By Geneen Pipher & Shannon Valerio,
August 19, 2015
Mytishchi, Russia — On a recent trip to Moscow, Hockey VIPs Magazine caught up with Igor Levitsky, a young Russian hockey player on the rise. The Moscow native played a season for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before returning home to begin his professional career. Levitsky was skating for Atlant Moscow Oblast, on a line with National Hockey League legend Slava Kozlov. This season, the 22-year-old is a member of Spartak Moscow, which is returning to the league after a year-long hiatus due to loss of sponsorship.
Levitsky joined Hockey VIPs Magazine for a chat over coffee at a cafe in suburban Moscow. In a wide-ranging interview, he shared his thoughts on his time in Quebec, the differences between Russian and Western-style hockey and more.
Hockey VIPs Magazine: Did your dad train you hard?
Igor Levitsky: Yes. When you go on the ice, you have to give 100 percent. If you can’t give 100 percent, then you shouldn’t go on the ice.
Hockey VIPs: What would you like people to know about you?
Levitsky: I don’t know … I just want people to say “he’s a good player.” That is worth all the effort.
Hockey VIPs: What do you think you’d be doing if you were not a hockey player?
Levitsky: I’d be a singer.
Hockey VIPs: What kind of singer?
Hockey VIPs: Did you listen to a lot of rock in Canada?
Levitsky: Yes, before a game — always rock.
Hockey VIPs: Who is your favorite band?
Hockey VIPs: Do you still listen to rock music?
Levitsky: No, I wouldn’t say so. I like different music. Russian, European, rap, different music, it depends on my mood.
Hockey VIPs: But you’d be a rock singer?
Hockey VIPs: What music do they play in the locker room here?
Levitsky: Today or in general? Like today we had Beyonce; and usually we have Russian rap or 50 Cent.
Hockey VIPs: Who decides what you listen to?
Levitsky: There’s not an individual — it’s whoever puts something on. If we put on something and the team wins, we’ll continue to put on that music until the team loses.
Winning and Losing
Hockey VIPs: How do you feel about tonight’s loss?
Levitsky: It’s very upsetting. I’m very sad when the team loses. It’s very difficult to get over it. But you have to forget about it and get ready for the next game and do your best to win.
Hockey VIPs: If somebody makes a mistake do you think: “Oh, it’s his fault”? Or is it everybody’s?
Levitsky: The fault is all of ours. We don’t have the concept “today we lost because of him.” If we lose, then we lose as a team. If we win, it’s as a team too.
Hockey VIPs: Do you keep your eye on the standings?
Levitsky: Honestly, I haven’t looked, but I think somewhere around tenth place. Tenth or eleventh.
Hockey VIPs: How much better do you have to do to get to the playoffs?
Levitsky: At least eighth place to qualify for the playoffs.
Hockey VIPs: So it’s must-win.
Levitsky: We’ll need to keep fighting and winning more.
Hockey VIPs: What are the crowds usually like in the area? It was a big crowd today. Is that typical?
Levitsky: Yes, it is always that way in Mytishchi. When the team is winning, it’s usually sold out.
Best and Worst in the KHL
Hockey VIPs: Is the Mytishchi Arena one of the better facilities for players in the Moscow area?
Levitsky: I don’t know, but it is, of course, more beautiful. It’s prettier than CSKA’s old stadium or [the old] Spartak rink. [ed. Spartak used to play in a very old Soviet-era area, but the team has moved to a newer facility.] Of course, it’s always more pleasant to play in a new arena. And for the fans it’s all much more convenient.
Hockey VIPs: Who has the nicest arena in the KHL?
Levitsky: In Helsinki they have a good arena — Jokerit’s.
Hockey VIPs: What’s the worst road trip to go on?
Levitsky: In terms of location or in terms of the team that you play against?
Hockey VIPs: Both.
Levitsky: There are no bad places, it’s interesting everywhere, but it is hard to play in Khabarovsk, because it’s a long flight there [eight hours] and a very different time zone. You arrive there and it’s hard to adjust.
Hockey VIPs: Which team is the toughest play?
Levitsky: This year it’s been very tough to play against CSKA Moscow and Jokerit.
Hockey VIPs: Jokerit …
Levitsky: You know what the name means?
Hockey VIPs: The Jokers. Yes, their jerseys have a clown on the front. So who’s the most physical team to play against — where you have to be careful?
Levitsky: I think there are many tough teams, CSKA, for example, is tough. And Avangard Omsk. They’re very physical teams. Bratislava — Slovan is a tough team, too.
Hockey VIPs: CSKA has Evgeny Artyukhin.
Levitsky: Last year he played here, now he is with CSKA.
Hockey VIPs: He specializes in physical play. Is there a notion of a goon in Russian hockey — a player who specializes in fighting?
Levitsky: In the KHL they don’t have players who specialize in just fighting and checking.
Hockey VIPs: And in Quebec?
Levitsky: In the junior league? Yes, we had we tough guys. They go out during warm up and agree who they are going to take out. Like, “we will take out player X.”
Hockey VIPs: Have you ever been taken out?
Levitsky: Sometimes a guy would approach me and say: “Let’s drop the gloves, come on!” But very quickly one of our tough guys would come by and say something like “don’t touch him, you go with me.”
Hockey VIPs: When you were playing junior, were you one of those players who had tough guys who skated with you to protect you?
Levitsky: Yes, sometimes. Not usually, but when the game was very rough. For example, when it was as physical game, of course someone would go on the ice with you to protect you.
Hockey VIPs: Did opponents pick on you because you were a European — a Russian?
Levitsky: Hmm … No.
What is Said on the Ice, Stays on the Ice
Hockey VIPs: In the KHL do they have agitators — these people that try to get you mad and say rude things? To make you upset? If so, what do they say?
Levitsky: I don’t know, it’s never happened to me — that a player would just come up and say something to me. Maybe it happens to the star players.
Hockey VIPs: It did happen in Canada though? What did they say?
Levitsky: Usually just some nasty things.
Hockey VIPs: That you can’t repeat here?
Hockey VIPs: Can you tell him [ed. the translator] and he’ll tell us later?
Hockey VIPs: We know what you guys say to each other. (Laughter) This may sound like a weird question but you’re a cute guy, do you have female fans that really like you?
Levitsky: Yes, there are some. Children mostly, small girls write and wish me luck. Or they will say things like “Happy Holidays” to me.
Hockey VIPs: In Canada?
Levitsky: Yes, there are lots of girls there.
Hockey VIPs: Is it different here?
Levitsky: I think it’s the same.
Hockey VIPs: Who is Igor Levitsky?
Levitsky: That’s a difficult question. I think the main thing about me is that I want to go on the ice in every game and win.
Hockey VIPs: If you had one word to describe yourself what would that be?
Levitsky: The second hard question. (Laughs) That I am a fan of hockey, I think.
Hockey VIPs: Is there anything else you want your fans to know about you?
Levitsky: I just want to send my best regards to all the fans of Gatineau and to congratulate the coach that I had in Gatineau, Benoit Groulx, on becoming world junior champions.
Photographs: Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine
Interpreter: Alexey Bogatiryov
Translations: Alexey Bogatiryov and Tatiana Markina