Translation: Namestnikov on playing in Tampa, “The atmosphere is crazy”

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov looks back on the World Championship and his path to professional hockey.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov was recently interviewed in Russian by Izvestia. Namestnikov discusses his experience playing for Team Russia, life in Tampa, and his relationship with other members of the Lightning.

This Russian-to-English translation was provided by Igor Nikonov (@nikonov_igor). If you use this translation in any context, please credit the translator as “Igor Nikonov of Raw Charge.”

IIHF World Championship

Izvestia: How was your first World Championship?

Namestnikov: The team was very friendly. All the players supported each other and gave their all for the team.

Izvestia: Steve Yzerman has already complained about your injury at the quarterfinal against the Czech Republic. Is everything fine now?

Namestnikov: I won’t say anything yet. It’s fine, nothing serious. The Tampa Bay Lightning management has already contacted me. I told them that the injury isn’t very serious. There were no questions after that.

Izvestia: What went wrong in the semi-finals with Canada?

Namestnikov: From the very beginning of the third period everything went wrong. We missed an early goal and the Canadians kept pressing. We couldn’t reorganize and that’s why we got this result.

Team Canada always plays this way: they strangle the opponent, fight until the end, without giving even a second of respite. I think we lost when they scored at the start of the third period. It could have ended differently if we had killed that penalty.

Izvestia: You almost lost the bronze medal game. Was it the same situation as with Canada?

Namestnikov: They scored a very unnecessary goal in the end of the second period. Two rebounds. That was very disappointing. But the guys pulled themselves together and played confidently at the end of the game.

Izvestia: You didn’t have a consistent line at the tournament. Was that a problem for you?

Namestnikov: I wouldn’t say so. We have national team players on every line, which is a certain level that is always interesting to play at. They’ve been moving me from line to line in Tampa this season, as well as previous years. I didn’t always play with Nikita Kucherov. It didn’t bother me.

Izvestia: That was your first World Championship. Did you have a chance to play for the national team before?

Namestnikov: I’ve been in the NHL for three seasons. Before that, while playing in the AHL, I wasn’t considered a candidate for the national team. And since I joined the Tampa Bay Lightning, we made the playoffs three years in a row.

The only way was to assign me during the World Championship was if we had been eliminated [from the NHL playoffs]. But at the same time Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Evgeni Malkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov would usually be able to play at the Worlds too, so it was hard to get in.

But I was always ready to play for the national team. I immediately accepted their offer this year and didn’t regret it. The atmosphere and the play were wonderful at Team Russia.

Izvestia: Is the atmosphere at the World Championship similar to what you see in the NHL?

Namestnikov: The atmosphere is great. It was very hot at the arena in Paris though, so the ice wasn’t perfect. But everyone is playing in the same conditions and there’s no point in talking about it.

On the contrary, the arena in Cologne is very similar to many North American ones. However, the ice was also not very good. It got normal by the end of the tournament.

Summer plans

Izvestia: What are you going to do now?

Namestnikov: I’m going to Detroit and then to Tampa to see my family and parents.

Izvestia: Has your family been living in the US since moving there in 1993?

Namestnikov: We returned to Voskresensk for a while. I played for Khimik from the age of 9 to 17 years. At that time, we all lived in our homeland. The last time I visited Voskresensk was two years ago.

Seasons are long in the NHL, especially if you get into the playoffs. When it’s over, you have just a little time to rest and then you start preparing for the new season. We couldn’t make the playoffs this year, but besides being at the base of the national team in Novogorsk, it was impossible to really spend any time in Russia.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Izvestia: Why didn’t the Lightning make the playoffs this season?

Namestnikov: It’s hard to say. The roster stayed the same, but there were a lot of injuries. Maybe they took their toll. We missed the playoffs by just two points in the end.

Izvestia: Nikita Kucherov has criticized the team pretty harshly...

Namestnikov: I don’t want to discuss it. It’s his business. It would be improper to comment on it.

Izvestia: Tell us something about Tampa. What kind of city is it?

Namestnikov: Tampa is a nice quiet city in Florida. No traffic jams. There are two good beaches within a 30 minutes walk from my house; next to them are a couple of excellent restaurants.

In high season tourists come there and at this time the city is buzzing. Voskresensk is a little bit quieter in this sense (laughs). But for the rest of the year, Tampa is a peaceful place for a quiet life with family.

Izvestia: Florida is a southern state. Are there any problems with people’s interest in hockey as, for example, in Sochi?

Namestnikov: Our arena is full at every game. Tickets are sold out a few days before the games. Florida Panthers have some attendance problems. You often play with half empty stands.

But in Tampa there is a real cult following of the team, especially after winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Nikolai Khabibulin as a goalie. The atmosphere is crazy even at regular games, to say nothing of playoffs.

The KHL and the Olympics

Izvestia: Was there a chance for you to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)?

Namestnikov: There were no serious offers, even from Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod after the KHL draft. I was already playing in the American Hockey League at the time, so I decided to get into big hockey through America.

Especially when I played in London, Ontario, there were always eight or nine thousand fans at every game. The atmosphere was amazing. It’s a small town with not much else to do, so people went to hockey games. Every player is a hero for them. I loved that so much. The only thing I would have sacrificed it for was the NHL.

Izvestia: How did you react to the situation between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)? Do you want to go to the Olympics if Gary Bettman decides to allow the players to?

Namestnikov: I will always be glad to join the national team if I get a call. I hope that NHL players will be allowed to play at the Olympics. It’s a very disappointing situation.

I have a contract with Tampa, but I hope that the NHL and the IOC will reach an agreement and I won’t miss the chance to help my national team in Pyeongchang if I am invited.

Lightning team dynamics

Izvestia: Who are your friends in Tampa, besides Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy?

Namestnikov: The whole team is a tight group. I have good relationships with Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. They are all good guys and  it’s a good team.

Izvestia: Does Steve Yzerman often communicate with the team?

Namestnikov: When someone has questions, he’s always ready to help. I can’t say he talks to us that often. He’s mostly trying not to get into the everyday life of the team, leaving it to the head coach who is very close to the team.

Steve [Yzerman] holds the meetings before and after the season. He talks in detail about the tasks and plans for refreshing the team and summarizes the results of our performances.

Izvestia: The Tampa Bay Lightning head coach is Jon Cooper, who is also the head coach of Team Canada at this year’s World Championship. What is he like in person?

Namestnikov: He’s very calm; he never panics, even in critical situations. He’s able to settle the team down when something isn’t working, always saying, “Guys, you are the best. You are doing everything right, but less fuss.” I guess he said something like this to Team Canada before the third period of the semifinal game.

Izvestia: What are your plans for the next year?

Namestnikov: Have a good rest and prepare for the next season. The Lightning’s only goal is winning the Stanley Cup. I’m also always ready to go to the national team. It was a great honor to play for my country, especially with fans who supported us throughout the whole championship and were thankful for the game even after the defeat from Canada.