|This season a new young star rises in CSKA. The young Nikolai Zherdev, at
just 18 years of age, is already one of the club’s leaders. His striking
goals, amazingly clever passes and technical skating and puck handling always
excites the fans. Many say that they haven’t seen such a talent in Russia
for a long time. He is also partly responsible for fans returning to the stands
of CSKA games. He forced the entire Super League to talk about him and for the
opponents to once again take the CSKA name seriously.
Nikolai tell us a bit about your " hockey" past....
N. Zherdev: In the hockey school Sokol in my home town of Kiev, I ended up
on the team where all the players were a year older then me, meaning that I
started playing for the ’83 team, because the ’84 team hasn’t
yet been formed. My first coach was Yuri Dmitrievich Kryilov. At first I worked
out with him, and then at one point we went to a youth tournament in Canada,
and a club from Elektrostal, which is near Moscow, played there as well. The
team’s coach – Ravil Eskhandrovich Iskhakov – watched me play
and invited me to play for his team. That is how I moved to Russia and that
I have spent the last four years with Elemash.
Did your parents influence you in either direction regarding your choices
N. Zherdev: Not really. It was my decision to start playing hockey. When I
was little, I liked the sport a lot when I saw it, and decided to try it. My
parents did not mind and afterwards always helped me out. You can say, my father
practiced with me (laughing). I go to practice, he goes to practice. He spent
a lot of time with me.
How did you end up with CSKA?
N. Zherdev: After last season, which was successful for me, I received several
invitations from Super League clubs, including Lokomotiv, Ak Bars, CSKA and
several others. I chose CSKA because I wanted to try my self with the club under
the helm of a coach such as Viktor Vasilievich Tikhonov. The lineup here wasn’t
bad and younger then that of, for example, Lokomotiv.
The fans are interested in knowing – who are you under contract
with – CSKA or Elemash?
N. Zherdev: All I can say, is that I am with CSKA under a loan. Elemash, it
seems, did not want to sell me anywhere, and agreed to transfer to another team
only under the rights of a loan.
Let’s talk a bit about the game itself. During a match, as a
rule, " technical" players like you get a lot of grief from the opposing
defensemen, do you ever want to respond?
N. Zherdev: Often times, of course, I want to hit back in response, or deliver
some kind of a hit, but Viktor Vasilievich Tikhonov carefully follows the discipline
in the team and always tells us, that unnecessary penalties from nothing don’t
bring any good to the club. That is why we try to hold back, if, of course,
the opponent doesn’t cross some sort of lines of the allowable.
Is there anyone in CSKA who personally protects you, and defends you,
as is the practice in the NHL?
N. Zherdev: No, we don’t have a special position for a tough guy (laughing).
First of all, everyone can hold their own, but if help is needed, the teammates
will not stay on the sidelines. Though, thus far, such a situation hasn’t
developed yet, where someone needed to be defended against someone else.
Does Viktor Tikhonov criticize you, if you get carried away to much
in individual endeavors on the ice?
N. Zherdev: Of course he does! Hockey is first of all a team sport. Here you
need to sense at what moment to take the game on your self, or when to depend
on your teammates. If I spent an overly large amount of time puck handling and
making moves, or if miss a chance for a great pass, then I get the deserved
share of criticism.
How much of a factor to play in front of your own fans vs. on the road?
N. Zherdev: It is more difficult on the road, of course, when the entire arena
is rooting against you. But we are trying not to pay much attention to that,
but at home, in front of our own – it’s quite the opposite, -- you
pay a lot of attention to the support from the stands.
In regards to that, what can you say about CSKA’s fans?
N. Zherdev: What can I say? They are great! The really support us, and even
if we are losing, the support does not wane. This was especially apparent at
the beginning of the season when there was a series of home matches that we
lost with the score of 1:2. However, the stands were always full and they all
rooted for us. This is always very pleasant, and I want to give a big thanks
to CSKA’s fans.
What was the reason behind those home losses?
N. Zherdev: I don’t even know, why it happened. We weren’t playing
badly, created a lot of chances, but somewhere we weren’t making our chances
count, and sometimes we simply didn’t have the luck. Maybe someone gave
us bad luck? (laughing)
Nikolai, how well is the mutual understanding among the line mates
of the different lines?
N. Zherdev: Constant line pairings, as a rule, occur very rarely for us. During
a game lines are often changed around. This has to do with playing in uneven
situations, injuries and with the fact that players are in different playing
shape. During the time since the beginning of the season, most of the players
have had a chance to play with each other, that is why we all understand each
other fairly well, so who we play with doesn’t hold a big role. Due to
this, I believe we possess that mutual understanding on the ice, but we can
always work on improving it.
It’s already the middle of the second phase of the regular season,
meaning you have had a chance to play against every Super League team. Which
of the teams has left you with the strongest impressions?
N. Zherdev: Those teams that are the leaders – Lokomotiv and Ak Bars.
I believe they have the most balanced lineups, to be able to continue the entire
season at a high level, without significant declines.
How different is the Super League from the Upper League, where you
have spent the last several seasons in Elemash’s lineup?
N. Zherdev: First of all, the speeds are different. In the Super League everything
is a lot more dynamic, you have to think faster, there less time to make decisions.
In the Upper League, everything looks comparably much slower.
Which of the goalies ended up being most " difficult" for
you to solve?
N. Zherdev: Vyukhin from Avangard. You can say, he is my least favorite goalie
(laughing). No matter how I shot the puck at the net, it seemed that the goal
was a sure thing, but he still managed to prevent the goal time after time.
Currently there is a vote on the internet for those who will participate
in the All Star game in Omsk. You are currently one of the leaders in voting,
do you want to say anything regarding that?
N. Zherdev: It is, of course, really nice to see that people are voting for
me. That means that I have been remembered by the fans by my game. If they invite
me, I will gladly participate in the match.
Let’s talk about the past. In the spring you played at the Junior
World Championships, where our national team earned second place, losing only
in the final game to the Americans. On that team you were one of the best players.
What impressions do you have left regarding that tournament?
N. Zherdev: I have only the best recollections regarding the tournament, except
regarding the finally outcome. Then we had a very strong team and everything
seemed to work for us. The most painful was that we lost the title just some
20 seconds before the final siren, when we let in the deciding goal. That was
the only match, in which we suffered a defeat – and as a result took second
place, instead of becoming champions.
According to many experts and journalists you are contending to be
one of the top picks in the NHL draft. What do you thing about that?
N. Zherdev: I try to think as little as possible about that (laughing). Why
wish for the future? Right now the most important thing – is here in CSKA.
I will try to play as best I can in the Super LEague, so that everything would
go well. Then in December there are the World Junior Championships amongst the
U20 teams, where we need to give our best effort to defend our title, won by
the national team a year ago. That’s what occupying me right now –
not the draft.
Do you follow the NHL? Do you like any specific team?
N. Zherdev: What do you mean by following? For the most part I read about it
in the press. I don’t get much of a chance to watch it on TV, since I
simply don’t have much free time. I don’t have a favorite team.
I can’t say that I am a die hard fan of any team (laughing).
How does it compare to our hockey?
N. Zherdev: It’s probably a similar comparison of the Super League to
the Upper League. In the NHL everything is much quicker. Meaning that here you
have to think fast, but there you have to act lightning fast. But to fully feel
the difference, you need to first play there yourself. (laughing)
So, in the future you would like to continue your career in the NHL?
N. Zherdev: Here there is nothing to hide – of course I do!
If it’s not a secret – who is your agent?
N. Zherdev: At this time I do not have an agent. It a bit early (laughing)
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a dream in your life?
N. Zherdev: I do have a dream – to win the Stanley Cup! (laughing). Regarding
the plans ... it’s difficult to plan for something concrete. I will play
in Russia, then try to continue my career across the ocean, then we will see.
Do you plan on creating a family? Do you have a bride?
N. Zherdev: I do have a girlfriend, who lives in Elektrostal.
What interests you besides hockey?
N. Zherdev: I don’t really have much free time. If do get a day off,
I try to go to Elektrostal, and if I can’t leave Moscow, I hang out here
with the guys from the team. We go to the movies, sometimes to a club, it’s
changes. We try to vary what we do in our time off, - there is very little free
time, sometimes we get one day in a couple of weeks.
- Dmitri Kuvshinov