Valery Nichushkin: I want to be of as much use for Traktor as possible
How did you know that you were getting called up to the main roster?
Maksim Shalunov and I have just returned from the States where we played in the Subway Super Series. I was home and quite frankly was a suffering from jetlag and not feeling quite well. Later on I got a call from Chelmet’s CEO Aleksey Petrov who told me that I was getting called up to the main roster and I had to be at evening’s training session. My minor sickness went away once I heard this (smiles). I was really hoping I would get called up one day, and finally this day had come. I appeared on the training session, and the very next we played against Barys.
Team’s dressing room is a place that sometimes is hard on newcomers. Did you have any worries when you first stepped into it?
I was a bit worried. I mean, I was with the team during pre-season, but mostly I flocked with the younger guys. This time I had a warm welcome though.
Did your locker already have your personal number?
Na-ah, you have to deserve it first. I took Shalunov’s locker first, and then, when Maksim was also called up, my locker moved beside Karpov’s and Quint’s.
You were the 13th forward for the game against Barys, and it seemed as if you were not going to appear on the ice…
Still, I motivated myself and was ready to give it my best if need be.
In that match you had to replace Traktor’s captain Vladimir Antipov who suffered an injury.
Of course, I would have preferred to appear on the ice under more favorable circumstances. But c’est la vie, I had to be in the game.
Were you worried?
No; on the contrary, I was pretty calm and collected.
You got hit by Nikolay Antropov in your very first KHL shift…
Really? (pause). Ah, yes, I did. Maybe the reason for this is when you sit on the bench a lot, it negatively affects your skating. Anyway, I got myself together pretty quickly after that hit. In general, during the game’s first shift I prefer to take a hit intentionally and take the puck and keep it for a while in order to feel the rhythm of the game because if you don’t do anything during your first shift, you may not catch the game rhythm at all.
Did you have to adjust your personal playing style to that of Traktor’s?
You know, many teams play similar hockey, even though there might be some nuances and peculiarities of strategy. I talked with coaches, with my teammates, they all explained me what to do in certain situations. I don’t think I made some serious mistakes, not jinxing it! Of course Valery Belousov came up to me several times during the matches and pointed out some flaws in my game.
You have already played five games for Traktor. Do you feel yourself a part of the team already?
In fact yes, I do; I may be a minor part, but still a part, of the team. However, I don’t think about it that often, I just try to be of as much use as possible.
What’s difference between the atmosphere in an MHL team and a KHL team?
Sometimes it seems that there isn’t any; everyone’s kind and good-minded. Maybe the fact that there are a lot of seasoned players makes it a little bit different. They always help me out with tiny details. For example, today Maksim Shalunov and I went to the gym where we were doing a very familiar exercise, or at least it seemed familiar to us. It turned out we had not been doing it properly; I even got a bit frustrated when I learned it. Generally, Traktor is a lot more disciplined that the teams in MHL; for instance, in the match against Vityaz I should have taken a hit but did not do it, and alternate captain Dmitry Ryabykin gave me a well-deserved verbal whipping after that.
Speaking of hits – you redeemed yourself in the match against Yugra when you rolled your opponent over the board.
(smiles) I was not expecting this kind of outcome, and still, that hit was intentionally aimed at opponent’s torso. We even had a little laugh over this moment in the locker room.
Is it typical for ‘big’ teams to prank the younger guys? Have you been a victim of a prank?
I thought things would be much fiercer; I heard a lot of stories about boots nailed down to the floor and so on. However, I did not get such treatment when I got here; on the contrary, it was a very kind-hearted and warm welcome.
But you probably collect the pucks after your elder partners at the end of training session?
Sure I do! (smiles).
During this season you have played for four teams – Belye Medvedi, Chelmet, U-20 national team of Russia and Traktor. That’s pretty impressive given the fact that you did not have a complete pre-season preparation as you were recovering from an injury.
Yeah, I have played like 30-35 games. The most intense period of time was when I played 20 games a month for Belye Medvedi and Chelmet, and frequently they were away games. When Chelmet was not in action, I played for Medvedi, and vice versa.
Did it make you tired?
There was a time when I was not feeling myself too well, but not anymore. Now I want to play and be useful.
You are a part of U-20 national team Russia that in a month will once again try to capture the U-20 World Cup gold at Ufa. When you get back, it might be difficult to earn back your spot on the roster since some players from the injured list may have recovered by that time. Does it bother you?
No, it does not. First of all, training sessions of the national team take place during the break in the championship; second of all, I want to go to Ufa and help my national team win the gold. Plus, I have a feeling that if I have a great showing in the national team, it will be much easier for me to get on the main roster on a regular basis. Take the team’s roster for the forthcoming World Cup; most of the players are already playing for the KHL clubs; if my memory serves me right, only five of them are from Major Hockey League and two from Youth Hockey League. If young players like me get the chance to play in the big leagues, it does wonders for their budding careers. That is, unless they become star-struck. There were many cases in the past when the young up-and-comers shone brightly but for a short period of time. I don’t want to follow in their footsteps. Besides, I should say I love playing in Traktor Arena in front of the fans in attendance. These people love you, and you absolutely can’t let them down.
In one of your recent interviews you said you were dreaming about playing for Traktor before the age of 18. This dream has come true. What’s next?
First – to score my first my KHL goal as soon as possible (smiles). Then – get to U-20 team Russia. In the long run – to be in Traktor’s first three lines. And the goal for any given day – to be as useful as possible for my team, giving it my all and more.
Photos – Vitaly Gubin (Traktor’s Press Office), Petr Ilyin (slo-vo.ru)