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Kirill Safronov: “I want to pass on my playing experience to my charges”

22 April 2016 | Report

Games at the Avangard children’s hockey centre are not over yet, but some of the coaches of the teams playing in Omsk have started gathering at the cinema-hall where, in just a few minutes, there will be a seminar with the well-known former player, now director general of the Krasnaya Zvezda sports club (St Petersburg) and sports agent, Kirill Safronov.

The meeting was attended by the coaches of Barys, Neftekhimik, Amur, and Avangard, students from the Siberian State University of Physical Education training to be coaches, and current coaches of Avangard Children & Youth Sports School, as well as ex-players of the Omsk team of masters Igor Dyakiv and Sergei Korobkin.

Coaches of children’s teams at a dedicated seminar for specialists. Omsk, April 22, 2016.

Kirill arrives at the meeting in an elegant suit, looking fit, as if he himself had just finished the season in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The seminar began somewhat unexpectedly: the ex-player reminded those present about the highlights of his career. They were most interested in how his career began, being more or less aware of the latest years when Safronov took part in the KHL.

“I joined the SKA main team under Boris Mikhailov. And this fact eventually helped me get on to the youth team. I was only 17. I remember as if yesterday the really intense 1999 World Championship. Apparently, at that time, our team hadn’t won this tournament for about 17 years. I think may play for the team was behind me being drafted.”

Kirill didn’t play long for the NHL, a total of 35 games for the Phoenix and Atlanta first teams. He came back to Russia in 2004, at the time of the NHL lockout. He played for Lokomotiv and for Khimik, with a first line made up of the Russian hockey legends Titov, Kamensky, and Kozlov. And after he returned to SKA, which was in a stable 11–13 position in the club, experiments began: Alexander Medvedev had only just taken the team over. Following Barry Smith’s invitation, Safronov had a difficult time in hockey: he changed several clubs before he ended up at Amur.

“Yury Leonov, with whom I played at one time, had an interesting training system”, Safronov went on. “‘Come on, come on, you know everything already, you’re all sport masters, get out and play’, he would say to us. Unusual for the players was the new Finnish coach, who was very popular in Finland and looked to me like a professor. Under Leonov, we had no team’s meetings. But now there were loads of them — in the morning before warm-up, before the game itself, and after the game he would analyse what had happened for about 40 minutes. We played one to one, like all Finnish teams.”

Safronov says it was very hard to play in Khabarovsk. Amur was the only team without its own charter plane, so they had to take scheduled flights. The first two away-games, we didn’t understand anything that was going on. During the first period of an away game, your body is in sleep mode, because you are playing at 3:0 a.m. Khabarovsk time; during the second period, your body wakes up, but then drops off again in the third. By the third game, you were acclimatised. But on returning to Khabarovsk, you can’t sleep at all — you really want to sleep at 9 p.m., but you have to hang out until 11 p.m. At 1 a.m. you are wide awake, because it’s like sleeping in the daytime. You can’t drop off again and at 9 a.m. you go off to training. That were our days!"

In St Petersburg, after retiring from hockey, Kirill Safronov tried being a commentator for hockey games and, after the fifth test broadcast, he was offered a full contract. Soon he decided to go back to the Lesgaft University of Physical Education to do a Master’s. Now he became a sports manager, though he still really wanted to play.

It came to Kirill one day that he should try for a hockey agent’s licence. He passed all the exams. The examining board included Kamensky, who didn’t ask any questions, but the lawyers grilled him. Eventually Kirill decided he would be better off with 1–2 players and would be responsible for them only. Because he still wanted to pass on his experience as a player. He is always making suggestions to one of his charges playing in defence. He never lets them relax because he knows how difficult it is to get back into shape even after a short downtime.