November 18, 2013
Forward Ildar Shiksatdarov is trying to make the most out of his trip to Canada with Team Russia for the Subway Super Series.
“I’ve been here before. A few years ago I had a camp in Ottawa. I work as a guide for our team. Part-time. Trying to make an extra buck,” said the 19-year-old with a laugh.
The 11th annual Super Series kicks off Monday night in Gatineau, Quebec and it’s going to be the first time in a while that Shiksatdarov and many of his teammates are going to hit North American sized ice.
“I was probably 12 when I last played in North America,” said Shiksatdarov. “CSKA played in Chicago and I was on the team. We finished in second place there.”
Being a product of CSKA has its benefits. In the past few years Team Russia called up a number of CSKA players or CSKA hockey school alumni for the Subway Super Series – Nikita Gusev, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Naumenkov just to name a few.
The latter was tied for first in scoring on Team Russia last year and he had an advice for Shiksatdarov before the tourney commenced.
“He told me that the game is going to be faster and with more physical contact. He told me to always keep my head up. Otherwise, I’m going to be lit up by someone,” said Shiksatdarov, who is 5-foot-10 and185-pounds.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Moscow native as he scored 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points in 58 regular season games for CSKA’s junior team in the MHL – the Russian major junior hockey league. He also played four games on CSKA’s farm club and thus was introduced to the pro game. Shiksatdarov believes the Super Series is going to be a great experience for him.
“It’s a huge step forward for me,” Shiksatdarov said. “This tourney is certainly going to help my development and it’s going to help me in my future career. It’s also a great opportunity to show everyone what you’re capable of. Hopefully, my performance in Canada is going to help me to make the world junior team and play in the KHL.”
Russia didn’t bring their big guns to Canada this year because most of them are busy with their KHL teams. Is that something the team concerned about?
“We’re not worried about that. We have a group of guys who’ve played several tournaments on this team. We know what the coach wants to see and we know how to make it work. So there’s a core of the team and there are some new guys who look up to us. We’ve built up good chemistry,” said Shiksatdarov.
“We understand we’re expected to win because last year’s team won the series. We can handle the pressure, though. We feel pretty confident.”
Russia’s big obstacle every year is travelling through multiple time zones in a short period of time. Is it going to affect the team this year as well?
“First day was a bit tough. We barely managed to stay awake till 9 p.m. and then fell asleep. Next day we woke up at around 6am. Sunday was much better. We went to bed at 10 p.m. and woke up at 7 a.m. We’re almost done with the acclimatization,” said Shiksatdarov.
“There’s nothing to be afraid about. In the MHL we play four games in five days sometimes. We’ll get through it, don’t worry.”
When asked if he was a reporter, who would he say Team Russia’s key players are, Shiksatdarov had a list prepared.
“I’d say our key players are Alex Barabanov, Eduard Gimatov, Georgy Busarov, Nikolai Skladnichenko and Alexei Bereglazov. These guys have been with the team since April,” he said confidently.
So what is Russia’s head-coach Mikhail Varnakov like?
“He’s a strategist, a real strategist,” he said. “That’s really important to him. He has his strategy and he builds his team around it so they could bring his model of play to life. That’s how he wins games. There were games where our opponents couldn’t do anything against us because they couldn’t cope with the strategy we applied.”
However, Shiksatdarov admits he’s not very familiar with the players he’ll be facing – except maybe for one.
“I only heard of this 16-year-old kid - Connor McDavid. I heard he’s a real beast. Other than that, I don’t really know anybody,” said Shiksatdarov with a shrug.
It’s not much but it’s probably more than any Canadian player knows about Team Russia in the Super Series. If the whole guide thing in Ottawa isn’t going to pan out, Shiksatdarov certainly has another career path to follow.