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Author: Vyacheslav Panin (Soviet Sport Newspaper)
Translated By: Greg Mihaylov
Date: April 19th, 2002
WC-18. Thriller with Zherdev’s Devil’s Dozen

The forward of Elektrostal “Elemash” Nikolai Zherdev can be deservedly called the leader of our national team. Leader of attacks of the best Russian line has already conquered everyone in Slovakia with his head spinning raids through the whole ice, after which the opponents’ entire line is left to look very stupid. Those unlucky guys don’t even know what to do with this guy who plays under number 13, who can only be stopped by breaking the rules.

-I am showing anything out of the ordinary in Slovakia- says shy Nikolai Zherdev. – I just play how I know. I play in the same manner with my club and I’m blessed that I am adjusting to the upper league. At the world championships, of course, it’s harder to play. The heavy weight of responsibility bears down. Which match in Slovakia do I consider for now to be the best? Probably, against the Canadians. It’s easier for me to play with strong competitors, such as forefathers of hockey and Czechs at the match against which the level of preparation is much higher.

The unfortunate performance of the Canadian team was surprising, since they brought a pretty good team. It’s true, they are missing a couple of strong players, who are currently busy with their clubs, which are continuing their battle in the playoffs in the junior leagues. Forward Rick Nash was missing as well who is, as far as I know, one of the favorites at the upcoming NHL draft. In August we let this team slide by us in the tournament in the Czech Republic. Than the North American team had an optimal lineup. In any case, we did not lose that game because of that. We simply did not play as well. We tried to drive to the net in general one at a time, forgetting our traditional style. In Slovakia we improved our game by passing, and we beat everyone with our team play. At the world championships the team reached its peak. Before we had bright wins with honest losses, now there is stability.

Before the start of the first round I was confident that we would beat the Canadians, and after that without any worries would beat Norwegians, Slovaks and Germans. In the first round we had to face the Czech Republic. They have a very good goalie Lykash Mensator, who at the tournament in Tyumen beat us almost by himself. Than for a long time, we locked the Czechs in their defensive zone, but the puck (with resistance) didn’t want to go in the net. At the end we walked away with a tough 1:0 loss. In Slovakia, we prepared for this key game, and everything started to happen. The team didn’t let down after being down in the first period, in which our goalie Denis Khudyakov played poorly. We showed our temper and earned our hard fought win.

Regarding my path to the big hockey, I started to play in Kiev at the age of 4. At first I just skated on ice skates, my father brought me to the school for figure skating. One time I somehow ended up on a stadium and saw how guys played with a puck. I liked what I saw so much that I told myself: “I want to play hockey!” The next day I signed up in a group for preparation. Back than they didn’t have a team for the boys who were born in 1984, but my first coach Uriy Krilov put me on a team with guys a year older. With them, I went through all of the basics of hockey. Anton Babchuk ended up on the same team, with whom I’ve played one the same team my whole life. We moved to Elektrostal together a couple of years ago, after the president of the club and mentor of the junior national team Ravil Ishakov noticed us at the tournament in Quebec

Why did I choose #13? Before I got into Elemash’s lineup, I played with #15 on my back. But that number was already taken, so I chose #13. A lot of people are scared of that number, for me it’s the opposite, I like it and it impresses me. That’s how it happens, that those digits always follow me. Whenever I stay, in hotels I get #13. But when we left for the tournament in Tyumen, #13 rippled in my eyes. We got tickets in the 13th carriage of the train, which left February 13th. So I walk on this planet with devils dozen, but so far it brings me only fortune!

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