Defender Kirill Gotovets became one of the unexpected heroes of the KHL playoffs triumphant for Avangard Omsk this spring. The Belarusian hockey player spent most of his career in the lower North American leagues, and in the KHL until last year he played for Dynamo Minsk for three seasons (2016–2017, 2018–2020).
The transfer to Avangard brought the 29-year-old defender a victory in the Gagarin Cup. Gotovets himself never scored goals in the regular season, but scored three times in the playoffs, and all these goals were of great importance. Kirill opened the scoring in the most important starting away games of the Eastern Conference final against Ak Bars Kazan (3: 1 and 2: 0), and also scored the second goal in the first match of the final series against CSKA (4: 1).
After the decisive victory over the army team (1: 0) in the sixth match and the celebration of triumph in the locker room, Gotovets gave an interview to Izvestia, in which he commented on his performance in key series, shared his opinion about the story with the captain of Avangard, Alexei Emelin, ahead of schedule for health reasons finished the season, and also reacted to the loss of Minsk’s right to host the next world championship.
– How did you score the decisive goals in the last two series?
– It happened. I haven’t done anything special. They just gave me good gears. I closed my eyes and threw at the goal. I tried to hit the target, and there the attackers successfully blocked the goalkeeper’s view, and the puck passed.
– Can you highlight the most difficult moment of the season?
– I do not even know. Probably when Magnitka beat us 7: 1. It was a slap in the face. We realized that we need to get together and this should not be allowed in the future. After that, they rallied more, and the rest is history.
– Were there any difficult conversations in the team after that defeat?
– No, nothing extraordinary. Prepared in the same way. Become more focused on results.
– Was the team morally influenced by the story with Alexei Emelin?
– Of course, it’s hard to lose a player like Alexey. He is a large part of our team and stayed even when he had health problems. He was constantly present in the locker room, at the games. We can say that it gave us an emotional boost.
– From the outside, when you read the news about him, there was a feeling that Alexei was doing very badly. Did the team understand what his health was?
– Half of the gossip that they write is not even close to reality. We discussed it in the locker room, were a little surprised at the headlines about drugs and so on – I don’t remember what was there. But everyone in the team knows Alexey, and no one even for a second believed it.
– There, even without rumors about drugs, it became creepy from the news, they wrote that he was in serious condition.
– Our doctor was constantly in touch with him and kept the team informed. We knew what was going on and ignored these headlines. Although it was unpleasant that people write that. After all, this is a person, not just an athlete. And making such statements just for the sake of the article’s rating is ugly.
– This season you played for the first time in a club with a big budget and a stellar line-up. When you came to Avangard, was it difficult to adapt to the requirements after Dynamo Minsk?
– Of course, there is a completely different organization here. It took a little getting used to. I understood that I would have to fight for a place in the squad, to prove to the coaches. But in Minsk “Dynamo” everything is organized professionally. The club also values its players, there are good people who work there, who help hockey players to perform at a high level and do their job efficiently.
– Did you talk to the coaching staff of the Belarusian national team regarding your participation in the World Championship in Riga?
– I haven’t talked to the representatives of the national team yet. During the season, this was not discussed with me. In the national team they only asked what clubs I play. Therefore, I cannot answer anything yet.
– In winter, how was the news that the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) deprived Minsk of the right to host the next World Cup?
– It’s part of life. They took it and took it away – they have their own reasons. I am calm about it.
– A year ago, when you moved to Avangard, you might have thought that it would bring you a trophy?
– No, last year I could not even imagine, firstly, that I would get to the final, and secondly, that I would take the Cup. There weren’t even such thoughts.
– Which of the players was it especially hard against in the current playoffs?
– All teams entering the playoffs are very strong. Avtomobilist has very good players, Magnitka has an aggressive tough style. We got “Ak Bars” in the final of the conference – there are simply no weak opponents there. Well, CSKA is CSKA.
– Did the disqualification of the best playoff sniper Maksim Shalunov from CSKA for the fifth match of the final series make life easier for Avangard?
– I would not say that. CSKA has enough highly qualified hockey players who can replace the same Shalunov. I don’t think the fact that he wasn’t affected their game.
– You played a lot in North America. Want to make another attempt to break into the NHL?
– I don’t know, probably, I have already outgrown this moment (smiles)… I would like to stay here at this club and keep the title.
– The word “outgrown” here looks ambiguous.
– No, of course, “outgrew” not in the sense that I am so good and of a higher level than the NHL (laughs)… It’s just that the age is already this … Before there were dreams of the NHL, but now I think the moment has passed when I can go there. Of course, you can never say “never”, but at the moment I don’t think about it.