Creme de la Kremlin: An Interview with Aleks Volkov

Goals: 65. Assists: 60. Points: 125.

Those kinds of numbers are exceptional for just about any hockey player. For superstar Aleksandr Volkov, however, they’re fairly run of the mill. While his 125-point season represents the best of his career, Volkov is no stranger to 100+ points in a season, or 50-goal seasons for that matter. He’s recorded more than 100 points in every single season of his career, solidifying both his reputation and his legacy. There’s a reason he was selected first overall. While many No. 1 draft picks don’t live up to the hype, Volkov has most certainly been a pick who delivered. Sportica caught up with the Russian superstar at the All-Star break.

Sportica: You’re now in your tenth season with the Pittsburgh Rockets, this is your tenth All-Star game. How does that feel?

Aleks Volkov: I do not think that can be right. Ten? I am not so old, I think.

S: You’re turning twenty-eight in September.

AV: Am I? Hang on–do you see this? Is a gray hair! Maybe you are right. [pause] Or maybe hockey give me gray hairs, too much stress. [laughs]

S: Is it stressful, to play IHA hockey for nine seasons?

AV: Hmm, no, I do not think it is so bad. Sometimes, yes, when team gets a little … how you say? Freaked out. Then we do not play so good, I think. That is when it is stressful.

S: Right, so you’re the captain of the Rockets. How do you keep the team from ‘freaking out’? How do you keep them calm in a big game?

AV: Is easy. I tell them, ‘Do not freak out.’ They listen. Sometimes they do not. [laughs]

S: All right, but how do you prepare them for a big game?

AV: No, it is not so easy, you are right. The rookies, the new guys, they get freaked out very easy. They make mistakes then. So we tell them to breathe easy, to think less. Is just a game.

S: How does that approach work when it’s a big game for you guys, when you need the points or when you’re facing off against a rival team?

AV: Not so well, usually.

S: What do you do then?

AV: Well, it is a lot about leaders then. So I can say, ‘Take it easy, is just a game,’ but I must show them this too. I am captain, so they look at me. If I am calm, they will be calm too.

S: You don’t have a reputation as one of the calmest guys in the league. In fact, most people say you play with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion. You’re very expressive when you play.

AV: There is difference. I play determined, not play angry or afraid. I play rough, yes, I play with lots of hits and lots of shots. But this is–as you say–passion. Calm, for me, does not mean no emotion. You must play with emotion.

S: You bring a lot of emotion to the ice in your play–you lay big hits, but you also put up big points. You score a lot of highlight-reel goals, and your on-ice celebrations are a definite hit with fans.

I tell them, ‘Do not freak out.’ They listen. Sometimes they do not.”

AV: It is a lot for fans, yes. Big emotion. I am invest in this game, I want them to be too. When I score goal, it is a big deal. I am very happy, so I celebrate. I want the fans to celebrate too, I want them to feel this–passion. Hockey is emotion, it is to be shared. With no fans, we have no hockey.

S: You’re very involved with fans off the ice as well. Here at the All-Star game, you have plenty of opportunity to interact with fans. You were signing autographs just before coming to this interview.

AV: I say again: with no fans, we have no hockey. Fans, they come to cheer, they share their emotion with us when we play. When the fans get happy, so do we. We score more goals, I think, when fans cheer.

S: Is that why the Rockets play better on home ice than on the road?

AV: I think is difficult to go on roadtrip. You go to different city, different places. Maybe the weather is very different. It does not look much like home. So you are little homesick, maybe. You notice the ice, is maybe not the same as home. And yes, the fans, they do not cheer for us, maybe. Maybe, when we score goal, they make no noise.

S: So it’s easier to play in front of the home crowd?

AV: Always. They cheer loudest.

S: What about if you’re losing?

AV: They do not boo! I have been at game, crowd boos players. This does not happen in Pittsburgh–well, not too often at least. But I think they feel with us, our unhappiness, our sadness. They feel these things too, they do not get mad. They get sad.

S: You mentioned that you get a little homesick on roadtrips. After nine seasons, do you consider Pittsburgh home?

AV: Moscow is always home. But Pittsburgh is pretty good. In Moscow, it gets very cold and snows a lot, so winter is not so bad in Pittsburgh.

S: But Pittsburgh can get cold and sometimes gets a lot of snow.

AV: [grins] Not like Russian winter. But I like Pittsburgh for winter. I do not think I would like Miami or LA. What is point of beach vacation if you live on beach?

S: So, Miami, nice to visit, not to stay?

AV: Exactly this.

S: So, let’s say the Rockets put you on the trading block. Where would you most like to be traded?

AV: I think they will not trade me.

S: Hypothetically. What would you do if they did?

AV: I think I will ask to go to New York. I hear they have big apples. [laughs]

S: Have you ever considered a career as a comedian?

AV: Maybe when hockey is done. I think I will mostly make bad jokes and silly faces, though.

S: You’re headed into your eleventh season in the fall. Most hockey players retire before forty.

AV: I have nine more seasons to think of what I will do after. For now, I will play good hockey.

S: You’ve shown absolutely no slow-down in your point production. You had a 65-goal year last year, the best of your career. Not many guys put in their best years in their ninth and tenth seasons, after twenty-five.

AV: I guess I am surprise. I will keep younger guys guessing–that Volkov, is he too old now, or will he have best-ever season?

S: You’ve always been considered something of a wild card.

AV: What is this, wild card?

S: It means you’re a bit of a gamble, always surprising.

AV: Ah-ha! Da, this is me. You never know what Aleks Volkov will do next.

S: So what will Aleks Volkov do next?

AV: This is why you cannot know: Even Aleks Volkov does not know what he will do! [laughs]

S: You broke some records at the All-Star skill competition, you took the record for fastest shot.

AV: I did not know this. Did I do this? See, surprises.

S: You’ve always been renowned for your shot. It seems like you can see an opening anywhere and you always come up in the right place to score a goal.

AV: Not always, coach will tell you this. I take many more shots than get goals. Sometimes, this causes trouble. Coach yells after, says, ‘Aleks! Why did you do this thing, pass, pass!’

S: That’s been one of the biggest criticisms of your game, that you tend to take the shot yourself, even when passing is your better option. Some people call your play “selfish.”

AV: I think these people that say this do not know hockey very much. Yes, maybe I shoot too much, do not pass. Maybe is better pass. But, in hockey, you think you see–you take shot. You do not wait. You cannot wait, you must take chance. Sometimes works, sometimes does not. Is what happens. It is hockey.

S: Does your hockey philosophy apply to your life off the ice as well? If you see a chance, do you take it?

AV: [laughs] Maybe girls at the bar they think this, I take too many chances.

S: That’s always a huge source of rumor about you, who you’re dating. You’ve dated a lot of Russian women, including model Katya Mironova and actress Tatiana Chekov.

AV: Russian girls are the best. But I am too busy, really, for relationship right now, I think. Maybe soon.

S: Do you see yourself settling down?

AV: Maybe. I do not know–I think I will surprise me too.

S: You spend a lot of your off-ice time helping with local charities, and you’re very involved in local hockey teams, both in Pittsburgh and in Moscow.

AV: Yes, I volunteer to coach. I think this is good training–maybe I will be coach when I do not play. [laughs] But hockey is good, is good for kids to join team and play and have fun with sport. I would not be playing in IHA if I did not play as a kid. I am lucky to have opportunity, so I give opportunity to other kids now.

S: Do you see any future Volkovs on the teams you’re supporting now?

AV: I do not have children. [laughs] But maybe! And I do not teach kids to be me, they are not ‘the next Aleks Volkov.’ That is very important–they must become their own players, have belief in their own game.

S: All right, but we’re sure they try to copy you, at least a little bit, right?

AV: Of course. But here is the thing, I can beat them at being me. So I tell them, you will never beat me like this. Think of way to beat me, not to be me. Be better!

S: Better than a 65-goal season?

AV: Yes, yes! Of course it is possible. I score 65 goals this season, only few people do this before. So now, these kids, they will do that more. And then they will score 70, 75 goals in a year. It will be amazing.

S: So you think the future of hockey is a bright one?

AV: Yes, very bright. Is a great game.

S: Hockey’s been getting more and more popular since the Olympics. Some people are saying that great players, like you and Symon Tremblay have had a helping hand in the sports’ visibility. How does it feel to be a representative of the league?

AV: So long as they pay me … [laughs] I see more people like hockey, watch hockey. Some watch for the first time, maybe because they see me or Symon Tremblay. But I think this is not the case. I think they watch hockey and they see a great game, very exciting. I think this is why more people watch hockey now, they see it and say what is this, is great. I’ll tell all my friends.

S: How about for the kids playing hockey? Have more kids joined the teams?

AV: Yes, I think we have more kids this year than before. I think each year, it is like this. There is more kids. But, again, I think this is not because of me or Symon Tremblay or other people. I think this is kids, maybe their dad signs them up, and they come and they play, and they have fun. And they think, ‘this is great.’ So they tell their friends. Then the friends come too.

S: So the appeal is really in the game itself.

AV: Of course! It is fun to watch great players, of course. But it does not need to be great players for it to be fun or exciting. Is a great game, is for everyone.

S: So anyone can enjoy hockey, anyone can enjoy playing it and watching it.

AV: Yes. Yes, this exactly.

S: And it doesn’t matter that the IHA advertises guys like you and Tremblay, that they can pit you together as rivals.

AV: I do not like this word, ‘rivals.’ The Rockets and the Star, they are rivals, yes. They were rivals before I come to play in Pittsburgh, before Sy is in DC. They will be rivals after we leave–when I am traded to New York. But Sy and me? No, we are not rivals.

S: So you’re saying there’s no rivalry between individual players?

AV: Well, maybe little. But not–not like they say. If you listen to IHA, they will tell you I break my stick every time Sy scores a goal, or that I call him up after game to mock him. This is not true. We do not talk. I cannot say for him, but I do not follow his stats. I only know when he beats me for awards in June. [laughs] Some rivals!

S: But team rivalry, you think that’s important.

AV: Teams are important, because they are who fans cheer for. Players, we come, we go. Guys get hurt, retire. Some are traded. Most guys play for two or three teams in career, maybe more. Maybe they play for Stars, but then come to the Rockets–what are rivals now? But for fans, this is important. The guys, they come, they go, but teams stay. This is who fans cheer for.

It is fun to watch great players, of course. But it does not need to be great players for it to be fun or exciting. Is a great game, is for everyone.”

S: But everyone has a favorite player, right?

AV: Yes–but maybe fans do not cheer for him so loud, if he plays for rival team.

S: So even hockey players have favorite players?

AV: [laughs] Of course! We are all little kids, once, right? So we pick favorite players too, when we are growing up.

S: In that case, who’s your favorite player?

AV: Okay, this question I do not answer.

S: Aw, what?! C’mon!

AV: No, no. Is not kind of question I can answer.

S: All right, fine. One more question before you go: Who’s going to take the Zollerman this year?

AV: [grins] Okay, no, now we are done. You ask too hard questions!

Volkov left the interview, telling us we asked ‘too hard questions,’ but he did send us a prediction via Chatter later. His predictions will be revealed in a future edition of Sportica.

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