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Author: Vitali Yesis (NA)Date: 09/16/2004
Migration – Andrei Kostytsin: First guy in Montreal

Migration – Andrei Kostytsin: First guy in Montreal

Andrei Kostytsin, one of the most prospective Belarusian hockey players, fell out of sight at the beginning of this off-season. The only one who could shed any light on his disappearance was his younger brother Sergei, who at the time was playing for Gomel in Belarus. It was from him that our correspondent learned that Andrei left for North America: Montreal Canadiens, the club that chose him 10th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, invited the 19 year old forward to the training camp. As a result of his performance at the training camp, the Belarus player signed a three year deal with the NHL club. In the beginning of September, the older Kostitsyn left for his new club’s second training camp.

I had been wishing to try my ability in Canada for a long time. I spent most of the last season skating for CSKA’s farm club. The call from Montreal at the beginning of the summer was a bit unexpected, but I was glad regarding the invitation to the training camp. I first flew to Toronto, where I was only a few hours by car away from Montreal. I was met at the airport by Vadim Azryant. I met him way back at the 2002 U18 World Junior Championships in Slovakia. After one of the games, he approached me and explained to me how we could work togethere. This agent mainly works with Russian players. His clients include Stanislav Chistov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Zhamnov, Sergei Berezin. I think it is unnecessary to explain who these players are. He likely noticed me when I was skating in Moscow for CSKA.

Did anything surprise you during the training camp?
A. Kostitsyn:
Overall it didn’t really surprise me. At first, all the young players who arrived at the training camp underwent extensive medical testing, after which we started to exercise at the rink. For many of them, it was their first time on the ice in this off-season. The officials from the Montreal Canadiens and their AHL farm club the Hamilton Bulldogs, who were present at the practices paid especially close attention to the players’ skating, offering various exercises, which combined speed and power. The second training camp, which started on the 9th of September, was more orientated towards team play. The players had a chance to showcase themselves in a game environment. Besides practices, we participated in a tournament, which also included the young players from Toronto, Ottawa, and Florida. (The Canadiens lost the first match to Florida 2:5, and then won against Ottawa (5:2) and Toronto (9:4). Kostitsyn scored three goals – PB).

20 players arrived at Montreal’s training camp. Each of the hopes, if not for a spot with the Canadiens, than at least a two way contract with the club, which would give the player a chance to make his way to the NHL through the farm club. Could it be assumed that the relationships between players were far from perfect?
A. Kostitsyn: Thank god, we don’t fight with each other. There is a normal working atmosphere at the practices. I did not notice any unpleasantries directed at me, or any other player at the training camp. I mainly interact with Chipchura, my neighbor in the locker-room who Montrea picked this year in the first round. By the way, in April, Kyle visited Minsk as a member of the Canadian National Team for the U18 World Junior Championships. He shared with me his impressions of our capital, and Belarus. Besides him, there were also Canadians, Americans, and also Europeans: goalies Lindberg from Sweden and Galak from Slovakia, and Finnish defenseman Korpikari. However, Montreal’s coaches invited only two Europeans: me and the Slovak. I had a hard time interacting with my teammates due to my limited knowledge of the English language, which I did not give much attention earlier. Now I will have to seriously study the language.

Montreal – the most famous NHL club, have you had a chance to visit the club’s hall of fame?
A. Kostitsyn: I am not even aware if such a museum exists. But it was enough for me to walk into the club’s locker-room, to feel the magnitude of the club’s fame. Everything there speaks of the club’s fame, but I did not experience any discomfort in this memorial. I did not come there to look at the sweaters of famous players, but to show what I am capable of.

Did any players from Montreal’s main roster visit the training camp?
A. Kostitsyn: So far everyone is still on vacation. Out of the players who played for Montreal last season, only Steve Begin attended, as he recently signed a new contract with the club. However, he worked out on his own.

What else do you do in Montreal besides practicing?
A. Kostitsyn: The previously mentioned problems with the language minimized not only my interaction with teammates, but also my interaction with the local surroundings. Also, in Montreal the French language is more dominant. At times, I did manage to get out and walk around the city. I like it a lot. There is something European about it.

Like what?
A. Kostitsyn: Everything is a bit more calm than what I expected from the movies that I saw from the movies that portrait America as a land where everyone is crazy about making money. The architecture reminds me of the old Europe. There is of course a business center, where the high-rises are made of glass and concrete. But there are some nicely preserved private areas with houses probably from the 19th century. It’s a very pleasant area.

Could you explain one thing that occurred during the training camp: why did you change the spelling of your name during the first few days?
A. Kostitsyn: I wanted my last name to be pronounced correctly in Canada. But besides replacing a for o, I also took out one of the " s" . So, now I will wear a sweater with the name " Kostitsyn" .

But this is the Russian version of the spelling. It is different in the Belarusian transcription.
A. Kostitsyn: For me, the Russian pronunciation is more comfortable.

Montreal’s management also organized cooking courses for the young players. Could you share with us your impressions?
A. Kostitsyn: To be honest, I did not even attend them. I preferred to either stay at the hotel, where I lived during my stay in Montreal, or to go and walk around the city. It’s too bad the club did not organize any kind of a cultural touring program.

By the way, you could have been not along in Montreal. The Canadian club drafted this summer your long time teammate on the Belarusian national squad, Mikhail Grabovsky.
A. Kostitsyn: There were several players at the training camp, who were selected this summer. Why Misha wasn’t there? It would probably be better for you to ask this question himself. It seems that he decided to spend another year in the Russian Super League. I think his situation in Nizhnekamsk is turning out to be very good.

Why didn’t everything work out for you with CSKA?
A. Kostitsyn: Only Tikhonov can answer this question. Viktor Vasilievich practically never interacted with players, preferring to defer this responsibility to his son. Psychologically, it is tough to comprehend that you are capable of more, if you are skating on the second squad. However, without an opportunity to return to the main roster, I was forced to stay in shape " on the farm" .

However, your CSKA 2 teammate Nikolai Zherdev solved the problem of not making the club’s roster by practically defecting to America after the U20 WJC. Did you want to follow in his footsteps?
A. Kostitsyn: To run away with him? Zherdev’s agent was only able to make it happen for his client, not for everyone who wasn’t making CSKA’s lineup. Do you remember all the noise after his " defection" . How much dirt was poured on Zherdev! Of course, CSKA’s management did not like the young player’s departure. I will tell you one thing: no one accused Zherdev of anything. We regarded Nikolai’s decision with understanding. There was no point for me to jump ship. Unlike Zherdev, I did not have any other opportunities for employment. Possibly, if I did ask my agent, he would have been able to figure something out for me.

Why didn’t you go to Canada a year ago?
A. Kostitsyn: There was hope that I would be able to make CSKA’s lineup. However, at the start of the season, after I spent about ten games with the club, I was sent down to the second squad. From one perspective, I got more ice time, but from another, the quality of hockey in the third league leaves a lot to be desired. Now, when a new limit was implemented on foreign players, I would have an even harder time making the squad. Such a decision by the Russian lawmakers, why hide it, will bring a serious blow to Belarusian hockey. The players will either return home or change their citizenship. Not to have to face such a dilemma, I decided to try my fortune in Canada. It’s time for me to turn over the CSKA page in my career. I understand that it will be problematic for me to make Montreal’s lineup right away. To adapt to North American hockey, it is necessary to play in the lower leagues. That is why I am preparing for the AHL, where the Hamilton Bulldogs compete.

By the way, some time ago during the entry draft of the WHA, the reborn competitor of the NHL, you were selected by Hamilton 20th overall. Is there a chance you may switch teams, but stay in the same city?
A. Kostitsyn: WHA’s Hamilton has no relation to Montreal, nor does it have a relationship to the Bulldogs. They are completely separate organizations. I heard that a lot of well known hockey players were drafted by Hamilton, amongst whom are Russian Ovechkin, and experienced Zamuner and Fleury. To be honest, I am not even considering the option. I believe that the creation of the WHA is a commercial trick. I will confess that I have not been paying attention to the negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA. I concentrated more on practicing.

You were able to sign a contract with Montreal under the collecting bargaining agreement that expired on the 15th of September. If you would have hesitated a bit, you would have likely lost a lot of money.
A. Kostitsyn: I was aware of that. That is why, when I was offered a three year contract, I signed it right away. I don’t want to discuss the financial aspects of it. The only thing that I won’t keep a secret, is that I will lose quite a bit of money if I am sent down to the farm club.

Was your participation in the Belarusian hockey league with Khimik – SKA part of your preparation for the coming season?
A. Kostitsyn: You could put it that way. After my return from the first training camp, I practiced on my own in Novopolsk. Then, when the regular season started in my country, Khimik’s coaching staff offered me to participate in games by skating for my home team. I wouldn’t say that I was happy with myself. I was far away from my optimal shape back then.

However, towards the end of this past season you were clearly in shape, despite the absence of the ice time at a high level of hockey.
A. Kostitsyn: I gladly responded to the invitation from the Belarusian national team for the phases of the European Invitational and the U20 Group B World Junior Championships, where I placed third by the " goal+pass" system. You could say that the national team was very glad. The periodical returns to the Belarusian league had a positive impact on my mental state. It’s always pleasant to feel that your ability is needed by someone. I got the ice time and played at a very good level. The league in Belarus is, of course, better than the third league in Russia. The pain of an unsuccessful season in Russia was numbed by the gold medal in Belarus, which I won playing for Yunnost. It’s quite clear that the Belarusian league has improved significantly in the recent years.

Along with the league, until recently, your brother noticeably improved. Do you think his appearance in Montreal is possible?
A. Kostitsyn: When I attended Montreal’s first training camp, I was asked regarding Sergei. It seems that Vadim Azryliant informed the club’s management regarding my brother. However, I didn’t spend much time promoting my brother. If Montreal is really interested in him, then the club’s scouts will collect all the detailed information regarding him without my help. This system works here really well. Everything depends on Sergei. Are you saying that currently there are numerous critical comments made regarding him? I hope it’s an age thing and he will soon return to his earlier level.

- Vitali Yesis

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