This is a translated version of an interview Sergie Shirokov originally gave to Vyacheslav Sambur in early June. Sergei Shirokov spent two seasons in the Canucks organization, and while he was an AHL All-Star, he never cracked the club’s NHL roster full-time.
While he didn’t make much of an mpact at the NHL level, he’s an interesting guy and a good quote. Here he talks about playing in the AHL, why it’s tough for AHL scorers to crack the big leagues, the influence of Mike Keane, and his experiences during the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot.
Vyacheslav Sambur: You came back to Russia and were called up to play for Team Russia, despite the fact you spent last two seasons in the AHL. What did you learn there?
Sergei Shirokov: I learned a lot as a person. I learned another language, I met new people, got a glimpse into their mentality… It’s a completely different atmosphere, and I was getting familiarized with it. It was tough during the first few months – and then my girlfriend came over. The one I just married. She helped me a lot.
As for the hockey, in all honesty, it’s a very good level. The game is fast-paced and physical. Most of the guys are young. They try to go to the NHL while AHL is just a temporary stage for them. Having spent two years in Canada I’ve gained more than I lost.
I talked to Alex Burmistrov about the Jets, turns out a lot of folks I knew from the Manitoba Moose are still there. They’re all real pros and they helped me quite a bit. We had a good team – we had a Swedish goalie, a lot of European skaters, even a Danish one! The rink was also fantastic. It had a capacity of 15,000, and we averaged about 10 thousand at our games.
VS: Are there any terrible rinks around that league (the AHL)?
Shirokov: Well, no, there are no ‘terrible’ rinks there. There are small rinks and there are old rinks, but every team tries to make it feel inside as if they’re not. Seriously, the AHL is a good league. There are no rats running around the locker-rooms.
VS: Physically, did you get bigger during your time in Canada?
Shirokov: I did. I had to get used to aggressive hockey. I worked out a lot and now I’m always ready for a physical game. Over there nobody is going to skate by you – they’re all going to bump into you. And not only Canadians do that, but Russians and other Europeans too. If you try to just skate by an opponent a few times, your coaches aren’t going to dress you for the next game.
VS: They call the AHL a ‘Bus League’. Did you have to bus a lot?
Shirokov: I was lucky. Because of Winnipeg’s location, we flew almost everywhere. It’s just easier to fly rather than to bus.
With the Moose, we had our own charter. Sure, it was smaller than the one the Canucks had, but it was still pretty good. We’d often fly to Toronto and then bus from there wherever we needed to go. So we’d bus just for like an hour and a half or two hours.
VS: How crazy are Winnipeg fans?
Shirokov: If you want to talk about crazy fans, you want to talk about Vancouver fans, not Winnipeg fans!
I was with the team when they made it to the finals last season and lost. The fans started ripping the city apart. They were breaking stuff on squares and streets. We sat for a little while in the locker-room after the loss and they went back to our hotel on foot. And that’s when we smelled the tear gas…
We took off like jack rabbits so we wouldn’t inhale too much of it. Next morning I read that this is what the police used against the fans.
VS: Do you have any cheerful stories?
Shirokov: My first game ever for the Canucks on home ice felt incredible. During the national anthem the guy stopped singing but everybody in the building continued to. I got goosebumps all over. There were 18,000 people were singing… That was unbelievable.
I think they’ve sold out about 300 games in row in Vancouver. These guys really know their hockey. They appreciate not only the scorers, but guys who block shots and delivers hits. It is very pleasant to play in Canada.
VS: Ilya Bryzgalov once said he’d never move to Winnipeg because of its horrible weather.
Shirokov: (laughs) Well, yeah! I mean, he lived in Phoenix for a while.
The winter before I came to Winnipeg it was -50 there. Of course, it’s an anomaly. It’s supposed to be -30. It’s an okay climate, just like in Russia. I’m told summers are super hot out there, but I’ve never been there in summer.
VS: Continue this sentence: playing on a team with Mike Keane is…
Shirokov: Very cool! It’s an honor for any hockey player. He’s a 3-time Stanley Cup champion, he’s achieved a lot! He was 40 but he’d still block shots in AHL games. Guys like this should only be treated with respect. He helped me a lot.
VS: Do you remember how you met him?
Shirokov: I was at the airport in Winnipeg, the GM picked me up, drove me to hotel and said: ‘Keane is going to pick you up tomorrow.’ I heard about him but didn’t exactly know who he was. Mike came the next morning, brought me a cup of coffee, told me about the team. He’s an incredibly positive man and he lives hockey. We hung out quite a bit at his place. He’s got a cabinet, which is like a mini-museum where he displays his trophies. There’s a lot of stuff to see.
VS: Was he strict with young players?
Shirokov: It happened. He never covered his emotions but he was never rude about it either. He would look you in the eye and say like: ‘Hey kid! Pull yourself together, we’re a team and you’re not doing so well tonight.’
VS: You’ve put up some decent numbers in the AHL. There are players who get 100 points down there and still can’t make it to the NHL. Why?
Shirokov: Every team assigns its players to different roles. If you score 100 points in the AHL that’s great, but you probably can’t kill penalties or play on the 4th line in the NHL where you’re playing like 5-7 minutes a game.
You have to put a guy like this on your first two lines and you need him to score. If someone’s place in the NHL becomes available, you get a chance. However, even then it usually goes like this: somebody from a second line gets hurt – they replace him with a third-liner, and they replace him with a guy from the AHL. It’s like a chain.
VS: What can you buy with a good AHL player’s salary?
Shirokov: I wasn’t making a lot of money but I can’t complain. I rented an apartment and a car. It depends on how you spend the money. If you waste your money on nothing, no salary is ever going to cover it. I think young AHL players are pretty satisfied with how much they make.
VS: Are you going to try your luck in the NHL a second time?
Shirokov: We’ll see. Florida owns my rights and I’m willing to see what they’ve got to offer!