How did first Russian dynasty in the NHL appeared.

Этот перевод статьи Игоря Рабинера для Спорт-Экспресса сделан по просьбе болельщиков Тампы из, собственно, Тампы. Поскольку у нас нет другого места для ее публикации. Публикуем ее на нашем сайте. И да простят нас наши русскоязычные пользователи, которые все равно могут прочитать оригинал. This translation of the article by Igor Rabiner for Sport Express was made at the request of  english -speaking Lightning fans. Because we have no other place to publish it, we publish it on our website. And yes our Russian-speaking users will forgive us and can still read the original.

The uniqueness of Vladislav Namestnikov is already in the fact that he is the first representative of the Russian dynasty of the NHL. His father Eugeny, played defence in 90s. He played total of 44 games for Vancouver, Islanders and Nashville. But everyone knows his uncle — two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Vyacheslav Kozlov — brother of Vlad’s mother was part of the Russian Five for Detroit. By the way, it will be a movie about that line in North America — and in the evening after the first day of All-Stars weekend in Tampa, at Nikita Kucherov`s home they had something like a preview. Namestnikov with great interest looked at the dear person, possibly, opening him from some new side.

Vlaidslav with his uncle — Slava Kozlov

«The film was very good», — Lightning forward says. «It was interesting to listen how teammates spoke about my uncle. Darren McCarty, for example, said that he was always gloomy. And he added that Slava — such a person who did not adjust to anyone, was always himself, and he had to accepted as he is».

When I tell Vlad that he has the first family from Russia in the NHL, he shows with his whole appearance that he did not know about this. Widespread smiles, full of a sense of the importance of this fact.

«With such a pedigree, did you have a chance to do something different in your life?», I“m asking Namestnikov. And I hear an instant: «No way!»

At some point in his childhood, he did not want to play hockey. And then a weighty word said … Mom. His father, like his uncle, had his own career at the moment, he could not pay too much attention to him, and mother literally made him play. She took him to practices, she urged him — and to this day he is grateful to her for that perseverance.

I talk with Kucherov about Namestnikov, and he also mentions his family: «Vlad has deserved what happening now for a long time. He’s done well, he tried everything, tried, stood his ground. His dad, who is a coach now, said to him: work, improve your game, do not get upset — and everything will come in. Plus Vlad’s own character. Because of all this he is playing right now, and I’m very comfortable with him on one line. »

«We are now calling up practically after each game», says Namestnikov. «He tells me about my mistakes, what can be done better. I think it helped me a lot. And the fact that my father always supported me».

«Did he explained you why he did not get a long career in the NHL? Did he mentioned mistakes that you should not repeat?»

«I think it’s not a mistake. He was a small-sized defenceman. And by that time most NHL teams mostly played huge guys on D, the emphasis was on strength, not on skating or speed. But I think that he still had a good career, he achieved a lot and does not regret anything.»

But father and Kozlov are not all about the hockey family of Namestnikov. His other uncle — forward Ivan Novoseltsev, played a couple of hundreds matches in the NHL for Florida- and, incidentally, scored two goals in his very first game.

«We crossed over in Khimik when I was 16 years old, playing my first season in the men league. And he was finishing his career there», — says Namestnikov.

«Did he protect you from the «old guys»?»

«I can stood for myself! And, especially it was not necessary. The team had normal guys who supported me in everything.»

Kozlov recalls: «In 97, Larionov and I brought the Stanley Cup to Voskresensk, and a full sports arena was full, and I remember that my five-year-old nephew Vlad, grandfather, and parents also came there.»

Hearing such a story and knowing how Namestnikov raved about the NHL, I thought it was this dream that came to him just that day. But everything turned out to be more prosaic.

«Myself I do not really remember that moment — I was still too young. But in the foyer of the Khinik arena some photos are hanging — and one time I saw them and began to remember. I hope it symbolical moment [on the photo]: I’m standing next to the Stanley Cup. Of course, I did not dream about any NHL back then. I did not know what it is. Although I was already skating — my father put me on skates at three. It was in Salt Lake City.»

In the future capital of the Winter Olympics, Namestnikov played for the team of the IHL (it is now defunct) — «Utah Grizzlies.» At first time boy skated with a chair while his father held him, — Vladislav saw those photos.

Later, Namestnikovs moved to Detroit. Vlad already played hockey, and then uncle Slava made him a magical gift — several times he took gim to the Red Wings locker room when there was a whole team.

«I remember that well. I went to many games, got acquainted with everyone in the locker room. There was a memorable moment. One famous actor also came to the locker room, and I got scared and ran away.»

By then he first shook his tiny hand with the hand of his future general manager. Steve Yzerman, with whom I also spoke in Tampa, remembers the little Namestnikov. And he said that he also met him with his relatives in Birmingham, a town near Detroit, where he took out daughters to play on the playground. Namestnikov specify: «I walked in the park with my aunt.»

«Do you agree that you, Russians, are very lucky with Yzerman beign Tampa Bay GM?»

«Yes, this is a big plus for us: Steve played with the Russians, knows how they think and play. He was not afraid to take many of us at the draft. Now the first team has four — and yet there are good guys in the farm club, in the junior leagues, and in Russia. I hope, one day there will be even more!»

«Did you realized who was your uncle? Was he an idol for you?»

«Yes. At my house hung a picture with portraits of all the players of the Russian Five and with the autographs of each of them — Slava, of course, gave it to me. I remember we had already left for Russia, and he played in Atlanta. My grandfather and I always got up at night and watched his games. Called up, talked. This also helped me.»

«Did he show you anything on the ice?»

«Nothing special. He showed more the Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena, locker room.»

Kozlov recalls: «Vlad always liked hockey, he worked hard. My dad also put a lot of effort to make him a hockey player».

The father of a man from the Russian Five, Anatoly Kozlov — one of the legends of Voskresensk hockey. In addition to his son, he brought Olympic champion Andrei Lomakin, was the second coach in the Khimik for Igor Larionov, nurtured Andrei Markov.

But in order for the grandfather to be able to take up grandson to hockey in detail, the family had to return from America. This happened when Vlad was eight.

«Dad decided to go to play in Russia, so they returned. He signed a contract with Lada, and we settled in Voskresensk, where I was born. My father and mother decided that it would be best for me in this city — my grandfather would help, and the house is there.»

«Have you missed out on the life you are used to?»

«At first it was hard. I went to school, not knowing how to read or write in Russian — just talked. It was necessary to catch up. But since I went to a private school, where there were few children, everything was given without big problems. Children’s hockey is also a bit different, but I got used to it quickly. My mother took me to America every summer so that I would not forget English. Therefore, when I went to the Canadian junior league, the adaptation was easy.»

«How much did the grandfather invest in you as a hockey player?»

«He gave me a lot. He got up at 6 am and dragged me to the ice rink. If it was possible for me to skate with the elder guys, he also forced me to. He always told me to use speed, deke, crash the net. This was originally from him. And my other grandfather always went with me on trips. I’m very grateful to both of them.»

«Have you been brought up in strictness?»

«I was a calm, normal child, not hooligan. Did not made much trouble».

«Did your genes played role in your career?»

«You can work on your hands, but hockey vision I think is just by nature. And my grandfather played his part. He made me to deke, but do not let my head down and see everything that is happening around. And my dad said the same thing to me.»

«Considering the family travel back and forth, the question arises. Do you consider yourself more like a Russian player or a North American player?»

«Both schools. I have a little bit of each, and both of them helped me. From the Russian — passing play. But I like to play at the corners, ctash the net. It’s North American. In general — the mix.»

At men`s level, Namestnikov made his debut early, having spent season in the «Higher» (Russian Higher League, or Vysshaya Liga or VHL — by that time, when there was no KHL, it was second strongest league in Russia after Superleague — Chelya), in Khimik when he was 16. But then he went to Canada.

«Why? The beginning of the career was good, and such relatives could be your patron.»

«I was offered to sign a five-year contract in Russian juniour league. I thought this was too much, I signed a one-year deal with Khimik in VHL, and then decided that it would be more useful to play in Canada for further growth. And that was whole family decision. Given that I speak fluent English, the decision was easy.»

At the London Knights team, he had to go through a tough school — he was coached by Dale Hunter. That same man, which of all the Capitals coaches had least piety to Alexander Ovechkin, severely cutting his playing time. Was he treated Namestnikov the same way?

«No. We started to communicate well from the very beginning. He was a very demanding coach and insisted that we first play defense, and only then went to the offence. I think that it helped me a lot — and taught me defensive actions.»

«Did he use his toughguy habits with you?»

«No (laughs). Only in the sense that we have always stood up for each other on the ice. It was better for other team not to play dity against us.»

Yzerman took Namestnikov in the first round of the 2011 draft. And Kucherov in in the second.

«It turns out, that general manager believed more in you than in Nikita?».

«I do not know in whom he believed more, but I think that your position at the draft is not so important. In whatever round you go, everything starts from scratch. You have to work hard, fight for a place in the first team.»

«But you won`t argue with the fact that the guys taken in the first round have more chances to break into the NHL than those who were taken in the 6-7th round.»

«Yes, I won`t. But there was a fact that I was already playing in Canada at the time of the draft, I was in the spotlight. And Kucherov was in Russia. I think this also affected, because everyone just talked about the «Russian factor» back then».

With Kucherov, Vlad got acquainted with the so-called «combine» — the May-June pre-draft gathering of 60-80 young top hockey players, where clubs get to know them better, conduct interviews and physical tests. They were placed in the same room — and then it happened so that they were drafted by the same club. Another coincidence. They became friends, and to this day almost every day they dine together.

«Was it surprise for you when he turned into NHL star?»

«Of course not. We played against each other when we was kids. He played for Polar Bears, I played for Khimik. Together with Goose (Nikita Gusev) they created just miracles. They always beat us: they had the best team, and we were always at the bottom. By then we did not personally knew each other. I am very glad that Nikita achieved such success. He always works after training, so there is no surprise for me in this one.»

«Do you work that much too? In particular, in the summer. Jon Cooper said: «When I saw how Kucherov works, even frightened»?»

«Yes — five times a week a gym and ice. But I have a slightly different program than Nikita. And after practice, like Kucherov does, I stay on the ice. I work out what I consider to be the most important. I shoot, work on face-offs.»

Evgeny Namestnikov met Kucherov personally before his son. Vladislav’s father was assistant coach for the «Red Army», when this team led by two Nikitas (Kucherov and Gusev) won the Kharlamov Cup (Trophy for top junior team in Russia — Chelya). Another coincidence.

«Nikita spoke only good things about him. In his opinion, my dad is a kind person, but when he has to say something, he will do it so that everyone will understand.»

«Does your father come to Tampa often?»

«Not as often as we would like. He now works as a Toronto scout and is constantly on the road.»

With Vasilevsky Namestnikov also met as a junior, in the youth national team. «Even then it was clear that he would be a star,» says Namestnikov, «He’s the first to go to practice, the last one who leaves.»

Kozlov once called his long-time teammate in Detroit and during the conversation asked about his nephew.

«With Steve, I talked several times», says Kozlov. «It was a couple of seasons ago, when Vlad was then down in the farm team, then lifted back. In principle, Steve was pleased, but said what to work on. That the game without a puck should be improved, the upper shoulder girdle to pump up. Legs, he said, are good, fast, and at the top you need to add weight a little bit. Now, I look, everything is fine. Vlad — a fine fellow, hopefully that he would continue in the same direction. Larionov says that every summer he sees him in Detroit, and he works very hard. This proves once again that nothing is achieved by itself.»

«You had go through many weight lifting?».

«All of those who came to the draft are thin. I knew that I needed to become more powerful, and I took it seriously. I have a personal trainer in Detroit, and we worked out a plan for me to do in the gym. I followed it — and now I have a weight of 85 kilos. Everyone in the NHL takes this seriously. And I see Larionov quite often, since his son is engaged in the same gym. We talk with him, and it is very pleasant to communicate with such a legend.»

Namestnikov recalled Detroit in our conversation more than once. The first match in the NHL, as it turned out, he played just against the Red Wings, but at home. And when he first came out on the ice Joe Louis Arena, he was pierced by the thought — how many times he was here, went to the locker room, talked to great hockey players!

Namestnikov skating in Detroit every summer, and before the old palace of the Red Wings was closed last summer, quite often did it exactly there — and that same locker room he walked up and down.

And in the AHL, Vladislav got to Syracuse, a team where for several years played … his father!

Vladislav and Evgeny Namesnikovs during Evgeny’s playing days in Syracuse

«Fans immediately took me well, and in this one hundred percent was the merit of my father. For one play-off game dad even made a ceremonial puck drop. The stadium roared — he was even a captain there. And I am pleased!»

In Detroit, Evgeny and Marina Namestnikovs are now raising a new representative of the hockey dynasty. They say that the 14-year-old brother of Vladislav Maxim shows at least no less skill than the Lightning forward …

«Someone from the KHL ried to call you durin in the seasons of uncertainty»

«No. I did not even think about it. I wanted to play only in the NHL.»

«But it was very irritating that everything goes not smoothly, not according to plan?»

«Of course, I wanted everything at once. But everyone has a different path. For me it was this one. I tried to just work.»

«Money in the KHL are absolutely different than in the farm club with a two-way contract.»

«I did not really think about money back then. Only about how to quickly get into the NHL.»

During the second year in Syracuse Vladislav took the 90 number which he plays now.

«I do not even know why. I just decided to change the number. The first year there I played with 18 and it did not pass very well, so I decided to change something and took the 90. He stayed with me.»

Says Kucherov:

«With Nastestnikov we are not only linemates, but also close friends, he’s a great guy and player. It’s no surprise to me that he plays such a season. In my opinion, he should have opened up long ago if he had played top lines. Those types of players should not spend so much time in the fourth line for ten minutes. This year everyone says: oh, Vlad is good! He could have become earlier if used differently. If, for example, put Patrick Kane in the fourth line, will he score a lot? Trust Vlad with a place on the first line — he, I’m sure, would justify this trust.»

«It was not easy, of course», Namestnikov recalls. «But it was necessary to continue to work. There anyway should be a chance. Now we have a good line, and, I hope, everything will continue in the same way.»

Recently Vladislav scored one hundredth point in the NHL. Of course, he took the puck. The beginning of the jubilees is laid. Did he somehow celebrated this event? Know this: the Russians of the Lightning do not drink! Destroying all foreign stereotypes on this subject.

«Yes, that`s true», says Namestnikov. «And I think that in today’s NHL [non-alcohol] regime — it’s absolutely normal. Time is different, hockey changed. The league is younger and faster. Because of this, it became physically difficult. Therefore, we must very carefully monitor ourselves. If you relax — you immediately will be «eaten». And the injuries will come.»

«How would you define your role with two superstars?»

«They do not limit me in anything: if I see that I must pass — I give it away, shoot it — I shoot it. You can not just look for partners — nothing will turn out. And in the corners I like to fight, and I’ll always crash the net. I did not change anything in my game. We played with Kucherov in the farm team. With Stammer a couple of years ago we were put on the same line. And then they unite — and immediately it began to work out. We feel each other. I completely understand them.»

Kucherov adds:

«It seems to me, all at once it was clear — if we put in place, it should turn out. Since last season, when we played on one line before Stammer’s injury. And in principle — it turned out! About our line everyone is said to be one of the best in the NHL. Yes, at some point, during two or three matches, we did not go. This happens sometimes with everybody. However, in any case — as the coach will say, so we will do.»

«In the game with Philadelphia before the All-Stars break you scored two goals from Kucherov assists. When he began to unfold in offensive zone, how did you predict what would happen next?»

«When this happens, you just try to open up, so it’s more convenient to give. This, I think, on our line all three players have — the ability to open properly and receive the pass.»

«You scored more points in half a season than in the previous one. To what extent it is the merit of your partners, and to what extent is yours?»

«Of course, the role of the guys is great, but you begin to feel confident and comfortable on the ice yourself. I think that both played a role approximately equally.»

«How often do you three sit down and discuss something?»

«We always talk. On the bench, and after the game. We sort out what could be done better, what mistakes we make. We do not stop working on this.»

«Do you set yourself a targrt for goals and points in the season?»

«I never do it. I just go out and try to do my job.»

«Can you say that now you are paying more attention to finishing than before?»

«This season I shoot more.»

«Kucherov already became the team leader not only on the ice, but also in the locker room?»

«I think, he is more a leader on the ice.»

«How active are you in the locker room?»

«In my life I’m humble, quiet, and therefore I do not say anything special.»

«What are relationship of the Lighting Russians with the Swedish team diaspora?»

«Great guys. Hedman responds to «Vityok» (a diminutive from Victor/Viktor in Russian — Chelya). He played in Barys, he was taught there.»

«Kucherov said that the Swedes tell you all the football (soccer) news.»

«Hedman, as I know, is Manchester United fan. He plays for them PC games, great fan. I remember how the Swedes came to the locker room after they beat Italy and went to the World Cup. So shouting and rejoicing — it was really funny.»

I ask Kozlov:

«Is it difficult to match two superstar partners at the line, like Kucherov and Stamkos?»

«Vlad was never a «wood.» And it is more pleasant and easier to play with such linemates. He does his job, does not hide drom screening the goalie, crash te net. Head, arms, legs — he has everything for this.»

«Alexei Zhamnov in our conversation used a poignant word about Namestnikov — «brainy» (it’s imposible to me to translate word «головастенький», so I had to use word that seems most in place for it — Chelya)

«Before now, he did not have enough strength, but now he is in perfect form. If someone has a head, then it will not go anywhere. Strength can be got in the gym, but the intellect — weather it is or not».

I’m asking Namestnikov:

«Now you are playing on the wing but repeatedly went out as center. Where is more convenient for you?»

«I already learned to play at any position. Over the past five years I played everywhere on offence — right, left, center. I have to play there and I feel comfortable. And in my childhood I always played center.»

Namestikov tells what his teammates and even hockey players from other teams are not hiding: Tampa is an excellent place for both the game and for life. «A good skating rink, good weather, great fans.» According to him, the fans understand hockey at a decent level, 25 years (this year is just celebrating the quarter-century anniversary of «Lightning») proved to be a sufficient time for them to learn the game. However, it was evident during the All-Star Game. The very fact that for each Lightning home game there is sellout speaks for itself.

«The club does a fantastic job of promoting the team», says Vladislav. «Throughout the city, posters with Lightning and individual players are hanging, some events are constantly held».

«Ligning owner Jeff Vinik often communicates with hockey players?»

«Usually we see him only at the beginning and at the end of the season. The rest of the time he does not appear in the locker room, although he attends every game.»

«Does Cooper tell the truth that he does not forbid the Russians in the locker room to speak Russian?»

«Now yes. But he forbade it before. Because Nikita Nesterov did not speak English, and everyone wanted us to communicate with him in English, as he studied. And now all the Russians can talk English and everything is fine.»

«You generally, recently had a chance to talk Russian a lot — you played at the World Cup, and at the World Championships».

«For me it was the first experience of playing for the national team, I almost did not know anyone there. Acquainted with all. Just being surrounded by these players — it causes great feelings. The first days in the training camp were nervous, and then talked to them a little, saw how good and simple they were. And calmed down.»

«Are you sorry that NHL players are now without the Olympics?»

«Of course. The Olympics are everyone’s dream. But the NHL decided, and there’s nothing to be done. I hope that in 2022 we will return.»

«Recently, Lightning palyed in Stanley Cup Finals and Semi-Finals. Can you say that this season, given your leadership in the regular season, any outcome other than the Cup will be perceived as a fail?»

«Maybe yes. I think we have a very good chance to win the Cup, and all the guys are hungry for the victory. It will be hard if we do not win. And the fans are waiting for it. Yes, last year we did made playoffs, and it shows how difficult it is to play in the NHL. At the same time, teams jumping on the last train to the playoffs, often win it. As in the season before last, «Pittsburgh». Yes, and «Nashville», also the eighth in the Conference a year ago, played in Finals. In the playoffs, any of the 16 teams can win.»

«What is your main goal in your career?»

«The Stanley Cup. This is the most difficult trophy that exists, maybe not only in hockey, but in general in sports.»

… Vlad’s uncle Vyacheslav Kozlov won this Cup twice. For the first time — when he was 25. That is exactly as many as Namestnikov now.

Will there be another coincidence?

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