A Conversation with Sergei Shirokov

Editors Note: Andrey Osadchenko is a Thompson Rivers journalism graduate now living in Toronto. He’s an accredited member of the foreign press and writes for sports.ru and allhockey.ru. He spoke with Sergei Shirokov about a number of topics including: being a black ace during a cup run, biting in hockey, Tim Thomas, the YVR riots, life in Winnipeg, getting traded to Florida and leaving North America for the KHL. Here’s what Shirokov had to say.

Exclusive Q&A with Sergei Shirokov Via Andrey Osadchenko (translated from the original Russian).

Andrey Osadchenko: Though you didn’t dress for the Canucks in the playoffs this year, you were still with the team at the time. Would it be fair to say that it was the biggest event in your career so far?

Sergei Shirokov: In terms of gaining valuable experience, probably, yes, it was. I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup Finals. That was a big achievement for me experience-wise. Never in my life have I been a part of something as big as that. Although, I didn’t play a single game, I hung out with the team, experienced the atmosphere and saw everything that was going on at that time.

AO: While you were a healthy scratch over and over again, many of your friends were already on vacation getting tanned. Did you ever think, maybe it would have been better if you hadn’t been called up for the playoffs?

SS: Of course not. I understood that it was the Stanley Cup Finals. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being with the team at this time was an invaluable experience for me. As for vacation, I knew that eventually the finals would be over and I would get some time to get rested and prepare for next season.

AO: After Mason Raymond got injured in Game 6, Alain Vigneault had 2 options for whom to replace him with – either you or Jeff Tambellini. In the end, the latter got the nod. Why do you think that happened?

SS: Most likely because Jeff had already played a few games in the playoffs, plus he was with the Canucks for most of the regular season. I think the coach didn’t want to try his chances and figured he’d be better off with a guy who already spent some quality time with the team. He didn’t want to change anything and put new guys in the line-up.

AO: Nevertheless Tambellini couldn’t find a job in the NHL this summer, and opted for Switzerland. Kind of makes you wonder if your former coach made the right call…

SS: It was his choice. We shouldn’t judge his decisions. He chose Tambellini, which means that he thought Jeff deserved to play. That’s the only reason he put him on the line-up.

AO: North-American media tended to paint the Bruins as ‘the good guys’, while the Canucks were ‘the bad guys’. Did you get offended by that?

SS: To be honest with you, I never read anything like that. Besides, I don’t really think the guys paid much attention to it. Everybody was focused on hockey, on the upcoming games. I think it was more important for the fans than for the players.

AO: In any case, what do you think about the media’s take?

SS: It’s not easy for to answer this. To me it’s just the way the journalists see it. It’s their opinion. I don’t share it. In my opinion, we saw 2 very equal teams and it’s wrong to label them either bad or good.

AO: Have you ever seen anybody biting on the ice the way Alex Burrows did?

SS: (laughter) No, I saw for the first time myself. I thought it was pretty weird. Everybody joked about it and chirped him afterwards. But it’s hockey. It gets emotional. It’s just another part of the game.

AO: What do you think about the way Tim Thomas plays? Do you think he’s a little bit over-aggressive in the crease?

SS: That’s the way he plays. And this style earned him the Stanley Cup. If it works for him, he didn’t do anything wrong. He shouldn’t be criticized for it. I believe, the Bruins won the cup mainly because of the way Thomas performed.

AO: The Canucks fans got mad every time when Thomas produced his signature smile. Did it piss the players off as well?

SS: I think so. I mean, I didn’t actually talk to the guys about it but I think I’d be pretty pissed about it. Thomas was the wall the whole team couldn’t climb over. Especially the forwards. They managed to combine only for 8 goals in 7 games. And then there was the smile. I’m 100% sure that it bothered and angered the guys.

AO: Do you think that the key factor in the series was the fact the Bruins had bigger bodies on their team?

SS: I think, it was the psychological factor. The Canucks calmed down after having clinched a 2-0 lead in the series. The Bruins, on the other hand, used it as a chance to come together as a team. Besides, Horton’s injury helped them in this sense. They regrouped as a team and it turned the series around.

AO: Would you say Aaron Rome deserved a 4-games suspension for the hit on Horton?

SS: I don’t believe it was a really dirty hit. Rome was just a little bit late with it. As for the suspension, I think the disciplinary committee has reviewed the episode thoroughly. Horton was out of the series. So they probably figured it would be better to do same with Rome. Thus, 2 teams lost a player each. Fair enough.

AO: It became quite popular to blame the Sedins for being helpless. What’s your take on that?

SS: I don’t think they should be blamed for anything. During the entire season they proved over and over again that they are elite forwards in the NHL. You’ve got to realize how good the Bruins played against the Sedins. They were constantly interfered with and forced to play differently compared to the regular season.

AO: What was going on in the Canucks’ dressing room after the loss in Game 7?

SS: Well, how should I put it… Nothing. For about 20-25 minutes there was nothing but complete silence in there. I didn’t hear a word before I left.

AO: Vancouverites are going to be frowned upon for a long time because of the riot that took place right after the game. Did you expect anything like that to happen?

SS: I can see where the fans were coming from. They cheered for their team, they were really emotional about the whole thing. You can say they made it to that point side-by-side with the team. Many of them have already experienced a loss in the finals. So, yeah, it didn’t come to me as a big surprise. You could tell the riot may very well unfold were the Canucks to lose. Besides, a few large TVs were installed around the city, where people could gather to watch the game. Therefore, I expected it.

AO: Yeah, but we’re talking about Canadians. Aren’t they supposed to be nice and agreeable people?

SS: Police stated afterwards that they just gave the fans some time to let the steam off. The riot ended about 2 hours after the game. They had their riot, burned a few cars, but that’s about it.

AO: Mike Gillis said that he doesn’t count participants of the riot for the Canucks’ fans. Do you agree with him?

SS: Oh, wow. That’s a little harsh. I mean, the ones who started the riot clearly rooted for the Vancouver team – they rooted for the Canucks. So I see them as Canucks fans. I’ve got to disagree with Gillis on this one.

AO: Right before the 1st of July the Canucks qualified you. Were you offered a new contract?

SS: Yes. They made me a qualifying offer – a two-way contract. But I didn’t want to sign it. So they traded my negotiation rights to the Panthers.

AO: This summer the Canucks parted ways with Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass. Plus, Mason Raymond is likely to miss the first part of the season. Don’t you think you would have got another shot to play in the NHL?

SS: I don’t even think about it since I’ve already signed with CSKA. The only thing I’ve got on my mind right now is the next season. I don’t think about the Canucks anymore. I play for CSKA now.

AO: Had the Canucks won the cup, would you have re-signed with them?

SS: I don’t know. I mean, probably, team management would have taken a different look on certain things. To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t thought about it. I already made my choice having signed with CSKA.

AO: How much time did it take you to come up with this decision?

SS: Not too long, really. It only took me 3 days to discuss terms of the contract and sign it.

AO: You inked a 3-year deal with CSKA. Is there an out-clause in your contract that will allow you to play in the NHL if there’s going to be a proper offer?

SS: No, there isn’t.

AO: Which means the Panthers made a mistake acquiring the rights for you?

SS: I signed a 3-year deal. We’ll see what happens next. But for the next 3 years I see myself as a CSKA player. I want to achieve something with this club.

AO: You’re going to be 28 by the time your current contract expires. Does it mean you will never come back to the NHL?

SS: As I already said, we’ll see. I didn’t burn any bridges.

AO: For the most part you played for the Manitoba Moose. Does it really gets as cold in Winnipeg as they say?

SS: No. It’s usual. I’m Russian so I wasn’t surprised. We’ve got some cold winters in Russia too. Canadian climate is pretty similar to Russian. It’s exaggerated.

AO: Winnipeg isn’t considered as a booming city. Did you get bored a lot out there?

SS: Not really. It’s an industrial city. To be more specific, there are a lot of different fabrics around the city. But I never got bored there. Of course, if you compare Winnipeg to Vancouver, Vancouver is better in so many ways. It’s classy. At the same time, I can’t say anything bad about Winnipeg.

AO: The Moose had the biggest crowd in the AHL. Were they the best fans you’ve ever seen?

SS: First of all, I want to thank all those fans that supported us throughout the season and were there for us every game. It’s not a secret that Canada is a hockey country. They love their hockey out there. So there is no surprise here. Although, I have to say, for me the best fans are Canucks fans. I played a few games for the team and I have to say I was pleasantly shocked by the way over 18 thousand fans cheered for us.

AO: It’s a whole different story with CSKA. In the past few years there’s practically no one in the stands. Do you think it’s going to change in the near future?

SS: I sure hope so. We’re going to try to please the fans with the way we play. If we’re going to play good entertaining hockey, the fans will be there. Also, if you don’t mind, I’d like to invite the fans to our games. I promise you, we’ll do everything we can to make you happy. We’re going to play every game as if it’s the last one.

Author: Беседовал Андрей ОСАДЧЕНКО