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 Alex Burmistrov about his rookie season in Atlanta, the world junior championships and moving to Winnipeg.
– Last season was the first one for you in the NHL. Lots of your peers can only dream about that. What grade would you give yourself for it?
I think, C-. And the only reason it would be so high, is because I made it to the NHL roster.
– One can’t help but notice that you gained most of your points early in the season. Why weren’t you that productive later on?
In a game against the Bruins I suffered a micro-injury. After that, I believe, I tried to be more careful and cautious out there. I should have given it a rest and sit it out a few games but I rushed myself into playing right away. I decided to play every single game there was left. I think, that was the reason my productiveness went downhill.
– Did the coaching staff rush you back on the ice?
Sure they did. It was my rookie season, so I couldn’t refuse.
– You picked up 20 points as a 19-year old. Nonetheless, your +/- was ‘-12’. Usually young players like yourself get scolded for that.
I didn’t even talk to my coaches about it. Pretty much everybody who was on the team had a minus. It was hard not to.
– Are you satisfied with your performance on the face-offs? Overall you won about 40% of them.
At the end of the season, I guess, I was pretty glad with my performance on the face-offs. I was way more confident in this sense than I was before. At the beginning of the regular season I didn’t do so well. I guess, I got used to that. I learned how my opponents performed on the face-offs. I watched them play and tried to improve my game at practices. My teammates helped me as well. One of them, for instance, was Rich Peverley, who won the Stanley Cup as a Bruin this season. I learned a lot from him.
– What aspects of your game did you improve this season?
A little bit of everything. Comparing to the previous season, I became faster and learned to make my decisions faster too. In the NHL you’ve got to think fast.
– Did you former head-coach, Craig Ramsey, ever get so upset with you that he raised his voice?
Of course. It happened quite a few times. And I wasn’t the only one. He would yell at anybody – it didn’t matter if you’re a star-player or anybody else. To be honest with you, I think of criticism as a word of advice. I don’t get offended by it. Even if coach tells me something I don’t necessarily agree with, I still listen to him very closely.
– I think, if asked "what was Burmistrov’s highlight of the season?", the majority of fans would name your goal against the Caps where you managed to skate by their entire defense like it was nothing. What would your answer be?
I don’t know. I think, there were a lot of memorable moments. For example, my fight with John Tavares. I can’t pick just one highlight. In any case, I try to forget about it and get ready for the next season.
– It was quite shocking to see you in a fight with Tavares.
It was the heat of the moment. He wanted to fight me. When I turned around he’d already dropped the gloves. I looked at him and thought to myself: “Well, alright. He doesn’t look too scary, I can fight him’. It was my first fight in North America. Last time I fought was back when I played junior hockey in Russia.
– How did your teammates react to that? For instance, what did Dustin Byfuglien tell you? After all, he’s pretty good at fighting himself.
Well, Byfuglien didn’t really fight on our team. He fought when he used to play for the Blackhawks. In the Thrashers it was mainly Nick Boulton’s job. But everybody was positive about me getting into a fight. They had a little laugh and told me: ‘Well done! Great fight!’.
– A few weeks later you scored another tremendous goal against the Caps. Which one of the aforementioned goals did you like better?
I think, the second one. I scored it on a road and it was a bit more significant for my team. I believe, we were up 2-1 at that point, and this was the third goal for us. As for the other goal, we were up 4-0 and late in the third period. For sure, that goal may have looked prettier but didn’t bear as much significance.
– It’s pretty odd that none of these goals was nominated for the goal of the season award. How frustrating is it for you?
I didn’t even pay attention to this. You just broke the news to me, to be honest.
– Did such beautiful goals helped you to establish a good connection with your teammates or did they somewhat turned them against you because of jealousy?
We had quite a few guys who managed to score beautiful goals last season. For instance, Meyer scored a beauty against the Isles. Peverley had a few sweet goals too. Everybody was really supportive to each other. We would skate over to our teammates, congratulate them and such. Jealousy was never an issue. We had a good group of guys.
– Devils’ forward Vladimir Zharkov, with whom you once played on the same line for Team Russia this season, said that he was forced to sign Russian national anthem at his rookie party. How did your party go?
It was pretty interesting. After the game against the Habs we had to go Florida. We had 2 days-off before the game. We went to a restaurant and then to a night club. As far as I recall, I had to tell a joke but I couldn’t pull that off because North-Americans don’t get our humour. I started telling the joke and stopped half-way through. I thought: ‘I’d better stop now than to embarrass myself later’. Then I had to dance and pantomime somebody from the team. I didn’t do the dancing part but pantomimed Brent Sopel. He has a very unique gameday routine, so it turned out to be quite funny.
– When you played in the OHL, you were very close with your teammates. Was it any different with the Thrashers?
I always hung out with the guys either we were on the road or at home. I spent a lot of time with Patrice Cormier. We hung out together pretty much every day. We would either go somewhere or just chill at my place. When we had a day-off, him and I would go a restaurant or for a walk. Evander Kane also hung out with us quite often.
– Kane and Cormier are both young players. Does it mean you didn’t hang out with the older guys?
As a matter of fact, when we were on the road I spent most of time with the vets. Because usually I went to the dinner with Nik Antropov and he hung out with the older crowd. So I would mainly talk to them.
– Since you were playing for the Thrashers, you could join Team Russia at the World Juniors in Buffalo, NY. Did you have a desire to ask your coach for a permission to go there?
No, I didn’t. I had my own season going on. I wanted to make it to the play-offs. In all honestly, such a thought has never crossed my mind.
– Did you follow the tournament closely, though?
If we didn’t have a game overlapping the World Juniors, I’d watch it live. If not, I’d still watch the highlights afterwards. I stayed tuned. I read everything that was published about the tournament at Allhockey.Ru and Sports.Ru, watched every video that was available too. I remember, during the round robin game between Russia and Canada part of our team was in the dressing-room taping the sticks for our own game, while me and some other guys were in a dining-room watching the game.
– Did you bet with other Thrashers on who’d clinch the gold?
Not really. Of course, the Canadians were saying that Team Canada was going to win, and us, the Russians, vouched for our team. But there were only 2 of us, so the Canadians were more vocal. It was the other way around a bit later, though (smiling).
– Be honest – did you truly believe that Team Russia was going to comeback in the final?
I did. I did because the Canadians had won the first game. And at this tournament it’s impossible to beat the same team twice.
– Did you tease your Canadian teammates afterwards?
Maybe just a little. For sure, I joked around but not too much. In any case, they came back at me with jokes about how Team Russia got kicked off the plane.
– Team Russia was highly criticized for the scandal it got into after the final. What do you think of those critics?
I don’t even want to think about them. I think our entire country longed for this win. The guys did everything they possibly could and saved the game in an incredible fashion. The tape of this game should be shown in hockey schools around the world so everybody would learn how to play and how to turn the games around. And yet there are some people that say bad things about the guys who managed to get this victory. I think they should be ashamed. The guys have won it fair and square. They deserved to celebrate it in any way they want to.
– However, you made it to the national team. Did you expect to get called up?
I did. Why wouldn’t I? I hoped to get called up. Especially, when it became clear that we were not going to make it to the play-offs. And then one day Viatcheslav Bykov gave me a call and told me that he expects me to come at Eurohockeytour.
– What is the main difference between the junior and national team in your opinion?
You know, I spent only 2 weeks with the junior team in Saskatchewan. I didn’t go to the training camp or anything. So can’t really tell you much about the junior team. With the national team, however, I spent more time. I noticed that it’s more professional. Nobody watches after you. They see you as a pro. You have to do show what you’re capable of.
– Unfortunately, you didn’t make the final cut and were forced to watch the World Championship in Slovakia from the stands. How difficult was it for you?
That was very difficult. I wanted to get on the ice and show what I can do. It’s fair to say that before the last 3 games I’ve given up hope and just waited for the season to end. Before that Denis Grebeshkov and I stayed focused and trained hard. Well, it’s all in the past now. I’ll get my chance eventually.
– Shortly after this tournament it was announced that the Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg. Are you happy to get back to Canada?
It’s hard to say. I’ve never been to the city. I don’t know what the fans are like over there. The only thing I know about them is that they’re very passionate about hockey. Within 2 weeks they bought out all the tickets for the season. It’s crazy. I can’t wait for the season to start. We’ll see how it goes. But then again I want to thank the city of Atlanta and local fans. True, there weren’t a lot of them but they were loyal. They were always there for us. I’m happy that this city has been a part of my life. I’m happy I was lucky enough to play there.
– You’re going to have to spend a lot of time on a plane now since the Jets inherited a spot in the Southeast Division.
Well, there’s nothing I can do about, right? Nobody said it was going to be easy. Our job is to get out there and play. We have to try to make it to the play-offs, win the Stanley Cup, play hard in every single game. We’re not going to be seen as a weak team. Our opponents are going to see us as a new team that came out to fight. So they’re going to play even harder against us.
– Do you know that Winnipeg is the coldest city on the planet with population over 0.5 million?
I heard it was cold out there. But is it really colder than in Novosibirsk?
– It’s commonly referred to as "Winterpeg" for a reason.
Really? Well, ok. In my hometown, Kazan, it gets pretty cold too. So I’m not afraid. Besides, I can always buy a down-padded coat (laughter).
– Do you think the Jets are going to the same team as the Thrashers except for wearing different jerseys or is it going to be a whole other team?
I can’t answer this question now. Tell you what – let’s make another interview after a few games into the season? Then I’ll be able to tell you more about our team. We’ll see how it’s going to pan out.