“I’m not old enough to demand money”
Solovyov of Championat.com: How did you react to the situation at Dynamo? [On July 4, 2017, all players under contract with HC Dynamo Moscow of the KHL had their agreements annulled and were assigned UFA status due to Dynamo’s debt problems.]
Lipanov: Actually, I was somewhat lucky to have terminated the contract peacefully, without obligations. By the end of the season I understood that it would be better for me to go to North America, closer to the NHL. It’s a shame that the club has fallen apart; I’m hoping to see the new team succeed.
Solovyov: Does the club still owe you?
Lipanov: I hold no grudge; I’m not old enough to demand money. The most important thing now is game practice. Money is made at a different age.
Solovyov: Last season, a lot of guys from the Dynamo school left for North America; now you, Klim Kostin and Alexei Toropchenko are leaving too. Is it a pity that Dynamo-99 have parted ways so early?
Lipanov: Maybe it’s for the better. The guys will show themselves and make it there. It’s an indication of the school’s work that everyone is in demand.
“After the draft, I signed autographs for 25 minutes”
Solovyov: How did the NHL Draft go?
Lipanov: I went there with my parents and brother. You sit and wait; the atmosphere is great. I’ll probably never experience anything like that again, unless my children play hockey. To be honest, it was a long wait. I thought perhaps they’d pick me in the second round, but the third is not bad either. I’m happy with the choice, the Lightning are an excellent organization and Tampa is a good city.
Solovyov: Was there realization that they would be the ones to choose you?
Lipanov: No, nothing like that. You can’t predict it. You can talk to a team six or seven times during the season, they’ll keep saying they’ll take you but eventually you’ll end up somewhere else.
Solovyov: Were you in touch with the Lightning scout Yuri Yanchenkov?
Lipanov: He visited Balashikha three times or so. At the combine in Buffalo I talked to other scouts and general manager Steve Yzerman.
Solovyov: You and Steve Yzerman are both centers.
Lipanov: Maybe he saw something in me with my position in mind? And he’s collecting Russians again: Mikhail Sergachev was acquired and Alex Volkov was drafted.
Solovyov: Did people recognize you after the draft?
Lipanov: I doubt anyone actually recognized me; they just saw a guy in a Lightning jersey and a hat. I signed autographs for 25 minutes; some people asked for pictures.
Solovyov: Your brother used to play soccer. How did it feel for him to be there?
Lipanov: He liked everything. He says he’ll go to Florida with me because it’s summer all year round there. He always supports me, goes to my games when he can; he flew to the World Championship and the Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Sometimes he gives me advice in terms of psychology, but not the play.
Solovyov: When you watch different sports, do you take note of some things for yourself?
Lipanov: Of course! I love soccer very much. I watched Spartak against Dynamo recently, but does the champions’ defense play like that? Yes, Georgi Dzhikiya wasn’t there… It was good for Dynamo: 2-2 with the champion, a strong comeback, and people actually filled the stands, unlike the FNL [second most popular professional soccer tournament in Russia]. If 20 thousand people go to the new stadium, it’ll be great.
“We’ll fight for the Memorial Cup”
Solovyov: Barrie Colts picked you at the CHL Draft in 2016. Did you stay in touch throughout the year?
Lipanov: When they chose me, I had phone calls with their general manager Jason Ford and head coach Dale Hawerchuk. They said they were expecting to see me in the lineup, but I decided with my parents that it would be better to stay. I think it has benefited me that I stayed in Russia and had a good season. I’m not very happy with the end of it though.
Solovyov: Is it special to get on a team coached by [Dale Hawerchuk] the former captain of Team Canada at the Canada Cup?
Lipanov: He was also selected first overall at the NHL Draft, and he’s a center, too. I hope he helps me in a lot of ways.
Solovyov: It does matter in the CHL what organization you get into. You can play for the London Knights, where everything’s all right with the infrastructure, or you can go to the Sudbury Wolves…
Lipanov: It was also one of the factors before the Import Draft, where everything is based on agreements between agents and managers. We decided right away that I needed to play in the OHL and be on a team with good structure, where I’d get an opportunity to show my worth.
Solovyov: You’ve got quite a gang gathering there!
Lipanov: We’ll fight for the Memorial Cup, I hope (laughs).
Solovyov: When did you know you could be on the team with Andrei Svechnikov?
Lipanov: Around winter. Andrei was going first before the Import Draft, and everyone calls him the 2018 NHL Draft front-runner. By that time Barrie had begun to decline. They probably understood that they wouldn’t get anywhere that season; at least they could get a good player. We’re in constant touch, congratulated each other on the draft picks.
Solovyov: You’re probably expecting to play on a line with him.
Lipanov: I’d like that.
Solovyov: There’s also Kirill Nizhnikov on the team?
Lipanov: He’s from Spartak, a year younger than me, has played there for a bit. He left for Canada when he was 13 or 14. He’s a good guy. I hope I don’t have any problems with adaptation. Of course, it mostly depends on my English: I speak a little and I can deal with some everyday issues, but there’s a lot to learn yet. And the Russian guys will help.
Solovyov: Do you already know where you’re going to live?
Lipanov: With a host family. There was a suggestion to live with Andrei, his mom is there with him, but I decided that it would be better to live separately, or we’d only speak Russian all the time. The town isn’t big, and I don’t really need a big one: it’s better without much entertainment and it’s only 2-3 hours away from Toronto. Sergachev has told me a lot about the league; I need to go there.
“It turned out I had been shooting the wrong way all my life”
Solovyov: How was the development camp in Tampa?
Lipanov: I hadn’t skated since the World Junior Championship before the camp. I brought my skates, but they said they’d provide all the other gear. The first practices were hard: we had different equipment, and it was my first time with a visor, so I couldn’t see anything, but then I got into the swing of things. Everything, the whole process, was new; unfortunately, we don’t have anything like that. There was a skating coach, we practiced technique, passes, shots. It turned out I had been shooting the wrong way all my life, off the wrong foot; they explained everything and told me how to do it right. The rinks are small, so there are more collisions and shots. It’s all shots and physical play, not much room for skating around.
Solovyov: Were there any team-building events?
Lipanov: We visited Police Athletic League's summer camp, played table hockey and golf with the kids. Such a social moment, I liked it a lot.
Solovyov: Did you get to see a baseball game?
Lipanov: There we didn’t, but we went to a game before the draft in Chicago; the tickets were expensive, 80 dollars, but it was worth it! The seats were good; you could see the whole field. You come to the game and enjoy it. Everyone has a hat, or a shirt, or some people even had uniforms.
I’ve actually played baseball in Russia, funny as it may sound. I played for the older year and became the Moscow champion. I was around ten at that time. Baseball develops everything: coordination, thinking speed. It’s not just hit and run but tactics: you have to know how to steal bases and so on. There are no pauses. I like all team sports; we played volleyball on our vacation in Turkey.
Solovyov: Did they give you any individual tasks?
Lipanov: Fitness coach has written out everything: exercises, nutrition. Everything is thorough. You have to keep track of your nutrition; they always pay attention to whether you have any excess weight. If you have 20% body fat, they won’t take you until you lose some.
Solovyov: Sergachev’s trade to Tampa was rather unexpected, don’t you think?
Lipanov: I’m glad that it happened this way. I hope everything works out well for him. I think they’ll give him a chance in Tampa this year.
Solovyov: Volkov has an interesting story. His performance at the Super Series helped him get chosen at the draft.
Lipanov: He said he had an agreement with Tampa that they would take him, but I didn’t think they would do it in the second round! I guess they decided to play it safe because they thought someone else was going to take him.
“Bragin is an exacting coach”
Solovyov: Are you worried that you’ll have less chance of getting into the Russian national junior team because of your departure to Canada?
Lipanov: If I play well, they’ll give me an opportunity. I have to play well during the season and show at the Super Series that I’m ready to fight and follow the game plan. As far as I know, Valeri Bragin is an exacting coach who wants the team to play precisely according to the plan and do what they’re told.
Solovyov: You could develop a duo for the national team in the club.
Lipanov: Yes, if everything goes well with Andrei, there might be a chance, but it all depends on us.
Solovyov: Have you spoken to Bragin yet?
Lipanov: At the training camp, before the U18 World Championship. He came to watch our practices, asked about Lipanov, and we talked afterwards.
Solovyov: How are you going to prepare for the season?
Lipanov: I’m going to be in Moscow now and fly to Canada nearer to the season.
“Blood is everywhere, 15 seconds pass—and the shift is over”
Solovyov: What’s your fondest memory of the past season?
Lipanov: The U18 World Championship, of course! And probably the first game with Neftyanik in the VHL playoffs. I thought I wasn’t going to play at all, but the coach said I was on the first line wing. So I went out on the ice, and nearby was Zhenya Krutikov without a tooth (laughs). Playoff game is completely different: during the regular season, you can sometimes keep the puck for too long. Here the puck is thrown, and I run. I thought I’d take it easily, but an elbow hits my head. I fly off to the glass, blood is everywhere, 15 seconds pass—and the shift is over. But I got used to it, so it became easier. I even put up some points.
Solovyov: Did the U18 World Championship give you confidence?
Lipanov: The confidence was there indeed, but the expectations were different. We should have been in the finals—the Finns didn’t seem that undefeatable. I guess we just didn’t want it until the end like they did. Even for myself I can say it was an unsuccessful tournament. I tried to play more for the team, help new guys in the locker room, calm them down, cheer them up to make them relax. We formed a good team, really united, but fell short. These things happen.
Solovyov: Head coach Sergei Golubovich is a reserved person, but what is he like in real life?
Lipanov: In real life he likes to make jokes; from the outside he might seem gloomy, but he’s a different person here. He almost never talks about hockey, rather tells stories from his childhood and youth. He’s a good person and I can’t say anything bad about him as a coach either. He always trusted me with the captaincy at the national team.
Solovyov: Have you talked to him about Canada?
Lipanov: Even a year ago he told me I should go, give it a try while I can. I listened to him, but then we decided it was better to play here some more.
“Classical music is really soothing”
Solovyov: As far as we know, you like classical music. Did you get to go out anywhere to listen?
Lipanov: There were some suggestions, but I wasn’t around. My parents go regularly, so I should find a chance too. Classical music is really soothing; you rest, fall asleep, think about things, get new ideas. But you shouldn’t think about hockey—it gets wearisome by the end of the season. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is absolutely cosmic: you listen to it before the game, get inspired…
Solovyov: And then take off your headphones and there’s rap playing in the locker room.
Lipanov: Banging into your ears! But I’m a music lover, so I can like anything, be it Leningrad or Griby [a Ukrainian house/hip-hop band], as long as it’s a good song. I’m not stuck on one genre.
“I was a ball boy at the Russian Railways Cup once”
Solovyov: Do you associate yourself more with Spartak or Dynamo?
Lipanov: That’s a good question. Spartak is my first team, they gave me everything: skating, stickhandling. Dynamo developed these qualities. I say thanks to Dynamo but even more to Spartak.
I have more memories connected to Spartak; so much happened in Sokolniki! Why Spartak? Because it was the closest to home, and the Lokomotiv soccer school was closer as well, so my brother went there even though he started at Krylya Sovetov. When my brother was playing, they would always drag me somewhere. I was a ball boy at the Russian Railways Cup once, and there were teams like Real Madrid and A. C. Milan! I’m walking after the game and Iker Casillas is going towards me. I was just around eight at that time.
Solovyov: Did Golubovich invite you to Dynamo from Spartak?
Lipanov: Yes, I changed the team at about 13. I understood that it would be better for my development, that competition makes a person stronger. We thought about it for literally one day; Spartak let me go peacefully.
“The fact that I’ve been given UFA status is thanks to my dad as well”
Solovyov: Tell us about your parents' role in your career.
Lipanov: My dad can tell who plays in the fourth league in Switzerland, how much they’re paid, why they’re paid. He has everything in Excel tables, fills them, reads stats, but watches actual games as well. Though he has never been a professional hockey player. The fact that I’ve been given UFA status is thanks to him as well. He is always well versed and knows everything. I was on vacation and he reported everything to me.
Solovyov: Does he ever meddle in your play?
Lipanov: He gives advice sometimes. If he were a professional, there would be no way for me to escape this (smiles). He can watch a game and say which player is worth paying attention to. He doesn’t press.
Solovyov: He’s a CSKA fan?
Lipanov: He has toured a lot: he was in Lisbon at the UEFA Champions League final. We have a lot of friends who play soccer: Dmitri Barinov from FC Lokomotiv, Rifat Zhemaletdinov from FC Rubin, Aleksandr Troshechkin from FC Tosno. My brother follows Lokomotiv, I follow Spartak, and dad follows everyone.
“Hašek was sitting there and putting on black old man socks”
Solovyov: Did you collect sticks as a child?
Lipanov: I had a season ticket for Spartak of the KHL. We waited for everyone after games, and I knew every player. Alexei Akinfeyev had a broken stick, and I said to him, “I don’t care, give it to me, please.”
I also have Kirill Kabanov’s stick; he was a talented guy. After one game we were standing with Alex Pavlenko, who is now with Avto, and waiting. It was already 11 p.m., and the technician walked out, so we came up to him and said, “Give us someone’s stick.”
He said he would go back and ask. He returned to invite us to the locker room. We thought it would be some regular player, but Dominik Hašek was sitting there instead! He was the last one left, putting on black old man socks, regular jeans.
We were delighted; he gave each of us a stick, signed them and wished us luck. Our parents were shocked! I also remember going to see Spartak when Mikhail Ivanov played there, Valeri Nikolayevich [Bragin] was the coach, and Sokolniki had colored stands.
Solovyov: Such a rich life.
Lipanov: Soccer, hockey all the time. You can’t stick to one thing; it’s important to develop in all respects. In the offseason I play volleyball—it’s good to jump on the sand for a bit. I don’t play soccer now because it’s dangerous. If it weren’t for hockey, I’d have gone into soccer.
Solovyov: Why did you choose hockey?
Lipanov: Perhaps our parents decided to add diversity: sent one son into soccer, the other into hockey. At hockey they root for me and my teams but always watch other games. And they follow the national team, as everyone else.