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“As soon as Jagr gets his ass out, you won’t be able to get to the puck!” Interview with the most Russian Czech in the KHL

Date: May 23, 2024 Time: 08:42:24

Ostap Safin is one of the most popular hockey players among journalists this summer. A player of Russian origin, who played in the Czech youth team, refused to play for the “Narodny Team”, accepting our sports citizenship. This caused many arguments and misunderstandings: everyone was mainly interested in the issue of dual citizenship.

However, there were many notable things in Safin’s career before the KHL: the aforementioned game in the MFM, his stay in the Edmonton system, where the forward crossed paths with McDavid and Draisaitl, playing for the main Czech oligarch, the Sparta Prague. Safin spoke about the most interesting moments of his hockey life in an exclusive interview with the Championship.

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— Dmitry Yashkin’s father was also a hockey player. How did your parents come to the Czech Republic? — Dad moved to the Czech Republic for work and I was born there three or four months later, somewhere in Prague.

— The name Ostap is rarely found today. Named after someone? — The name is quite rare, exclusive to the Czech Republic, but the Czechs accepted it normally. I don’t know what my parents were thinking when they chose him.

— Did you start playing hockey yourself or did your parents bring you in? — My older brother played hockey and I followed his footsteps, I was the second to follow him.

— When Russia and the Czech Republic played, which team did you support then? — When the main team played, there was a great atmosphere at home, I supported Russia, because all my parents and relatives were Russian. Then I represented the Czech Republic in many international tournaments and in that sense it was a bit of fun.

— Do you remember any Russia-Czech Republic match when you were a child? —It may be impossible to list everything. When I grew up I played a lot against Russian kids, I know a lot of guys from my year’s teams. The most memorable match was the 2018 World Cup, when we won 5-4.

Ostap Safin

Photo: Nicholas T. LoVerde/Getty Images

— Did you have a favorite player or role model in terms of style when you were a child? – I don’t think so. When I was little I didn’t know how tall I was going to be, when I grew up there were already players I admired, they were similar in size to me. I saw Malkin, I liked Ovechkin because he scored goals, I wanted to do the same. Probably these two. Now I wouldn’t like to compare myself to anyone, I’m over it, although I watch the NHL games, I look at the players, but I don’t have any idol.

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“It seems that in Russia no one knew about my double passport”

— Was there the possibility of choosing a Russian youth team? Have you contacted the federation? – No, there wasn’t even an invitation. It seems that no one knew that he had a dual passport, it was not even talked about, so no one asked this question.

— Did you have a special mood for the matches with Russia? — I was even more determined because many in Russia supported me, even though they were playing against Russia, but my family members supported me, my result. I was prepared for Russia in the same way as for any other opponent, but there is Russian blood, so I felt a little different.

—There were many first-round players on that team: Zadina, Chytil, Kaut, how did you feel compared to them? — We had a very good team, the boys played in the NHL, although some returned. It was a good year, everyone came out as loaded as possible, we almost won a medal, but it didn’t work.

— Czechs have not won medals at the MFM for almost 15 years. What are the problems of local hockey at this level? — This is a difficult question, each country trains players differently. Czechs are perhaps a little inferior to Swedes and Finns, because in the Czech Republic young people have fewer opportunities. The Swedes and Finns themselves allow young people aged 16-17 to develop, they understand that this will make them advance. In the Czech Republic there are a couple of young players in each team, but in the countries mentioned above they rely more on the youth players. The clubs and the federation must resolve this issue.

— Is that why young Czechs flock to youth leagues? “They just understand that this will move them forward, they think about their career. Young people in Canada cannot be compared with young people anywhere else, they are the best there, this is not a secret to anyone. They go where there are more prospects, where there are better conditions and better hockey, that’s why everyone goes to Canada.

— In the Canadian leagues, foreigners are placed with families. What was it like in everyday life? — Yes, I was in the QMJHL for two years, I was with families twice. They do everything for you: washing, cleaning, cooking, it was great.

Ostap Safin during a Quebec League match

Photo: Francois Laplante/Getty Images

— Youth teams usually play in small towns, did you recognize them on the street? — I played in bigger cities, but there the fans were so sick that I didn’t want to, hockey in the country is number one. Your team is the main one in the city and they really recognize you on the streets and support you. This is another factor why the Canadian leagues are the best in this regard.

“In the AHL we knew that one side of the city was criminal, there was dirt”

— Did you have to play against McDavid in Oilers training camp? — Of course, when we had the main camp, all the players in the system were there. I trained with everyone, I learned something, it was good to see magicians like that. They played a back-and-forth game with McDavid, and probably seven thousand spectators attended. The atmosphere is crazy, I think everyone came to see Connor and probably a couple came to see me (laughs).

—What is McDavid’s main strength? – It’s all together. He has all the skills of a forward at the highest level, cosmic and extremely high skating. He is very fast, he has cosmic hands, a good shot, he is a unique player.

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-And Draisaitl, who remains in the shadows? “I don’t think he’s in the shadows, he’s one of the best.” This is just a slightly different level, Draisaitl is not inferior in any way, they complement each other, he is a super player.

— One of the main partnerships with the AHL is bus tours. How comfortable was it? —When I played we were in California, all the division games were in California, the longest trip was four hours. There was nothing complicated about it, if we took off it took one or two hours, a normal process.

—The guys who played in the United States said that there were cities in some areas where it was simply forbidden to go… – I lived in such a city. Bakersfield was a place where one side was normal and the other was dangerous, so no one settled there. They warned us, and everyone knew it, that one side was criminal, where there was a lot of dirt and it was dangerous to be on the streets. We didn’t go there because why risk our lives?

—Have you not encountered crime yourself? – No, I didn’t see it myself. I heard that there were robberies and shootings in shopping malls in California, but I did not witness them.

— Vladimir Tkachev said his double salary was not enough to live in California. Was this relevant to you? — It’s not easy in California, but he lived in Los Angeles and the prices are different there, as are the housing prices. He didn’t exactly live on nothing, but he spent a lot: food was expensive, everything was expensive. We have a small town, but it is also quite expensive. He lived normally, he managed somehow.

“As soon as Jagr gets his butt out, you won’t be able to get to the puck.”

—You played in Sparta. For the Czech Republic, is it something similar to the SKA in terms of costs and status? — I would say yes, a media team with history, I grew up there and played there from the beginning. The team is full of stars, many of them former KHL players. The guys are experienced, they are skilled, I talked to them. Vladimir Sobotka himself gave a lot of advice, he has enormous experience, he also played in the NHL, it’s nice to play with people like that.

Ostap Safin

Photo: Eurasia Sports Images/Getty Images

— Jakub Kovar returned to the Czech Republic almost as a hero of Yekaterinburg. Did you remember this experience? — About Russia he constantly said that Yekaterinburg is a great city, only good words. God willing, he will return again.

— In the Czech league there are many older players. Is the level weak? — The level is good, in all leagues there are veterans who skate solely by experience, they know the game more than others, they know the details better than others. A good league, with many Europeans, not the best, but I can’t say it is weak.

—Did you play against Jagr? —There was a match. He surprised me how he controlled his body at 50 years old, he treated him professionally his whole life, he skated fast, he was strong with the puck, it was great to watch. It’s hard to take the puck from him – he’ll stick his butt out and that’s it, you won’t get there, he’s got a long stick too. Furthermore, experience, as I said, cannot be wasted; he can do everything better than others.

—Who is Jagr for the Czech Republic? – This is the god of hockey. It is hockey in the Czech Republic, a legend that everyone knows.

— Dominik Hasek talks almost every week about Russian athletes… “I don’t have any attitude, let me speak, let me say what I think.” This is his right, no one forbids him to speak. What he says is his business.

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— “Lada” was updated a lot in the off-season. How to find “chemistry” in such conditions? “The chemistry grows with each game and also with each training session. This is the process of forming a team, it will soon become clear who will play with whom, throughout the training we focus on generating interaction with other players.

— Is there any mandatory goal for Lada in the first season: immediately enter the playoffs or simply show off? — We will prepare each game as if it were the last and we will try to achieve victories. God willing, we will make the playoffs. Our team is young, hungry, promising, we have everything to prove it and surprise everyone.

– 68 games per season shouldn’t be surprising after the AHL? – Almost the same, games every other day, little training, I have done it many times.

Ostap Safin

Photo: vk.com/hc_lada

— Are you mentally prepared to fly to the Far East? – I’m ready, I don’t think it will be difficult. This is a one-time event, nothing complicated should happen.

— How quickly can you learn Czech if you know Russian and vice versa? — It depends on the person and their language skills. I learned words only on the computer when I played hockey. So the languages ​​are different, there are words that are similar, but they won’t understand me if I speak Czech.

—If we don’t talk about hockey, for many people the association is cooking. Have you tried the famous empanadas? – Of course, I probably grew up inside dumplings. We always ate them on trips, they were part of me. This is a traditional cuisine, they were eaten before and after games, many times. Czech cuisine is delicious, I like it a lot. In general, local hockey players have nothing special in their diet: rice, meat, local soups, goulash – everything is normal.

—Do local players drink a lot of beer? — In the Czech Republic everyone drinks it, but in principle I don’t drink it, so here I have no idea. I think the stories about “restoring water balance” with beer were invented just for the sake of drinking beer (laughs). I only know that beer is delicious for Czechs and in the Czech Republic.

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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