OilersNation’s Andrey Osadchenko caught up with Nail Yakupov after game four in the Canada/Russia challenge series; here’s what the Oilers’ top prospect had to say.
Andrey Osadchenko: Nail, how do you take the outcome of Canada-Russia Challenge? Do you take it as a tie or a loss?
Nail Yakupov: Well, we lost. I mean, if you look at it from the technical point of view. However, I’d say we played well, I can’t complain. Maybe sometimes we lacked discipline and sometimes we were just too tired. It’s okay. We still have time to get ready for the World Juniors. It’s just the beginning. This is not over. Also, I’d like to thank my teammates for giving everything they had.
AO: A lot of fans seemed to look at the series as if it was just another pre-season tournament, a friendly competition and nothing else. What was your take on it as a player?
NY: These were our first games of the season. And we had to play against Canada. Just like that – right away! This is crazy! Some guys were ready for it and some weren’t. Because some guys have already started their pre-season practice and some haven’t. So you can’t really have a strong saying about this series. You can’t think about it too much and let it bother you. The World Juniors are going to be in the heat of the season. Everybody’s going to be in the best shape. Then we come make conclusions. Then we’ll see. I think we’re going to play well.
AO: What do you think about your personal stats? I mean, you only scored 1 goal in 4 games. In your defense, though, you’ve proven yourself to be not a greedy sniper. It’s quite unusual.
NY: I guess I just wasn’t lucky enough. I tried to do what was best for my team. I didn’t think too much about my stats. We won 2 games – this is what matters. How many points did I score – doesn’t. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not 100% ready for the season yet. I’m going to train harder.
AO: Russian journalists all agreed that in Game 3 of the series there was the best officiating.
NY: Oh, come on! Officiating was good in both Yaroslavl and Halifax. The outcome of the series is indisputable, it’s fair. We don’t have anybody to blame. Officiating wasn’t a factor. If you lose – it’s an entire team’s fault. Everybody understood that on our team. We don’t blame anybody. Especially the refs. We never even brought it up.
AO: There was an unpleasant moment in the series decisive overtime when Mark Scheifele put the puck in the net after the play was stopped. To say the least, this is not tolerated in the hockey world.
NY: I guess you’re right. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he wanted to score really badly. I didn’t pay too much attention to it. If it’s okay with him, let it be (chuckles). It really is fine by me.
AO: After the end of the series you appeared on the ice with a Lokomotiv flag. Where did you get it?
NY: We began the series in Yaroslavl. I will never forget this team (pauses). I just got goosebumps. I came out with the flag so nobody would forget about Lokomotiv. The team still exists, but the guys who played on that team… They were the best. They were top players in the KHL. Fans in Halifax were okay with it. They all applauded and I appreciate it. I really do. I did it because both in Yaroslavl and Halifax we played for those guys too.
AO: What is it like to be a captain of U20 Team Russia? What will you remember after these 4 games?
NY: I will always remember these games, this awesome team, this terrific group of guys. The only emotions I have are positive. Organization in Yaroslavl and Halifax was outstanding. These games were just awesome. They had a great temp.
AO: Of course, it’s difficult to foresee the future. However, you must have an understanding even if it’s in the back of your head that you may not be available for the World Juniors and these games were your last games on a junior level…
NY: You know, I’m just going to keep working hard every day. If I’m going to have a chance to come for the World Juniors, I definitely will. Right now my goal is to get in the best possible shape and play. I want to move forward and have fun playing hockey. I don’t want to look into the future. Certainly, every now and then I get thoughts like that. It’s a difficult choice. You see, I want to play at the World Juniors. But, so help me God, I want to make it to the NHL, I want to make the team and I want everything to work in my favor.
AO: Do you know about the ruckus your comments about the dryer made?
NY: (laughs) I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I think, the truth about it was going to come out eventually. Besides, I didn’t want to offend anybody. I said it as a joke. But then again on the next day all of our clothes were dried (smiles). It was wonderful to play in Halifax. Thank you.
AO: What would you say was the most memorable moment for you in this series?
NY: Our victories. These were the most memorable moments for me. Because these were the best moments we gave to our fans – both in Yaroslavl and Halifax. By the way, we had people cheering for us even in Halifax. Once again, I want to say I really loved our group of guys, our coaching staff, our masseurs, our equipment managers – everyone. I want to thank you too for covering this event. I leave Halifax in a good mood. Even though we lost. Life goes on.