Vladimir Krechin: Traktor will take the best both KHL and NHL have to offer

Referees are human, they can make mistakes

What do you think was the thing that made Traktor a major newsmaker in the region in the last two months?

First of all, I would like to say that it is a pleasant thing that Traktor is one of the overall league leaders, and your players are recognized among the best. As CEO, I am also glad to see that Traktor is being recognized as a brand. In a grand business like managing a hockey club everything is important, whether it be team’s victory, players’ participation in the events outside of hockey or launching a line of products like sunflower seeds. Every little thing contributes to the team’s image.

Every hockey fan now knows how Traktor’s typical matchup is going to go down – the opponents pull ahead and keep the lead for the duration of two periods, and then it’s time for Traktor’s comeback in the third.

You know, it’s better to mount a comeback and win than to have a scenario when we have a 3:0 lead and end up losing the match, as was the case in the game against Vityaz. Of course they do not happen intentionally, these comebacks. Anyhow, we will try to score first and keep the lead until the final buzzer; the break in the tournament could not have come at a better time. Players are tired, and when they are, they are more prone to injuries. Our injured list now includes four players, thus, we do not have complete four lines. Here’s to hoping that the injured players will recover during this break and be prepared for the next series of matches.

The refereeing in recent Traktor’s matches was somewhat questionable. What do you make of these recent happenings?

I don’t think the referees made these mistakes on purpose. Moreover, they were seriously punished afterwards. Think about it – people wanted to work in KHL, but instead they were relegated to work in Major Hockey League. It’s nothing but human factor. Believe me, it has nothing to do with Traktor as well – these mistakes can be observed every now and then in any given match.

NHL lockout will last another month at least. Do you plan on signing anyone in case the lockout extends beyond the set date of November, 30?

Our goal is largely to sign the alumni of Traktor hockey school. We’ve recently signed Yegor Dugin; Valery Nichushkin, one of Chelmet’s key players, is to appear in Traktor in the foreseeable future. If we do prefer to sign someone who is not Chelyabinsk’s own, they should be high-skilled and respected, just like Andrey Kostitsyn. We will try to save him for the next season; he’s a very valuable asset to our team, a great overall performer.

How will it affect the league and tournament standings if the lockout continues?
The teams that signed the NHL stars will keep their place atop the leader board for the duration of the lockout. But once it is over, players like Malkin, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and Datsyuk will leave, and these teams will not be able to perform at the same high level because the ones who could be playing now are actually polishing the bench. Take Kaygorodov, for instance; he’s been one of Metallurg’s leaders for several seasons, and just recently he’s been drafted to Salavat Yulaev because there was no place for him on the roster. By the way, we also wanted to sign Kaygorodov, but could not match with Salavat financially. As far as Traktor goes, our team will not be dependent upon the lockout since we have not signed any NHL star except for Kostitsyn.

Which one of NHL stars impressed you the most?

I think it would be Kovalchuk. He scores and assists in every single match out there. As for others like Malkin, Datsyuk and Ovechkin, they probably do not perform at the level everyone expects them to perform, but still it’s evident that they are exceptionally talented players.

All-Star Game: seize the day!

In two months or so Traktor Arena will host the KHL All-Star Game. What functions does Traktor have as a host?

It’s not only Traktor; it’s the whole region that is responsible. Last week Deputy Governor Vadim Yevdokimov held a meeting with KHL’s marketing department and the Governor’s press office that was responsible for the preparation for 2012 European Judo Championships which, might I say, was organized very well. As for the club being a host, we should have our services ready to provide any help needed.

Is the arena ready for the match?

It is always ready, but unfortunately it will not be able to hold more than 7500 fans. If the arena could hold three times more people, mark my words, it would be filled to capacity anyway, including on Traktor’s home matches.

Will the ordinary Chelyabinsk fans be able to visit the match?

All I can say is this – it will be very hard to get the tickets. The thing is they can only be bought online. In order to purchase the tickets, one will have to register on KHL website and provide the passport data; there will not be more than two tickets per person. This is done in order to eliminate repurchase and ticket speculation. We have been using the e-tickets system for quite a while, but unfortunately, the speculators know how to circumvent it. Anyhow, we know how to fight speculation, trust me on this.
By the way, 11 thousand tickets for last year’s All-Star Game in Riga were sold in 40 minutes. This year the KHL card holders will have the priority right to purchase tickets. There is also a quota for Traktor loyalty card holders. For the rest of the fans there is only one thing left to do – seize the moment when tickets go on sale.

It has been rumored that this year’s All-Star Game will be held according to a different scenario.

True, it will be a two-day All-Star Game. On the first day the fans will see the match between the team of world hockey veterans’ and the team of Chelyabinsk hockey legends. Hockey fans will get to see Makarov, Fetisov, Bure and other legendary performers. The first day will also hold the NHL-like contest show that will feature such contests as the fastest shot contest, penalty shots contest etc. As for the All-Star Game proper, it will take place on the second day.
I myself will be thrilled to see the fastest shot contest. If the lockout is not over, it’s likely that Zdeno Chara will take place in All-Star Game. Chara holds the record for the fastest shot in NHL. Last year Aleksandr Ryazantsev established the new world record. If you remember, there was a lot of controversy surrounding this event; some said the measurements were inaccurate, others said the equipment was not properly set. If both Chara and Ryazantsev are to appear in this contest, their dispute will be settled once and for all in a truly sportsmanlike fashion, and that is on the ice.

Last year Traktor sent three players to participate in the All-Star Game: Garnett, Ryazantsev and Kuznetsov. Who could potentially make it to All-Star teams this year? When will the line-ups be formed?

Everything will be decided by popular vote. I will not reveal all the secrets; all I can say for now is there will be three or four of Traktor’s players in this matchup. The line-ups will depend on whether the lockout has been over by that time or not, probably in the end of December or in the beginning of January.

Last year in Riga every hockey fan could visit the KHL bar located in Riga Arena. Will something similar appear in Chelyabinsk?

KHL‘s marketing department is working on it; they already had a meeting with restaurateurs of Chelyabinsk. I can’t say who’s going to be responsible for the appearance of KHL bar at Traktor Arena, but what I can say is that it will undoubtedly appear. Its design will not differ much from that of Riga’s; that’s KHL’s policy.

Traktor has the most understanding fans in all of KHL

Traktor the brand is picking up a lot of steam; last year male Traktor fans could buy themselves a branded set of shampoo and shower gel; this year every Traktor fan can purchase any branded item ranging from key fobs and cups to wall clocks and bed clothing. Is there anything else we will be able to buy?

Anything you can imagine. When I see a thing that is used by many, I envision it containing Traktor’s emblem; iPhone cases, iPads, copybooks, USB sticks, handbags – there is a whole lot of work for us to do. For instance, we are now negotiating a supply contract for branded Traktor apparel like sport suits and anoraks.
I think everyone will soon be able to buy a suit like the one that Garnett or Kuznetsov wear. In fact, I have an idea of every Chelyabinsk citizen wearing the branded Traktor apparel. Besides, it is always great to see people in other cities wearing Traktor scarfs and caps.

This Saturday the new merchandise store was opened at Traktor Arena. Your thoughts on this?

This is a key event in Traktor’s recognition as a brand. In fact, no KHL team has a merchandise shop like ours, whether it be interior design or items. Branded merchandise is an integral part of the so-called culture of fan support, and this is exactly what we want to inculcate in our fans.

You talk about this culture of fan support, and here’s a question on this: how has Traktor’s fan base changed for the last five years?

It has evolved significantly. Traktor now possesses naturally an army of fans. They visit away matches; some of them even go as far as Khabarovsk. They no longer throw bottles on the ice. This also goes to show how both the league and the game itself have evolved through the course of last several years. I think had an incident like the one we had against Lokomotiv taken place some five years ago, we would have seen the bottles fly from the stands onto the ice and the league impose fines and harsh sanctions.
As a matter of fact, our fans understand the game very well. Even if Traktor is ahead, but the game itself is slow-paced and lacks dynamics, the fans stop cheering, and one could hear a pin drop in the arena. Our fans need the results, otherwise they won’t cheer. If we take Dinamo Riga, for example, their fans will cheer no matter what the score is. For them hockey is a feast, not a sport. They obviously do not take the game so close to the heart like our fans do.

Talking about the feast – last season Metallurg’s players from Czech Republic entertained their fans with mini-performances after the match was over. Our players, however, do not do anything like this. Why?

They are just shy, probably with the exception of Kuznetsov. Foreign players are more relaxed in this respect, they consider it normal. Russian mentality is somewhat different, but I think it will change someday, and Traktor’s players will be more like their foreign counterparts in what concerns the interaction with fans.
By the way, our pre-match show is one of the best in KHL. Last year everyone was just flabbergasted to see a bear ride a tricycle; this year we decided to put together a laser show. In fact, we want to make the show a part of the game and to do that, we will take the best both NHL and KHL have to offer.