International Ice Hockey Federation

Russian cowboy

Russian cowboy

Fazleyev learns about hockey and life

Published 01.01.2016 12:27 GMT+2 | Author Risto Pakarinen
Russian cowboy
HELSINKI, FINLAND - DECEMBER 26: Russia's Radel Fazleyev #19 skates with the puck during preliminary round action against the Czech Republic at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
It wasn’t a move to another planet, but for Russian forward Radel Fazleyev it might as well have been.

Almost everything was different from home when he moved from his hometown, Kazan, to Calgary, to play for the Hitmen in the WHL. 

“It was hard and fun at the same time. I had to learn a new language, and a new country, a new city, new teammates, everything, even the hockey system. I was far from my family and friends, but got a new billet family, and new friends,” he says now. 

“I knew almost no English, just a few words from school. And it’s not enough to add words to your vocabulary, because sentences are constructed in a different way in English and Russian. What I did was just hang out with my billet family and my teammates, and that’s how I learned it,” he says. 

He’s currently in his third season with the Hitmen, and it’s turning out to be the best one for the forward that the Philadelphia Flyers drafted in the sixth round in 2014. The Flyers drafted him after his first season in the WHL, a season that was everything but easy for the then 17-year-old Fazleyev.

Not even the universal language of hockey was working. 

“The first 10-15 games were tough, I tried to work hard and I did my best but I didn’t play well,” he says. 

Finally he went to the coach and asked him to help him and to explain the system to him. 

“He said, ‘OK, come to my office tomorrow and we’ll talk about it.’ I did and he showed me video clips and tried to explain what I had to do and where I had to do it,” Fazleyev says. 

“In Canada, everybody has to play physical hockey and always keep his head up, you have to be smart. In Europe, the ice is bigger and you have more time to make decisions. Over there it’s almost one-touch hockey,” he says. 

The chat with the coach helped and gave the youngster more confidence. Today, three years later, his English is flawless as is his play on the ice. 

“Now, in my third season, I’m one of the leaders on the team and I’m excited about this season. I hope we can win the championship,” he says. 

Fazleyev is not the only player on this Russian team who’s gone through similar adjustment periods in North America. In fact, eight players on the team play in Canadian junior leagues - five defencemen - and one, Vladislav Kamenev in the AHL. 

“I think we all dream of playing in the NHL and it’s good to learn the language and the customs before getting there. It may not be the easiest way to the NHL, but I think the CHL is the shortest way to the NHL. We like the country, we like the CHL, and I think we all are glad to have gone there,” he says. 

Even with all the difficulties. Or maybe because of them. 

The Washington Capitals forward Yevgeni Kuznetsov published recently a highly shared article on Russian hockey on Players Tribune. In the piece titled “How We Play Hockey In Russia”, Kuznetsov wrote, for example, that “In my team in KHL, if you dump the puck, coach might put you on bench and you never go out and play hockey again. It’s true.”

A move that is an instinct for a Canadian player is a big no-no for a Russian player. No wonder Fazleyev had to pay a visit to the coach’s office. Even if his English had been good enough for him to understand what the coach was saying, he probably wouldn’t have believed his ears anyway. 

“I don’t think you get benched for dumping the puck in Russia, but in Canada you simply cannot lose the puck on the blueline. If you do that, you do get benched,” he says with a laugh. 

“So it’s better to dump it in than to create a turnover there.”

Now he’s well on his way towards the NHL. At the World Juniors, he scored Russia’s sixth goal in their 6-4 win against Finland, putting the game away just when Finland thought they’d have chance to come back. He's one of coach Valeri Bragin's go-to guys on the penalty kill on a team that has the tournament's best penalty kills at 93.33%. 

And he's only focused - very focused - on team success. He's so focused on the task at hand that after the last game against Slovakia, he didn't even know who Russia would meet in the quarter-final. He didn't have any idea of the standings in the other group when he was recapping his team's journey in the tournament to 

“This was just the first step, our next step will be… quarter-final, right? I don’t know who we’ll play yet but… oh, Denmark?" he said. 

"It’s a pretty good team, we played them before the tournament and I think we beat them…” he says and quickly checks a fact with a Russian journalist in Russian before going on, "… 4-0."

When asked about his focus, he said he doesn't think about the games beforehand, and that he doesn't go over the games afterwards.

“I don’t think about the game beforehand, I just hang out. We live pretty far away here so my teammates and I watch TV and have fun. I don't think about the game, not even our own play when we’re finished. If I thought about the scores all the time, I’d go crazy,” he says with a smile. 

That kind of focus speaks volumes about his confidence level. Maybe it's only possible with a high confidence level, and Fazleyev does have faith in himself and his teammates. 

“If you don’t believe you can win any team you’ll never win the gold medal.”


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