Washington Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov recently conducted an interview with a member of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk press club about his experience at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. The following interview has been translated from its original source.
What kind of emotions did you feel after the final game against the Finns?
Despite the loss, I had positive emotions. The tournament is over. I really missed my team and my home city. Immediately after the tournament, I flew to Moscow and then to Novokuznetsk to join Metallurg on its long road trip in the Far East and Siberia. I was joined by Kirill Kaprizov, my teammate on team Russia, who happens to play for Novokuznetsk Metallurg. We were warmly welcomed at the airport. When the road trip was over, I finally got back to Magnitogorsk to reunite with my family and friends, who I had not seen for six weeks.
Did your parents and friends watch TV broadcasts from Helsinki? Did you stay in touch with them?
Absolutely! Despite the time difference, many people watched the late night games. I was receiving tons of text messages on my phone. Sometimes, I didn’t even have enough time to read all the messages and respond to them. The fans wished us luck and they were sincerely rooting for us. That was nice! I want to say ‘thank you very much’ to all of them.
Did you stay in touch with Sergei Zvyagin, the Metallurg goaltending coach?
Honestly, I talked to him even more than to my parents and my girlfriend (smiling). I am grateful to him for his moral support and professional attitude. He really helped me with his mentoring, advice, tips and input. He was the only person who knew status of my minor injuries. He certainly helped me a great deal with his head-ups on how to control my emotions and tune-up for the games, especially given the fact that I was a backup goalie for several games. He would always find the right words for me to help me get rid of bad emotions. On several occasions, we conducted a thorough post-game analysis of some aspects of my game, mistakes and omissions.
Did you get any support from your Metallurg teammates?
Almost all the guys were sending me text messages. Vasily Koshechkin texted me kind words after each game. It was nice. I got a lot of messages on my phone. Many thanks to all those who rooted for us and who believed in us until the very last moments of the finale. That powerful moral support from the fans was one of the important factors of our success, that we have reached the finals.
Speaking about a semifinal game against the Americans, a TV broadcast left an impression that you were cool as a cucumber playing against such a strong opponent. It looked like your confidence and calm transferred to the entire team. Despite the minimal score of 2:1, Team Russia played quite confident against the United States. How did you manage to overcome your nervousness before the important game?
Team USA was arguably one of the strongest teams in the tournament. They had potential to win it all. The day before the game against the Americans, our emotions were going wild. During a pre-game morning skate, one could virtually sense the tension in the players. Though we tried not to read the Internet and media reports, the excitement made it very difficult for us to get ready for the game. It was only when we were on our way on the bus that I managed to calm down a bit, thinking that it was just a game, and that I should not get overwhelmed with emotions. So, when the game started, my excitement had already gone. I was just doing my job, making one play at a time. Guys helped me a lot to maintain my composure. They were blocking shot after shot. I simply could not let my teammates down. I had to play without mistakes.
Did you get tired more physically than mentally, or vice versa, after this tough and important game?
Somehow, I didn’t get tired physically. We are conditioned and ready to play through the entire season. Emotionally, I was also not particularly exhausted. Still, I had to take some sleeping pills to have a good night sleep before the final game. In general, all the guys were ready for the fight, both physically and emotionally, in the championship game.
It looks like you were ready to play in the finals, had the coaches made a decision to put you in the net?
Yes, I was. But it was up to the coaching staff to make the final decision. It makes no sense to discuss it now. I supported the coaches’ decision, because Alexander Georgiev had played the most games. I was totally rooting for him.
Who was in charge of goalies in Team Russia?
Many thanks to Vladimir Kulikov for the enormous amount of work he had done at the training camp and during the tournament.
In the last year’s tournament, you became a hero of the game against Team USA. Did it help you this time?
Indeed, last years’ experience helped me a lot. I had no overwhelming anxiety at all. I kind of knew their style and was ready to take shots from any position. Playing against the Americans, one should always be on the alert.
How would you remember the World Cup in Finland? What was the situation like outside of hockey?
The tournament was organized at a very high level. Transportation and living conditions met the highest requirements. Team Russia even had a stylish bus called the “Red Machine”. We stayed at a comfortable hotel with excellent rooms and fine food. I’ll always remember the crazy fans, especially locals rooting for Team Finland.
Team Russia played against the Finns twice, in the group stage and then – in the finals. Can I venture to say that you exhausted the credit of luck in the first game, when you trailed, but managed to pull the game out at the end?
I wouldn’t say so. In the group game, we were confident we would win. We played with high-speed, easily overrunning the Finns and creating numerous scoring chances. In the championship game, we failed to control emotions, committing too many silly mistakes in situations where simple plays should be made.
What was the atmosphere like in the locker room after the final game?
Oh boy, I don’t want to even talk about it. It was the most terrible moment of the tournament for us. The boys looked totally exhausted, having given so much energy and emotions. Some guys were not hiding their tears. This is understandable – after all, we were only one step away from gold medals. On the other hand, for me, the shocking loss was a huge learning moment. This experience will come in handy in the future. I liked the fact that, even after the defeat, we continued to be the team. No one tried to blame anyone for mistakes.
The next World Cup will take place in Canada. You are likely to take part in it. Do you look forward to playing for the national team again? Would it be more challenging to play there?
Of course, any hockey player wants to play in tournaments and championships for his country. But it’s too early to make any plans. I am sure we’ll be going there with one goal in mind that is to take gold medals and the title of world champions away from the Finns. And we’ll make sure to give a tough fight to both the Canadians and the Americans!
Translation by Andrei Poleshchuk