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Aleksey Potrekhalov: KHL teams have great as well as plain bizarre mascots

It is impossible to imagine Traktor’s home match without him. He appears on the ice before the teams and pumps up the audience. He is irreplaceable, even though he is not a hockey player. He celebrates victories along with the team and exchanges handshakes with opposing team’s players. He is more popular than some of the players; more than half of Traktor’s fans have his photos as avatars in social networks.
Journalists that stand near the press center for a press conference have got used to seeing the Bear walk out of the elevator with a smile or a grim on his face, depending on the result of the match.
The White Bear is Traktor’s battery; no, he’s Traktor’s electric substation. If the crowd in attendance applauds someone, it is not necessarily a player on the ice that draws this applause; it could be the Bear shaking in an energetic dance, climbing the railings or grabbing a bench and hitting the floor with it to get the crowd going. Kids follow him at every MHL match. He also has a lot of stories to tell; once he quarreled with a policeman who would not allow him to do his job; he was the host of Yevgeny Kuznetsov’s wedding that took place at Traktor Arena.

Aleksey Potrekhalov
aka Lekha the Bear sat down with Allhockey.ru to discuss the twists and turns of life of a hockey mascot.

Tell us about an ordinary day of a hockey mascot.

Basically it’s the same working day that the majority of people have. Occasionally I prepare on the ice hours before the game. Two hours before the match I start to walk around the arena, taking photo ops etc. Then the match begins; after I’ve worked the whole game, I take rest at home, just like the players.

Could you say that you, like the players on the ice, give it your all at every match?
Definitely, and sometimes even more than that.

What are the most pleasant and the most difficult thing in mascot’s job?

The most pleasant thing is to see the smiles on the fans’ faces while the most difficult thing is to put on this heavy costume and work in it during the whole matchup.

You must be in good physical shape to do this job.

Absolutely; if you want to get slim, it’s an ideal job.

How much does your costume weigh?

It’s roughly 10-15 kilos, but it becomes much heavier towards the end of the match.

Does it hinder your movements?

It used to, but now it no longer does because I’ve got used to it. Last season I got a new costume that was made exclusively for my proportions; it’s much more comfortable.

You now have two bear’s ‘muzzles’, right?

Not quite. These are two different costumes, the old one and the new one. The new one is heavier, but more comfortable.

Your new costume’s ‘face’ seems to be more amiable and suited for the kids.
Yes, the old costume was more aggressive, but it is gradually outliving its usefulness. The new costume is more amiable, I can’t argue with that.

Do people recognize you without the mask?

Not that often. There are those who already know that I’m there, inside the costume, but overall I can’t say that I’m a big celebrity and whatnot.

Do any of the fans offer you a drink?

They used to, but now they I know I do not drink because I have enough of my own energy to work the whole match.

You have been with the team on several away matches, right?

I’ve been to several cities of Russia like Kazan, Magnitogorsk, Yekaterinburg and Ufa. Kazan warmly welcomed us; I even had a dance-off with Ak Bars’ mascot. He was upset that Kazan fans cheered for me more than for him (smiles). I got a present from Ak Bars’ fans, so I left Kazan with nothing but positive emotions. I did not like Ufa though; we were not treated that nicely out there. As for Magnitogorsk, their mascot and I are good friends. If any of us has a chance, he visits the other’s home town. By the way, Avtomobilist has recently introduced their mascot – the Moose. Actually, there are two people who act as the Moose, one works on the ice, the other – at the arena; so I got acquainted with the latter; he’s a great guy. Actually, if both of them happen to arrive at Chelyabinsk, we will welcome them with open arms.

Which KHL team’s mascot do you like the most?

I’m not going to lie to you – mine. Other teams have great mascots as well, but some of the mascots are plain bizarre. That’s just my opinion.

Metallurg’s mascot Timosha the Fox once was swinging a fox during the match. Could you do something like this?

I think he did it to make the fans laugh. I don’t think though I could do the same thing, it looks a bit insulting for my liking.

You and Timosha once changed costumes’ heads. Whose idea was it?

It was our common idea; we had never warned anybody and just done it.

Once you fought a referee at one of Traktor’s matches.

It was planned ahead. We discussed it during the break; we just wanted to make people laugh.

I once heard that someone wanted to put your costume on the then Traktor’s head coach Andrey Nazarov, but failed to as Nazarov was too large to fit in.

That would be hilarious (smiles). No, this had not happened, someone was just fooling around; plus I don’t think Nazarov would agree to that.

Rumors also mentioned an old lady who was a fan of yours.

I have not seen in a long time, but yes, she would often come to the arena and give me chocolates and other sweet stuff; once she even brought a bottle of cognac. The next match she arrived and told me that she did not know I was only 21. By the way, cognac came in handy when we went to Kazan a bit later; it was my birthday, so we drank it as befits the occasion.

You sit in the penalty box towards the end of the match. Is this a tradition?

It’s just faster to get on the ice from there when I need to congratulate the match MVPs. On the other hand, it could be seen as a tradition – always at the same place at the same time.

What if a player gets a penalty and enters the penalty box?

It’s a bit tight, but all right if we don’t fight, as they say. Players got used to it and do not complain at all.

How about the after-match handshake? You also take part in it, don’t you?
I do, and I greet the opposition as well. This is a sign of respect.

How do players react to a bear shaking their hand?

I don’t know for sure, but they never refuse to shake hands. No one has ever said anything like ‘look, there’s a puppet shaking my hand’. Everyone greets me back, taps me on the shoulder sometimes; there’s nothing wrong with it.

Is it possible to say that you feed off the crowd during matches?

Absolutely! When you get on the ice and have 7500 people clap their hands for you, you just can’t stay indifferent. When the crowd gets going, they charge players with their emotions; same goes for me. I get as much energy in return from the fans as I give them. I guess you can call it charge conservation law.