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Andrey Kostitsyn: NHL taught me how to play power hockey

I’ve always dreamt about playing in the NHL

Andrey, there was a talk that back in the day you were the same for the little city of Novopolotsk in Belarus as Yevgeny Kuznetsov is now for Chelyabinsk. Is that really so?
We had a great team and great coaches in Novopolotsk. Plus, my father is a former hockey player himself, so back then he worked at the rink, and my brother Sergey and I would come to the rink and have training sessions. Our year, 1985, was a good one, but only a handful of us became professional hockey players. As for your question, I was simply training and didn’t notice any special attention to my persona, even though sometimes coaches would take me to world cups with teams consisting of guys who were older than me.

Novopolotsk is a small town with the population of some 100 thousand people. How did the town’s hockey school manage to produce so many talented alumni?
Yes, it really is a small town. Honestly, I dont know the answer. Nonetheless, for some reason the majority of Belorussian players who play in KHL and NHL are from Novopolotsk’s hockey school.

Did you and Sergey have sibling rivalry?
We went to training sessions and studied at school at different hours, and generally there was no such thing as sibling rivalry between us. Both Sergey and I were often away from each other, but even when we were not, we never were rivals.

How did it happen that first both you and Sergey had played for Canadiens for three years and then had signed with Predators together as well? Were
there any sorts of contractual stipulations?
No, there were not. It just so happened that when I got drafted to Montreal, one of Canadiens’ scouts came up to me and said: ‘Do you know who else got drafted to Canadiens?’ It turned out to be Sergey. I never knew Montreal drafted my brother. Then he signed with Nashville, and I joined him a bit later. I don’t know why this happened; maybe coaching staff wanted us to play together.

You were #10 in the 2003 NHL draft, but played for CSKA and Khimik for a while before going to North America. Did you consider staying in Russia or you dreamt about playing in the NHL?
Playing in the NHL was my longtime dream. After playing in Belarus I went on to play for CSKA, but for their second team; and then in 2004, a lockout year, I decided to go Canadiens’ farm club.

What was your childhood’s dream?
I just played hockey; I liked being on the ice throughout the whole day. When I got older, I started dreaming about the NHL.

Were you successful in hockey when you were a kid?
I remember once my team won 5:0 and I scored all five goals. By the way, I began playing as a defenseman.

Why did you become forward then?
I don’t know. My position constantly changed from defenseman to forward and vice versa. As a result, I remained a forward.

We can’t afford to lose any longer

You are one of the best Traktor’s players in terms of hit and checks. Is
this your style?
NHL taught me the power game. When I arrived there, coaches told me to play in this manner, and I began doing so.

What happened in the game against Slovan? There is no video to understand why you were suspended.
I think it was within the rules. The guy that I hit was 6’’6’ or 6’’7’; he was turning around and leaned down a bit, and I hit him. So, I was ejected due to a supposed illegal check to the head and got a two-match suspension.

Your line was once one of league’s best in terms of +\- index. How did you manage to find a common language so quickly?
It just happened this way; we quickly began to understand each other very well and began to score a lot.

Petri Kontiola has recently recovered from an injury. How heavily do you think his absence influenced the team?
We had a bit of a dissension. Of course we lacked a center like Kontiola. Now that he’s back everything is fine.

So you think the losing streak is over now?
Yes. We can’t afford to lose any longer.

NHL lockout is over, and many players left their KHL clubs and returned to North America. How do you think this is going to influence the balance of forces in the league?
Lockout will influence the teams that were heavily dependent upon the NHL comers because they will now have to regroup their lines etc.

We will prepare ourselves for the specific opponent that we will get in the playoffs

You have a lot of playoff experience from the NHL. What do you expect from KHL playoffs?
I haven’t been in the playoffs here in KHL, so I don’t know what to expect. As for NHL, regular season and playoffs are two different stories. NHL players give it their all in the playoffs because they know that each loss could cost their team a great deal.

Any preferences as to the first round opponent for Traktor?
No, there aren’t any. We have to finish the regular season first. When it’s time for playoffs, we will prepare ourselves for the specific opponent that we are going to get.

Do KHL players travel more that NHL players? Maybe
vice versa?
I think it’s a draw here. The schedule in North America is the same as here – departure from the home town one day before the game, departure to another city right after the game. The only difference is that NHL has more games.

How well do you endure this schedule?
Quite well, I am not bothered by it. While in a plane I play mobile games or watch a movie.

What was the last one you’ve watched?
The Intouchables. Great movie, by the way.

It’s always great to play in Chelyabinsk

Are you comfortable in Chelyabinsk?
Yes, and I like it here.

Have you watched the recent All-Star Game?
I didn’t manage to do it, so I just had a little rest.

When you returned here from North America, was there anything surprising about hockey in Russia?
No, there wasn’t. There’s one thing though – ice surface dimensions; in NHL you have to play more powerful hockey with a lot of hits and checks while ice surface dimensions in KHL presuppose more skating and puck possession.

Is it true that Montreal is the ‘hockeyest’ of hockey towns of the world?
I think it is. Montreal fans are great. They followed us on away matches. When in Montreal, you can’t go to a mall without being recognized; everyone wants to have a photo op and an autograph.

Do Chelyabinsk fans have a particular flair about them?
Chelyabinsk fans are awesome! I’ve been to many Russian cities during this season, and I can say that not many cities have such great fans like Chelyabinsk has. It’s always great to play at Traktor Arena – fans always cheer you and appreciate your work. On our part, we try to show our best so that even more fans visit our matches.

Is there a lot of attention towards hockey players outside the ice here in Chelyabinsk?
Sometimes people in the streets recognize me, but still ask with doubt whether or not I’m Traktor’s player. When they find out that I am, they always shake my hand and wish me good luck.