181 NHL starts for the Senators, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers over the course of four seasons, and was named to the AHL All-Star roster in 2015 and 2020. He spent the entirety of last season with the San Diego Gulls, an affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, logging 31 points before the season ended due to COVID-19. He signed his first KHL contract in early June, and has been a fixture on Torpedo’s top line throughout his debut season.
I caught up with Wideman from Nizhny Novgorod to discuss his KHL start, and to preview the challenge that lies ahead for Torpedo.
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): Take me through the steps that brought you from North America to Russia.
Chris Wideman (CW): This year is obviously different. I'm fortunate that I had the opportunity to come over here and play, and my agent had the foresight to see that things in North America were going to be difficult for the foreseeable future.
I think it probably wouldn’t have happened without the conversation I had with my college teammate Andy Miele. He had played here for Dave Nemirovsky before, and he’s helped me so much on and off the ice. Once he described [Nemirovsky] and how he operates and runs the team, then I had my first conversation with David. It seemed to be a great match, and he's someone that I respect a lot and I've really enjoyed playing for.
You're only able to play this game for so long, and you need to maximize your opportunities. My wife's parting words were like, "If you're going to go, you had better make it worth your while, and play as well as you can and try to have success." Her words stuck with me, and that's what I've been thinking about all year.
GK: You’re currently leading all defensemen in points.
CW: Yeah, so you know that I listen to my wife then.
GK: Good husband aside, what else has clicked for you in the KHL?
CW: Well, I think it helps having a seven or eight time NHL All-Star coaching the D, so that's been...I mean, honestly, it's like you’re in awe. Sandis [Ozoliņš] has been awesome, not only helping with the on-ice stuff, but just the person that he is off the ice, and how he carries himself. He has a wealth of knowledge and he is someone that you'd be crazy not to take advantage of, and listen to anything that he's willing to share.
I have an awesome supporting cast, and I had a lot of time to prepare for this season with the quarantine. I realized that this was really a make-or-break year for my career. It will determine if I'm going to be able to take another step and get a contract for next year and the year after. It was important to have a good year this year.
GK: On the topic of supporting cast, let’s talk about the season Damir Zhafyarov is having right now.
CW: It’s not often that your leading scorer and one of the best players in the team comes with that much energy every single day. I mean, there is always a smile on his face. He is happy to be at the rink. He is pushing the energy every single day. And, like you said, he's been phenomenal. He's been scoring. He plays, I think, the most of any forward on our team. He plays on the penalty kill, he skates, he works. He's got an infectious personality. He's someone that people are drawn to. And he knows that he's a leader without even having to say anything. He just goes out there and he works—and guys follow along.
GK: There are a number of loaned prospects in your locker room—Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Ivan Chekhovich. It seems that they have been entrusted with responsibility too.
CW: A lot of it goes back to David. Dave sees a lot in some of these young guys, and he puts them in situations to really exploit what he sees in them. And I've got to give the players credit, they've executed and have used their abilities and have maximized the opportunities. We have all sorts of guys making huge contributions, and that's been the story of our success.
GK: I spoke with Semyon not long ago. He thanked Pavel Datsyuk for knocking the wind out of him—which cracked me up.
CW: Yeah, that was funny. He was talking about that for like, two weeks.
GK: Torpedo is in the hunt, but we have some tense weeks ahead. What will it take to clinch a playoff spot?
CW: We're a team. No matter who we're playing every night, it's a close game. We are a team that's never out of the game. We're always clawing. Some of these teams that are ahead of us in the standings, I don't think that they look at us on the calendar and are too excited to play us. That's something that we take pride in, and we know that every single night it's going to be a game, and we're going to have to work hard to make it a game. That's been the challenge for us this year, and it's something that we're going to continue to deal with down the stretch here.
GK: Which opponents tend to be the toughest?
CW: We’ve had trouble against CSKA, the teams that really don't open anything up. The teams that open up and try to play offense against us, I would put our top lineup against any line in the league. They can score. So if they get a chance to open it up, we're going to have a chance to be in the game for sure.
Gillian: How did you become a hockey player in the first place?
CW: I think it was just about my parents being Blues fans! My dad and mom are season ticket holders, and I think they started bringing me to games before I was a year old, so that was the early exposure. They were just hockey fans. My mom did a little bit of speed skating growing up, but they were not too familiar with the game. It was one of those things where they drop you off at practice and say, "Have fun. Listen to your coaches.” And kindof took off from there. My parents got to know hockey through my brother and me, and it has been a great experience. Our family really enjoys it. It's something that brings us together.
GK: Your brother Alex also turned pro. What was that dynamic like growing up?
CW: Yeah, it was cool. Playing in the backyard together and then culminating in being able to play a year of hockey together in college was really special. Those are memories that I'll cherish forever. Our parents had the opportunity to come and watch both of us play at the same time.
GK: So no ferocious sibling rivalry then?
CW: You know what—we weren't really too competitive because he's a forward and I'm a D. I think, more than anything, we just helped each other work on our games. We would play one-on-one against each other, but not any more competitive than trying to help each other fix any flaws, and that was a cool thing. He is someone I'm talking to every day, and he watches most of the games that he can, and I do the same. He’s in Denmark so its been difficult to find the games online [laughs], but I get the updates. It’s a cool relationship.
GK: How did your parents split cheerleading duties? Did they switch jerseys halfway?
CW: My aunts had some T-shirts made with my number 6 and his number 10 on there, so that was pretty cool.
GK: Maybe we could get a Wideman line together in the KHL!
CW: I think he would do great in this league. A lot of professional sports is about opportunity and what you make of it. But I think given an opportunity, he would be very successful, a very skilled player.
GK: What is your proudest achievement so far in hockey?
CW: Oh, man—I don't know. I always look back and think of any time my parents got to see me play or any time I had family at games. And I look back on the Stanley Cup run that we went on in 2017 with Ottawa—that was obviously very special. Coming within a goal of playing in the Cup Finals is pretty special. Getting to play with my brother for a season is definitely up there. It’s hard to pick one moment. There will be time eventually to sit back and look at all of this stuff, and there are definitely some really great memories.
GK: This year has been tough on KHL families, given the border closures.
CW: That’s been the hardest thing this year, just being away from family. And my wife got here four days ago. We’re enjoying finally being able to spend time together. We were married 13 days before I left for Russia, so it has been a very trying first year of marriage.
GK: We can call it a (Russian) Christmas miracle!
CW: Russian Christmas and my birthday are on the same day, so it was perfect timing.
GK: What was the first place you wanted to take her?
CW: She loves Italian food. There are some good Italian restaurants in town, so we are going to one tomorrow after the [Traktor] game. We're looking forward to that.
GK: Tell us about the most inspirational advice that a mentor or a coach has given to you.
CW: Oh, man, that's a good question. You stumped me there. Honestly, I have no idea. [Long pause] Okay, I have a good one.
I had the opportunity to meet John Mozeliak, who was the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team—I think he's now the president of the team—at a charity function a few years back. We were just talking about sports in general. He told me, "Seasons are long, careers are short. You have to make the most of every opportunity." That has stuck with me for, I don't know, three or four years since he said that to me. So that was a good one.
GK: What is the funniest prank you've ever witnessed in the locker room?
CW: None of them are really appropriate to share.
GK: I get that answer a lot. Who is the most savage prankster you’ve dealt with?
CW: Yeah, I played three years with Chris Neil in Ottawa, and he really liked to prank guys. But if anybody tried to prank him, he'd beat you up. So if I could say anything, as far as the pranks go, just never, ever do anything to him. Ever.
GK: What is one song on your workout playlist right now?
CW: I’m not really a hype-up guy before the game. I like whatever the guys have on in the dressing room. On the way to the game, I’m pretty laid back—Lumineers, Mumford & Sons. Not too hyped up. I'm more of a laid-back music guy. I can’t pick one song. I’ll let you pick one.
GK: I am going to pick Ho Hey for you—if only because it features in a piece of KHL folklore. Matt Maione sang it at the All Star Game and he brought the house down.
CW: I remember seeing that on TSN a few years back, and now I'm having a chance to play against him. I have a greater appreciation for it!