Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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Nikita Guslistov grew up in hockey-mad Cherepovets, a city nestled on the Volga-Baltic waterway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The nineteen-year-old forward honed his craft in the shadow of local favorite Severstal, a club he could never imagine lacing up for someday.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t really believe that it was possible,” Guslistov described from Novogorsk, where Russia’s U20 squad has centralized for the upcoming World Juniors tournament. “But as I grew up, I understood that it could be, and making the team became one of my goals. Right now, I couldn't be happier. This was a dream I achieved, that came true.”

The Cherepovets fairytale has had a befittingly Cinderella chapter this season, as Andrei Razin’s youthful roster went on one of the longest point-streaks in KHL history (19). Guslistov has played an amplified role in that success, averaging nearly 17 minutes per game—a far cry from the nine he was allotted last season. The 2021 Carolina Hurricanes draft pick hopes this increased experience will be an asset to Russia’s World Juniors squad, as they prepare for battle under newly-minted head coach Sergei Zubov.

I got to know Guslistov between two-a-day practices on the outskirts of Moscow. We discussed his journey to professional hockey, Severstal’s red-hot November and more.

Gillian Kemmerer (GK): From what I’ve seen, they are working you hard in Novogorsk! Take us through an average day at camp. 

Nikita Guslistov (NG): It looks like our schedule is pretty packed here because most of the days we have two practices a day. First thing in the morning, we have our breakfast. Then we have a gym session or play a few off-ice games, but some days we have ice in the morning too. Then we have lunch, rest time, and finally second practice.

GK: Are you in a bubble similar to last year’s camp? 

NG: The bubble isn't as tight as previous bubbles, but we are here at the special base of the Ministry of Sports. The whole territory is pretty much private, so you can say that we have something of our own bubble here.

GK: How are you keeping yourselves sane in those rare moments of free time? 

NG: At the beginning of our camp, we had some tests and medical stuff. We didn’t have as many practices, but we could play a little bit of table tennis and stuff like that. We are trying to get every opportunity to chat with the boys and play some games. For example, yesterday we had a little bit of free time, so we spent it watching a movie together.

GK: What movie?

NG: Well, I’ll keep a secret…

GK: I don’t know if that’s alarming or intriguing. Who’s the best table tennis player of this group? 

NG: I don't know, maybe Yaroslav Askarov. He’s a lefty.

GK: You haven’t spent much time under the new leadership of Sergei Zubov, but what can you tell us about his style?

NG: Well, correct, we just started to work together as a group with coach Sergei Zubov. I would say that we have our Russian standards of playing hockey, and we are trying to keep it tight and stick to it. Everything's pretty much the same. We're trying to play actively, trying to be number one on the ice and to dictate our own game.

GK: Has it required adjustment from your style at Severstal? 

NG: The tactics are a little bit different from what we have in my club, let's say, but before I came here, I expected that.

GK: Your head coach in Cherepovets, Andrei Razin, dictates an aggressive style of hockey. The results are self-evident as the team went on an unbelievable point streak. What are you bringing from that experience to this World Juniors squad?

NG: The first question is why we are playing so aggressively in our club. The answer is that we are one of the youngest rosters in the KHL. This is why we cannot rely on our depth of experience. Based on that, we have to play aggressively. We have got to play actively. We use our advantage of young players, and thanks to coach Razin, I have had a lot of time on the ice. I would say that I'm getting so much experience during my time with Severstal. Amongst the guys in junior hockey here, this gives me an advantage. Right now we are preparing for World Juniors, but the difference isn't that big—between World Juniors and the hockey of the adults on NHL teams or KHL teams. The boys are big, and I am bringing my experience.

GK: Russia has brought a young team to the Karjala Cup two years in a row. Interestingly, you have Senior National Team experience prior to World Juniors. 

NG: During my time in hockey school, I wasn't one of the leaders, one of the best players. The first time I was actually invited to join one of the national teams was last year, when I joined our Olympic Team [Russia’s senior B-team]. Not even the Juniors, not even under 17-18, whatever. This was even more interesting. I got on their radar because I started to show more and more in my KHL games.

GK: Are you feeling particular chemistry with anyone on this squad yet? 

NG: The coaches will decide who I will play with, but I really like the boys. The most important thing is that we have our chemistry off the ice. This make things a lot easier. When on the ice, I'm not the guy who will choose partners or whatever. I'll just play with the guys who the coaches want me play with. Everyone who is here deserves the opportunity.

GK: You grew up in Cherepovets. Playing for Severstal must be a dream come true. 

NG: Well, of course. When I was a kid, hockey was very big in Cherepovets because we don't have a lot of teams in our city. Hockey is really one of the favorite sports of the locals, and everyone follows the Severstal games and their performance pretty closely. When I was a kid, I didn’t really believe that it was possible. But as I grew up, I understood that it could be, and making the team became one of my goals. Right now, I couldn't be happier. This was a dream I achieved, that came true.

GK: Who gave you your first pair of skates? 

NG: The first person to put skates on me was my mom.

GK: She must be very proud of you. Does she come to all of the home games?

NG: Yes, she’s very proud of me. When she has the time, she always attends games. But if not, if she's at work, then she's following along online.

GK: Would you say that she is more of a fan, or a critic? 

NG: She’s somewhere in the middle, I guess. She's very fair. If I had a bad game, she won't hesitate to mention it! But I guess it is important to get a normal portion of criticism from your parents. It is very important to pay attention and to follow it, to analyze it. At the end of the day though, she's my mom. She will always be my friend.

GK: What are some of your off-ice passions? 

NG: I'm a huge fan of movies and television series. If I had free time, I would go to the cinema right away. I try to read too, when I have the time. If we are talking about something active, something outdoors, I think I would prefer to go fishing or play tennis with my friends.

GK:What’s your favorite movie?

NG: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is probably one of my favorites, and Ready Player One. Speaking of King Arthur, it consists of all the things I like such as history, fantasy and magic.

GK: What is the funniest prank or strangest experience that you’ve had in hockey? 

NG: I guess the weirdest situation, and funny at the same time, was a road trip we had in juniors. One of the Junior League teams is located in Khabarovsk, the capital of the Far East. When you are traveling for the KHL, these trips are pretty much okay. But when you're traveling for juniors, you're arriving in Khabarovsk about five hours before the game. Normally this is late night in your own time zone. You want to go to sleep immediately, but the coaches are like, "There's no way you can go to sleep because after you wake up, you'll be dead." You are staying in your hotel room for three hours keeping your eyes open with your hands because you want to sleep so bad!

GK: That’s brutal. How’d the game go? 

NG: So it was 2-1 in our favor, probably, but it was rough.

GK: That’s quite an advantage Khabarovsk holds over their visitors! 

NG: I can’t say they are having fun in this league, because our normal road trips took one week. Sometimes the boys from Khabarovsk spend one month on the road. It’s physically very tough.

Special thanks to FHR’s Artur Kovtunenko for his translation support.

Gillian Kemmerer Gillian Kemmerer
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