Deep Dive is a new interview series where Nick Nollenberger and Joey Goldstein sit down with some of your favorite members of the San Jose Barracuda to "dive deeper" into some of their experiences on and off the ice. In this feature, Nick and Joey sat down with rookies Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekovich get their perspective on professional hockey and the Barracuda's push to the playoffs.
Nick Nollenberger: It’s been a whirlwind for you guys and there’s been a lot of success so far for you guys as we head into the playoffs. What has this experience been like for you and what are the feelings going into the playoffs?
Sasha Chmelevski: Yeah, when I first came here, I didn’t know what to expect but since the first day all of the guys have been really good to me. It’s been exciting and it’s been everything that I’ve wanted. You know, it’s pro hockey and it’s been tough, it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone but I have really enjoyed it, and to make the playoffs, it will be a unique experience.
NN: Ivan, how about you? How has it been going so far?
Ivan Chekhovich: The first couple of games were tough because it was my first experience playing at the professional level. Right now, I feel much more comfortable so now I can focus on the playoffs.
NN: You guys both were able to get some points and gain some confidence early on. How important was it for you guys to get a couple and then get that momentum rolling?
SC: Yeah, it feels great. It’s exciting and I didn’t take it for granted. To score in my first game, when it happened I kind of blacked out (laughs), it was exciting.
NN: That’s awesome!
Joey Goldstein: It seems like things have come pretty easy to you guys. Has it felt easy for you to adjust to the speed and strength of the pro game? Is it what you expected?
IC: I played in the QMJHL and there is a huge difference between the Q and the AHL. Everybody is much faster, you don’t have as much time to think about what you are going to do. It’s much, much faster.
NN: I know the coaches have talked quite a bit about how you guys have been able to pick up this system. When you were in development camp, they said some of that stuff has carried over because you guys were able to pick it up well. Was it easy to transition back and did you recognized some of the stuff like forecheck, powerplay, etc.?
SC: I feel like ever since I was drafted, I have tried to pay more attention to what San Jose does because you hope you can work your way up in the system. Like you said, if you just pay attention to that kind of stuff it sticks with you. When I came back there were a couple things I may have forgotten about but a lot of that stuff sticks with you. It felt good because I knew I didn’t have to readjust too much, I kind of knew what everyone wanted out of me so I’m glad I was able to remember it.
JG: The biggest thing since you guys have been here has been this six game win streak, which got the team into the playoffs. When you guys first came in here, six games ago, did you think playoffs were realistic for the team? What went through your head?
IC: When I came everybody told me, my agent told me, there was no chance for the playoffs. I didn’t think about that, I just wanted to come in and work hard but we did it.
SC: Same thing for me. I mean, they were telling me that the Barracuda were probably not going to make the playoffs, but probably not means there is still a chance (laughs). But we started to win a couple of games and then we thought, “well maybe something could happen”. If people keep losing and we keep winning, it all came down to one game and we were fortunate to make it.
NN: You guys mentioned the difference coming in from Juniors and I am sure things are going to tighten up a bit more in the playoffs. You saw the Sharks game last night, it’s physical in nature, are you expecting that and how are you guys preparing for that style of play here in the postseason?
SC: I’m sure it will be different than a Junior playoff game, it’ll be a lot more physical and a lot tougher. I think we are just going to go along with it. We are both new to this and we have veterans on the team who, I am sure, will show us the way so we will follow them. We are excited for the challenge and it should be an exciting run.
JG: you talk about leadership and following veterans in the locker room. Who are guys that you are looking up to as role models to lead the way for you as young guys?
SC: For sure, John McCarthy. For me, I have been sitting next to him the whole time I’ve been here and I have been watching the things he does. I pay attention to my other line mate, Adam Helewka, he’s showed me a few things. I just think it helps being around the guys who are older, seeing the way they take care of themselves and how they manage the game.
JG: Ivan, how about you?
IC: I also think John McCarthy. He’s a really nice guy and he helps the younger players a lot. I like to play with Rudy and Chartier too, a couple of skill guys who can make a huge difference, so it’s really nice playing and learning from them.
NN: You’re a Russian kid who played in the Q, I am sure the weather this time of year is still pretty cold. How has the transition been coming to California and adjusting to the lifestyle so far?
IC: Yeah, in the Q there is always snow. Every time, everywhere. I also speak another language and everyone in the Q speaks French, so it’s a little bit tough for me.
JG: How’s your French?
IC: Terrible, actually (laughs). I know a couple of words but it’s not enough for conversation.
JG: What has the atmosphere been like in the locker room around the guys when you think about the last six games and this playoff push?
SC: At first when we started – actually I think it’s been almost the same since we started, keeping it not too high, not too low. Everyone likes winning so the guys are all happy and hopefully we keep that positivity going because everyone feeds off of it.
NN: Do you think it has helped you guys coming in together being that you both speak English but you can also converse speaking Russian?
SC: Definitely! I feel like Ivan’s English is pretty good, we are able to sit here and talk like this –
SC: He definitely could use someone who can speak Russian every now and then to help him out with something he may not understand, so I help him out if there is something he needs. I feel like he accepts that challenge to learn English and keep using it.
JG: Next year, you guys are going to go back to Juniors. What kinds of things are you trying to pick up on and learn that you can take and translate into your game for next season?
IC: Probably the physical game. I also want to try and play much faster in the Q.
SC: I think definitely playing on the inside of the ice more, in front of the net. Even being tougher along the walls, that is something the coaches have talked about and it’s pretty important. Getting stronger is important too obviously, it’s a man’s game.
NN: Next year you will go back as the elder statesmen and maybe take on more of a leadership role. Is that something you guys are trying to add too? Being able to absorb the pro game and having been around guys like Johnny Mac, you can go back an kind of instill that to the young 15, 16 year olds that you guys are playing with.
SC: One hundred percent. I feel like I did that a little bit this year and it will be an even bigger role next year. Having more knowledge and more experience under my belt to help out the younger guys is always important. It’s always important to help the younger guys because eventually they are going to be the ones helping out the next generation.
JG: On this run that you guys have been on, when did it click for everyone that, you know, we may have something here and we could go on a run?
SC: Probably when we won three in a row. Once we got three, we were all kind of like “okay here we go” because when you get two you start to think “maybe” but three is big. Let’s keep winning and see what happens, that was kind of the motto for everyone. We’re not going to pay attention to what everyone else is going to do but we wanted to make sure we were playing for something on the last game of the year.
NN: You guys were able to go to Game 3 of the Sharks series the other night, I’m sure that was the first time you’ve been to a Sharks game. Quite an atmosphere! Does that get you guys pretty excited for the future? You guys are obviously a part of the organization and one day you’d like to play in the NHL. Was that a cool experience for you guys?
IC: Of course. That was really nice, like, that was my first NHL playoff game so it was really exciting. There were a lot of people. I’ve always watched KHL games where there are maybe 2,000 people and yesterday there were like 17,000.
SC: I got goosebumps watching the light show and everything. It was electric in there! Every time they scored or the Ducks took a penalty, the crowd went wild. Those are the kind of fans you want to play for.
NN: You guys might have to go to every game, they scored eight goals which was a franchise record for a playoff game (laughs).
JG: The other big thing from the Sharks game was the love that the Barracuda got. They put you guys on the scoreboard, announced information on the upcoming games, the streak you guys went on. It sounds like the crowd went nuts. They started a whole Barracuda chant, so what was that like for you guys being there to see all that?
SC: At first I thought it was a small group of people but then I heard it from a few different directions and I knew there was no echo so people were definitely chanting. It was cool, it’s nice when you have people who support you. They make you feel like you’re more important and you have a responsibility to go out and play well as a team.
JG: Do you guys have a message for Cuda Country as we gear up for the playoffs?
SC: We love the support. We love it when it’s loud. We are going to do everything we can in these first few games to get it done.