With the pandemic delaying the start of the AHL season, the Capitals loaned defensive prospect Alexander Alexeyev to Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He recently shared his impressions about playing in the league and how ready his team is for the upcoming Gagarin Cup playoffs, which begin on March 2.
Alexeyev was initially surprised by the offer to play for Salavat Yulaev Ufa as well as the level of play in the KHL.
“I was very surprised. I only had talked to Salavat Yulaev once, when they bought my rights from Novokuznetsk [in 2017]. We weighed all the pros and cons with my agent and made a decision. Now there is absolutely nothing to regret, everything turned out great,” said Alexeyev in an interview for the KHL website.
“The coaches first looked closely at me. Sometimes they played me less and other times played me more. I didn’t come out in all situations. When I got used to things, they began to trust me more. What caught my eye? More skillful hockey. Players can take responsibility … In fact, I was surprised by the level of some of the guys in the programs, how they make passes – just super!…”
Alexeyev said that his Head Coach, Tomi Lamsa had referred to his style of play as “a modern hybrid style.”
“They [coaching staff] give me freedom of action. Yes, they tell me when it is necessary to play more strictly on defense and when it is easier to play in the attacking zone – not to invent. I myself already understand that if there is some kind of intensity, then you need to play in a simple way.”
Alexeyev said his coach did not always pair a stay at home defenseman with a puck moving, offensive defenseman,
”There are, of course, isolated cases, but I believe that it is still a feeling, about the chemistry between you and your partner. If you saw that your partner has joined the attack, then you need to insure there’s defense.”
Alexeyev talked about his most memorable opponents, along with cities and arenas that he liked, He also mentioned playing in his hometown of Saint Petersburg, Russia.
“Of course, it was very pleasant to play against SKA in Saint Petersburg. The last time I was there was when I was 13-14 years old, and now I played in the arena myself. It so happened that my birthday was also the day before the match. My sister gave me a cake with the Salavat Yulaev logo, and my relatives and friends came to the game. It turned out to be an emotional match.”
One particularly memorable game was the so called “green derby” match against Ak Bars, called that because both teams’ dominant jersey color is green.
“It was a great game then. The fans drove us forward, I think that Ufa fans are one of the best fanbases in the KHL! And there was passion on the ice at all time. We scored a lot of goals and won with a big score, 7-3…”
During that game, Nikita Dynyak of Ak Bars gave Alexeyev a nasty high stick during the second period that resulted in blood and a double minor penalty assessed to Dynyak. Salavat Yulaev Ufa scored on the resulting power play and Alexeyev held up four fingers, indicating the score differential.
Следующее «Зелёное дерби» будет очень интересным.. pic.twitter.com/zaWYQuIAfi
— ХК Ак Барс (@hcakbars) January 10, 2021
“As for our skirmish with Dynyak, it all started in the second period. Nikita then suggested dropping the gloves but I declined. Most importantly, he knows why I showed him four [fingers] from the bench.”
Alexeyev talked about the Salavat Yulaev’s season and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In principle, the season is cool. Yes, there were problems with the coronavirus, but that affected almost all teams. This is life, this is hockey, you need to be able to somehow get out of such situations,” said Alexeyev.
“The most important thing is to stay positive. The coaches tried to cheer us up, came up with some kind of games during practice so that all the players could feel positive. There is no other way to go through such moments, you need to overcome it and move on. Difficult moments temper the team, now we have a close-knit team that is already ready for the playoffs.”
Alexeyev believes Head Coach Lamsa is a great coach, and approves of his coaching style.
“I think Tomi is a great coach. He is calm but demanding. He doesn’t shout at us especially, but if we do something wrong, he can, on the contrary, show his teeth, start a command. Tomi knows how to read guys, a good psychologist. Knows when you can shout somewhere, but somewhere on the contrary, keep silent. In my opinion, Lämsä promotes typical Finnish hockey, moves through the system and tactics.”
The KHL regular season will come to a close at the end of February. Alexeyev believes his team is ready for the playoffs.
“I believe that our team is already 90% ready for the playoffs. There are still some shortcomings that need to be eliminated. For example, we need to play more disciplined and not be short-handed as often. You need to devote time to tactics, add in interactions, in the game of special teams, which will play an important role in the playoffs.”
The original interview on KHL Russian site can be found here.
By Diane Doyle