Photo credit: Kyle Mace of Sweetest Hockey on Earth
Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov has been in North America for parts of just three seasons, but he’s already had four head coaches, two broken noses (okay, the same nose broken twice), and has suffered through a benching that spanned the Caps’ entire 2011-12 playoff run.
Now, during a season Orlov should have started in Washington, he’s back with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, experiencing his first ever lockout.
On the first day of the lockout, Leonid Vaisfeld, general manager of Metallurg Novokuznetsk, expressed his interest in bringing Orlov home. “[Orlov] has a two-way deal,” Vaisfeld told Sports.ru. “So it’s up to Washington if they want to send him to the farm to learn English or let him come here, where I think it would be better for Dima’s development. As far as I understand he just wants to play at home.”
Way back in February of 2011, Orlov negotiated out of his contract with his KHL team to start his professional career early in Hershey. Now, while some of his friends are making big-time money playing in the KHL, Orlov– whose family is still in Russia– is staying the course in Hershey, doing everything the coaching staff has asked of him.
RMNB caught up with Orlov on Saturday before Hershey hosted the St. John’s Ice Caps (for whom Orlov’s best friend Alex Burmistrov plays). RMNB’s Igor Kleyner asked him about the possibility of going home, how his English is progressing, and what it’s like playing under a Hall of Fame coach. We also talked about what it’ll be like to play against his former teammate and good friend Alex Semin.
Igor’s transcript of the interview is below.
It appears your English has improved: you’ve been chatting with us for 10 minutes without any difficulty. Maybe we can get rid of translator and do the interview in English?
No, I am not ready yet! My vocabulary is still quite poor. Whatever [Ian] asked me, I just was nodding my head yes or no!
How does it feel returning to Hershey?
It feels right to return here. It’s not like anything depends on me – the league and the PA are talking, but without much success, so for now I am here, doing everything I can to help the team. It is disappointing that my second NHL season hasn’t had a chance to start yet, but I am happy with the situation here in Hershey; it is not a strange place for me, I know every player and the coaches, we have a good team.
Is it easier to play in the AHL now, having experienced the NHL for almost a whole season last year?
I wouldn’t say so. In fact, in a way, it is more difficult to play here, especially when we have three games, one after another. In the NHL, you are obviously surrounded by higher level players, so you get better passes for example. But nevertheless, you can work on becoming a better player and improving yourself here in the AHL as well, that’s just how it worked out for now, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Did you consider going back home to play for Novokuznetsk during the lockout? There were rumors that they were interested in signing you…
Well, it is possible that there were some discussions about that, with all the Russian players going to play in the KHL during the lockout – but I am here. I have a contract. I can’t leave. What will happen in the future – we’ll see, I am just hoping the NHL hockey will resume, they’ve been talking for a few days now. All we can do is wait and hope for the best.
On a personal level, would you like to return to Novokuznetsk to play at home?
I am not even thinking about that right now. Like I said, I have a contract here. What I want is to play in the NHL. That’s the reason I came here. I was really looking forward to my second season, but now, who knows how long this situation will go on and when and how it is going to end. It is disappointing.
Do you stay in touch with the guys who went to play in Russia?
Not much, really. Although I try to follow what is going on with my team [Novokuznetsk]. I watch the highlights of their games. They started the season well, and doing alright so far. I know all the guys on the team; I practiced with them during summer. So I am happy for them and hope their good luck will continue.
Photo credit: kuzrab.ru
Over the summer you had a chance to participate in the goalie practice session for the kids, which was organized by your friend and former Novokuznetsk teammate Sergei Bobrovsky. Was it the first time you were actually trying teach others some hockey instead of being a student?
I wouldn’t say I was really teaching anybody. Serega just called me one day and asked me to come help out a bit. My job was simply to shoot the puck, and he was showing the kids some exercises and goalie techniques. So it was really Sergei who was doing the teaching – I was just helping him out, and I was happy to do that. But it really turned out to be an interesting experience. I liked it a lot.
Whenever the NHL season finally starts, one of your Russian teammates will be wearing different colors, playing for a division rival – how strange do you think it will feel playing against Alex Semin?
Yeah, we had a very good and close relationship, and he always helped me out a lot with whatever I needed. It would have been great if he stayed with the team, but it just didn’t happen that way. It is sad that he left. Obviously, the more Russian players we have on the team, the more fun we have together. But he is a great player, so I am sure he’ll do fine with his new team.
With you usually playing on the left side of defense and Semin on a right wing, whenever the Caps face the Hurricanes, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with him. If it’s you and him in the corner, will you let up a bit?
Well, I am not going to hit him from behind or do anything else that’s dirty, but other than that, friendship stays off the ice.
With Semin leaving, Ovechkin will be your only Russian teammate.
[Ovechkin] is a great guy. He is a good leader of the team, and off the ice you can always count on him. Whenever I ask him for help, he is always there for me. And just being on the same team with him– it feels great.
With Adam Oates appointed as the Caps new head coach and helping out here right now, he is your fourth coach in the last 12 months. Does it affect your development in any way?
Coaches change; it’s just a fact of life in hockey. They all come with their particular vision of the game, their own system. They try to help us understand as quickly as possible what the new system is; you just need to try your best to learn it. And then it’s simply following their instructions and giving your best effort in the game. You just adapt to the new system, and it’s not that big of a deal.
Are there any changes in the defensive system with the new coaching team?
Yes, there are some adjustments. The new approach is a bit more aggressive, attacking. I like it: jumping up into the play and joining the rush. But even now you have to judge the situation and make the right decision: whether to jump up or not, is it too risky or not. And if your team is ahead, maybe it’s not the right thing to do. But if we are behind, maybe you need to take more risks and join the attack, maybe create a scoring chance or draw a penalty, so there are many nuances that go into decision making process.
Calle Johansson was known for his sound judgment and ability to join the offense. How is he helping you develop your game?
Yes, I get a lot of advice from him. We watch video together, and he points out different things to me, what I need to improve or do differently.
Were you in any way involved with the Caps drafting your friend Sergey Kostenko this summer?
Not really. I just remember last year during the season I was surprised when our goalie coach Dave Prior asked me about Sergei – both as a goaltender and what kind of person he is. He mentioned that the team is interested in Sergei and monitoring his development, and I was a bit puzzled by that whole thing. I thought, do they really plan to draft him? And then in the summer, the team asked me to give them his phone number, so I guess they talked to him and decided to draft him.
I was watching the draft, and I saw that the Caps selected Sergey, so I called him right away to congratulate. I stay in touch with him all the time; I know he has not played yet (as he is recovering from shoulder surgery), but he is fully participating in practices, getting ready for his first game in America. His fate is in his hands now. He needs to be confident in his abilities and be prepared. Hockey is a bit different here, so he’ll need to adjust. He’ll be playing with the grownups now. The [ECHL] has decent teams and some good players, so he’ll need to be ready.
Interview by Igor Kleyner.