Shortly after signing a contract with the Senators during the summer, bluechip prospect Anton Volchenkov made a great first impression on the Canadian fans during the Hull Rookie Tournament in early September. The 20-year old blueliner electrified the crowd with glass-shattering hits and pleased the scouts with his safe, consistent style. After a match with the Coyotes rookies, Hockey’s Future caught up Anton for his thoughts and impressions. (This interview has been translated from Russian)
NAME: Anton Volchenkov
TEAM: Ottawa Senators
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6?foot-1, 209 lbs.
BIRTHDATE/PLACE: 1982?02?25/Moscow Russia
DRAFT STATUS: Ottawa’s 1st pick/21st overall in 2000 NHL Entry Draft
-Completed his second pro season with the Soviet Wings of the Russian Superleague, leading the team in blueline scoring in 2001/2002
-Scored the game-winning goal at the U-20 World Championships gold-medal match against Canada.
-A defensively polished player, Volchenkov had a +/? 22 rating with the Wings and was +/? 3 with 4 points (1+3) at the 2002 World Junior Championships
Anton’s physical, stay-at-home style oftentimes inspires Adam Foote comparisons. Although he still has a lot to prove, Volchenkov, already at the age of 20, possesses NHL-caliber hockey smarts. Although he does not tower over the opposition with his height, Anton has a big frame which he enjoys using along the boards and near the open ice. Volchenkov will need at least one year to accustom himself to the new language and culture – with the Senators depth on the blueline, a season with Binghamton on the AHL might be required for 2002/2003.
Q: Any impressions about the Hull Tournament so far? How does it feel to step on the ice here in North America?
A: Obviously, everything feels very new to me, new city and everything. But there aren’t any major difficulties for me right now – just a few minor ones. All in all, I feel pretty comfortable so far.
Q: What are some of the goals you would like to accomplish during the Senators Training Camp this September?
A: I would like to be ready for when the team selection which will take place – I, of course, really want to make the (senior) club. But right now, I am just trying to shake off some of the rust of the off-season. Here (at Hull) I have played a few matches and I’m feeling better and more prepared in every game.
Q: This summer, did you spend some time preparing physically, bulking up for the next regular season?
A: I worked out with Tampa Bay this summer, physically, in order to get into shape. My weight is normal right now. Usually when I start the season, it drops a little bit, but I feel that right now I’m right at where I want to be, in terms of shape.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to get to know the Senators Coaching staff and management over the past few days?
A: Well, the problem is that right now my English isn’t quite good enough to converse with most of the people here. But I have been working on it and will continue to do so this year.
Q: Hockey fans will remember how you scored the decisive goal in the gold-medal match of the World Junior Championships in Czech Republic in January. How did that feel?
A: It was a very happy moment for me and my teammates, although there was still some time remaining on the clock, so there was a chance for the Canadians to tie the game up. So, we still needed to get the job done defensively for the rest of the game. When Canada tied the game at 4 in the third period, it was pretty heart breaking, but it turned out pretty good for us, because the guys played hard and pulled through. It was a magnificent feeling to earn first place.
Q: Although it has only been a short period of time, how well do you feel you have adapted to this new country thus far?
A: Well, of course the language is still a barrier, so I’m still working on that. Petr Schastlivy has showed me around the city, the main sites and the places where all the players live.
Q: Do you feel there’s a big change from Russia?
A: Obviously, it feels different. But I haven’t seen a lot of Russia, except for Kazan, where I lived and, of course, Moscow where I had played. But comparing it to Moscow is certainly hard, because Moscow is such a huge place, kind of like a Russian New York, if you will. Ottawa seems much calmer.
Q: How do you feel on the smaller ice surface here in Canada?
A: Well, there is definitely a difference, as in Russia the rinks are quite a bit bigger. But I feel pretty comfortable, and with the latest practices and games, I feel that I am adjusting with every day that I’m here.
Q: What do you think you will need to do in order to prepare yourself to playing in the NHL?
A: First and foremost, I will have to be physically prepared. Aside from that, I feel that I am ready for the challenge.
Q: What do you consider to be your top accomplishment in your hockey career?
A: Well, first of all, the Junior team. I was very happy to help the team earned first place. Also, the World Championships in Sweden was an outstanding experience for me. We reached 2nd place for the first time in 9 years, and that felt very satisfying. It would have felt better to win it all, but (silver) was still quite an honour for me.
Q: You signed a contract with the Senators this summer. How important was it for you to finalize that contract for this year and play in the NHL?
A: Well, they gave me a pretty solid contract and showed so much interest in me. (Pauses) I had to do it.
Q: In your opinion, how important is hockey sense and overall understanding of the game to a professional defender?
A: Well, no doubt this is important. Without hockey sense, you can’t play this game. Hockey is a strength-based type of sport, but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to reason and anticipate. Hockey sense is central to making plays and succeeding as a player nowadays.
Q: You were a member of the Krylia Sovetov of the Russian Superleague. Alexander Frolov (The Los Angeles Kings prospect) was your teammate – how well did you know him?
A: I knew Alexander pretty well. We played together for 2 years and became very close friends. We phone each other and chat once in a while. I look forward to playing with him in the NHL someday.
Q: In your hockey career, who would you say has been your biggest supporter?
A: Well, a lot of the support came from my mother and brother. A short time ago, I also got married, so my wife (Irina) has been by my side.
Hockey’s Future: I wish you all the best of luck, Anton. All the best to you at the Sens Training Camp and I hope you make the team.
Anton Volchenkov: Thank you very much.