|2008 Super LeagueRussianProspects.com correspondent Alessandro Seren Rosso had a chance to catch up with one of the top Russian prospects eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft - Viktor Tikhonov. The young player was the star of the Russian U20 World Junior Championships squad and also just finished his first full season in the Russian Super League. Additionally, he is the grandson of the legendary Soviet head coach Tikhonov.
Russian Prospects: Hello Viktor. Tell us a little about your self. Where were you born and why did you choose hockey?
Viktor Tikhonov: I was born in Riga Latvia. When I was three years old, my grandfather gave me my first pair of hockey skates. From that moment, all I wanted to do was skate. My mom would take me to an outdoor rink we had near our flat and I would skate for 5-6 hours every day. So ever since then, I've always wanted to be a hockey player. (smiles)
RP: Who got you into hockey and what was your first team?
VT: My Dad and Grandfather got me into hockey. My first team was Santa Clara Blackhawks, in California.
RP: Were you already a forward?
VT: I've been playing forward since day one. I started out as a wing, then moved to center and back to wing again.
RP: Is there any player in your position that you like, both in NHL or in the Superleague?
VT: My favourite players in the NHL are Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton, even though I play wing, watching them play always gets me excited.
RP: How would you describe your game to the readers who know little about you?
VT: I like to play a smart/aggressive type of game. Where I can start and finish plays, while battling for pucks and hitting.
RP: On the ice, what do you like to do best?
VT: I enjoy controlling the puck and of course, scoring (smiles)
RP: Are you for or against fights in hockey?
VT: Fights are part of the sport. There are times in games where fights are inevitable. When emotions grow so high that you can’t control yourself.
RP: What aspects of your game do you think you need to improve?
VT: I would like to become stronger physically and take more shots.
RP: Who is the toughest defender to face that you played against?
VT: All defensemen I played against were all pretty good. Picking one is tough.
First steps in hockey
RP: I read that you started playing organized hockey in North America before getting back home, can you confirm that?
VT: That’s true. I started playing hockey in California before moving to Finland (2 years), Switzerland (1 year) and back to Russia where I'm currently playing.
RP: When you got back to Moscow, was it hard to adjust to Russian lifestyle and different hockey?
VT: Adapting to the hockey wasn't a big problem. Other than remembering the language, everything else was easy.
RP: You are a pupil of CSKA Hockey School. What is your best memory about growing up in Moscow?
VT: When my grandfathers team (CSKA) was playing at home, at the end of every game, the home fans would chant his name for about a minute. That was the coolest thing in the world. I will always remember that.
RP: Who were your linemates at that time?
VT: I played with Michael Aseev and Viktor Bobrov (Calgary Flames). They still are my favorite linemen. We all had 50 points that season.
RP: In the last year you played there, your team finished third in the Moscow Championship. Was it a good result or was it disappointing to not win?
VT: We played great throughout the whole year. We couldn’t pull together in the end.
RP: How do you like the environment in CSKA? How was the coaching staff, the equipment, the accommodations?
VT: CSKA is one of the best hockey schools in Russia right now. The Coaching staff are on the top level. My coach from back then (Sergey Borisov) is now a coach for a Super League team.
RP: You played one year in HC Dmitrov, how was the level of hockey in the Vyschaya Liga (Russia 2)?
VT: The level is perfect for up and coming players. You can compare it to the AHL in North America.
RP: And what can you tell us about that season?
VT: I grew a lot skill wise that season. One of my biggest steps in my career
RP: Then you moved to Severstal. What driven you towards Cherepovets?
VT: The management at Severstal were watching me play the whole year I was at HC Dmitrov.
They promised me lots of ice time. That’s what matters when you're growing up.
RP: Is Cherepovets a nice city to live in?
VT: It's not nearly as big as Moscow or St. Petersburg. The biggest plus is no traffic. Getting anywhere is never a problem. Plus the fans there are great.
RP: What is your usual schedule for the day?
VT: Ice in the morning followed by gym. Sleep as soon as I get home. Then on to the evening practice. I usually chat with my friends on the internet before going to bed.
RP: Last year your team exited from the playoffs because of one single goal. Do you remember that game?
VT: That was an exciting series. We were down 2 games in the best to 5 series. We came back and won the next 2. The last game was really intense. Unfortunately, we didn't win.
RP: This year things aren’t going too well, with your team only in 12th position with only 15 wins in 50 games. What do you think about this result?
VT: It's not the best way the play in the season. We still have many games to play though. Our job is to win the games we have left and hopefully win in the playoffs.
RP: Russianprospects.com has followed the match against Lokomotiv. What do you remember of that game?
VT: Our team didn't convert on scoring chances the whole game. Our power play wasn't as strong as we hoped. Only defencemen scored from our team. It was a game where we could of played much better both offence and defence.
RP: Has your game changed when Severstal replaced head coach Astashev with mister Yurzinov?
VT: I've been getting less ice time after the change. I still need to gain the coach's trust and do my best with the ice time I'm given.
RP: This year you’re playing side-to-side with 2008 eligible Maxim Chudinov. What do you think of him?
VT: I enjoy playing with him. He's calm and loves to hit. He has matured a lot this season, getting better and better after every game.
RP: In Severstal’s system also play other interesting youngsters as Maksim Trunev and Bogdan Kiselevich. What can you say us about them?
VT: Trunev is a fast forward with a great scoring touch. Kiselevich is a smart defenceman with good positioning.
RP: Can you describe us the most beautiful goal you have scored thus far in your career?
VT: It would have to be an end to ender that I scored while I played in CSKA. We were playing 4 on 5, I intercepted the puck in the neutral zone, took it back behind our net and started gaining speed. I skated by the 3 forwards and split the defenseman, coming 1 on 1 with the goalie. I faked a shot, went to backhand and pulled it back to my forehand scoring in the empty side of the net.
RP: Russian Superliga this year looks well balanced. What team do you think have more chances to win the gold?
VT: The playoffs always hold surprises. My favourites are Salavat Yulaev, SKA, Metallurg and my team (smile)
Russian national team
RP: What is your feeling when you’re wearing a Russia jersey?
VT: Being able to play for your country is an awesome feeling. I got goose bumps the first time the Russian anthem was playing while I was wearing the jersey.
RP: Your performances with the Junior national team were amazing. What was the secret? Mister Nemchinov has told you something in particular?
VT: Thank you (smile) - The coach trusted me. I got to play PK, PP and the last seconds of the game. All that ice time gave me the chance to show myself. I’m really thankful to him for giving me that chance
RP: Are you planning to keep playing with our national team in the future?
VT: It's one of my dreams to make Team Russia and play with the best players of Russia.
RP: Mister Nemchinov's work with the junior national team is often contested. What's your opinion on him?
VT: He did a great job in my opinion. Mr. Nemchinov has great understanding of both Russian and North American hockey. He has lots of NHL experience as an NHL player, winning 2 Stanley Cups!!! I was really surprised by how he explained game situations to us players. Very easy to understand and interesting. Not one word could escape your ears.
RP: You have spent the whole WJC on Russia’s top line with Vadim Golubtsov and Dmitri Sayustov. How did the line come together?
VT: We all started off in different lines at the beginning of camp. We came together during our team's second exhibition game. Although we didn’t play well that game, the coach kept us together. In the last exhibition game we played really well, each getting 2 points. So at that moment, we were pretty sure we'd be playing together.
RP: What do you think about the chances of team Russia in the next two big events WC under 18 in Kazan and senior WC in Canada?
VT: I have a lot of faith in Russia. The U-18s have one of the most talented teams I've seen in a while. The seniors are the most skilled team at the WC in my opinion. If they can come together as a team, winning shouldn’t be too hard.
RP: Do you follow the NHL?
VT: I always watch the NHL highlights that are shown in Russia. So I know what team is in what place. Watching those guys play always amazes me.
RP: Your excellent play in the WJC has made some heads to turn in your direction (finally!), and the Central Scouting Bureau ranked you #8 among European skaters. What do you think about your chances in the next Draft?
VT: I want to get drafted. It doesn’t matter to me what round or what team. Getting drafted will bring me closer to my ultimate dream of making the NHL and winning Lord Stanley’s Cup.
RP: Do you expect to play in the NHL in the next season or you want to wait a couple of season to polish more your skills?
VT: I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible. If I’m not ready next year, playing one or two seasons in the Superleague is the plan.
RP: Is hockey for you more work or life?
VT: Definetly both.
RP: What do you like to do in your spare time from hockey?
VT: I LOVE playing golf in the off season. I usually stick to my computer during the season.
RP: Do you follow other sports?
VT: I enjoy watching golf and follow it during the summer.
RP: Do you have a girlfriend?
VT: Yes. She's back home in California.
RP: And finally, what do you expect from your future, not necessarily hockey-related?
VT: I dream of winning the Stanley Cup and having a happy family.
RP: Can you greet our fans at russianprospects.com?
VT: Hi hockey fans. Keep routing for our favourite sport and I hope you enjoy every game you watch!