International Ice Hockey Federation

Nail for Russia

Nail for Russia

Yakupov on Edmonton, McDavid and his fine

Published 12.04.2023 16:34 GMT+3 | Author Pavel Lysenkov
Nail for Russia
Nail Yakupov captained Russia to a bronze medal finish in his last IIHF event, the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship on home ice in Ufa. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
The number-one draft pick of 2012 has been called to the Russian senior national team for the first time. We had a chat with him at the training camp.

Your season turned out to be two-sided. On one hand you played a wonderful game on the line with McDavid and Pouliot. On the other you have never scored fewer points in an NHL season (8 + 15 = 23 in 60 games).
I agree that this is the most unproductive season I've ever had. But note that I have missed more than 20 games due to injury. And before that, Connor McDavid also had injury. Actually, the whole year turned out to be tough.

How was your line with McDavid actually formed?
I played on the third line at the training camp. It was obvious that nobody was counting on me. I did not get to the top-6 forwards. And then... I cannot say fortunately, but at the beginning of the regular season Jordan Eberle got injured. We were still not with McDavid, but after three games we were combined into one line. We played a little, got used to each other and our hockey worked. I got great pleasure! The three of us, we literally enjoyed ourselves. We didn't run like crazy but actually played hockey! It is a game first of all.

McDavid will come to the World Championship in Russia. What can you say about him?
He is a cool guy. Very modest. I expected to see a completely different person. He is quite fired up but he speaks like a modest person. And he’s pretty talented. He does things that you could never learn. It is not clear how he picks up his speed. It looks like he does not use his legs that much but he gets away from the defenders like a breeze. You can only learn to skate like that from early childhood. And it is hard to catch up with him. It is very interesting to see how he trains and plays.

Did you ever have this kind of understanding with someone else earlier in your career? Maybe in the junior leagues with Alex Galchenyuk?
Yes, we did have something like that. Nobody disturbed me and Alex. In the end of the first season in Edmonton I played well with Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall. It depends a lot on the partners. But you also need to look at the ice time. It is easy to find the chemistry with anyone in a trio, although all the players are different. However, I did not have that much of a chance to build a line with someone. The players in the trio constantly changed, the line was disturbed. There is no desire to remember it. And I'm not used to look back. In Edmonton there were some good moments. But unfortunately there were also some bad ones, which I want to forget, to start with a clean slate.

Yakupov-Datsyuk could be a nice pair on the Russian national team. How do you see yourself with such a star centre?
It's a great dream! I have not played against Datsyuk this season, but I did before and he’s a tremendous hockey player. It is fun to watch him play. And when you play against Pavel, you are completely focused. You know what this player can do magical things, which you do not expect from normal players. But I cannot pray enough to play with Datsyuk. We came to perform the same task. I have no right to choose my partners. I will play with anyone. But playing with Pasha would be a huge honour. I remember how I used to watch Datsyuk as a child. He came in the summer for a master class at our school in Nizhnekamsk, he taught us to skate. These were invaluable lessons!

How did it happen that you got a fine for diving during last season?
At us in Edmonton this is not acceptable. Firstly, the players hate it. And the opponents get angry. The coaches warned us in the beginning of the season to avoid such a situation. But sometimes, when you fall, it looks like if you are diving.

Ales Hemsky of Dallas blocked you with his stick.
Honestly, I did even not want to fall. But I could not stay on my feet. I got a two minute penalty. The next morning I wake up after the game and I got a fine.

A happy text message?
They simply deducted $2000 from my salary and that’s it.

And there was no way to prove later that you did not want to fall?
In Russian we have the proverb “prove that you are not a camel”! I just have to be more careful next time.

The farewell ceremony at the old arena of Edmonton turned out to be very emotional. And you scored during that game.
I was pleasantly surprised because we were not told that such a ceremony would be held. We thought we would just play a game and go home. We were not expecting 200 veterans of the Edmonton Oilers. It was a great celebration. Everyone remembered the golden moments that took place in this arena. No fan went away, although it was almost midnight. I felt a wave of sadness. I'm spent four seasons at that arena. A lot of things happened. Everything is now part of my soul. I remember best the last game of Ryan Smith when they bid him farewell at this arena. Everyone cried – a player of his magnitude was leaving the sport. Many thought that he is eternal.

How will the new arena be?
On the outside, everything is almost ready. An arena tour was arranged for us. This will be the best arena in the world! 22nd century level – something unreal.

Have you managed to speak to Wayne Gretzky?
We did not speak that much. We just exchanged a few words, greeted each other. Actually, I rarely saw Wayne, he only visited us a couple of times in the dressing room. But they love Gretzky in Edmonton. They still walk around in his jersey.

That moment when the referee fell on you was probably the strangest injury in hockey history.
He took his time to drop the puck and when he did, the uproar start. The referee lost balance, grabbed my face and pulled me down. And he weighs like hundred kilos. He fell heavily on my leg. Eventually I got away with a knee injury and missed two months. But it could have been worse.

Did he apologize?
Yes, he was really worried. He took his wife and children to the game. The whole family apologized. Of course, I do not hold grudges. Anything can happen in life.


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