VIERUMÄKI – It was rather unplanned when Konstantin Simchuk put his gear on during the Ukrainian playoffs this past spring. He had already ended his goalie career one year earlier and was preparing for his post-playing days. IIHF.com met him at the Vierumäki camp.
Simchuk, who played at the highest level at various World Championships, the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, in the top Russian league and in the ‘90s also in the IHL that was at the same level as today’s AHL, finished his career with his hometown team Sokil Kyiv after the 2011/2012 season.
In 2012/2013 he worked for the same club as a sport director.
“But then two goalies were injured, we didn’t want to put the juniors into the fire during the playoffs, so I put the gear on and played three games,” Simchuk said.
“I had just practised four times before that during the season and that was with the veteran team. It was hard. I almost lost my heart in the first game!”
He did considerably well with a 93.0 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average though. But now he continues to work on his post-playing career path.
Simchuk takes part in the Team Manager Development Program here at Vierumäki but he doesn’t hide his interest for goalie coaching. He sometimes takes a spontaneous look into that program’s room during his free time and asks how things are going. After all, the veteran of 18 professional seasons just conducted a goalie camp in Ukraine recently.
“It’s a great camp for athletes and staff,” the 39-year-old said about the week-long 2013 IIHF Hockey Development Camp in Vierumäki. “We have mentors here from top countries that have so much experience in hockey. Everything is very interesting for me.”
Looking back at his lengthy career, Simchuk doesn’t have any regrets and he remembers all the steps he took like it was yesterday. Like being on a team with other 1974-born players before the break-up of the Soviet Union, players that would become famous stars in Russia.
“As a junior of 14 or 15 I played on various USSR national teams with players like Valeri Bure, Sergei Gonchar, Sergei Brylin or Andrei Nazarov, who’s doing a great job as a coach in the KHL,” he said.
He stayed with Sokil Kyiv that continued to play in the Russian top league in the first years of independence before leaving his country at age 23 to play in North America with minor-league teams. After four years he went back to Europe and played eight years in the top Russian league for Spartak Moscow, Salavat Yulayev Ufa, Sibir Novosibirsk, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, MVD Balashikha and CSKA Moscow. At the end of his career he again donned the jersey of Sokil Kyiv for three full seasons.
“Every step of my career was interesting. I worked with major organizations like Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia, or I went to camps of the Nashville Predators and the Phoenix Coyotes. That was a very interesting step when it comes to elevating the competition level,” Simchuk said.
But the best memories were from when he wore the yellow-and-blue jersey of the Ukrainian national team.
“Every World Championship in the top division and the Olympic Games, every time when I was representing the country that just gained independence few years earlier, was an exciting moment of my life,” he said.
From 2001 to 2006 he played every time in the top division of the Worlds as well as in the Salt Lake City Olympics where the team finished in tenth place. The same year at the World Championship in Sweden, he backstopped Ukraine to a record-high ninth-place finish. Ukraine tied Russia 3-3 and only missed the quarter-finals on goal difference.
For Simchuk, two memories stick out.
“The first one was 2001 in Germany. I played in my first World Championship game against Sweden. We lost 5-0, but they had like 60-65 shots,” he said. “That’s a game I will always remember.”
The other was the 2005 IIHF World Championship in Austria.
“It was a great event. So many NHL stars came due to the lockout. I played all six games and was dead tired but we had some of the best games that our national team ever played,” Simchuk recalled.
“We tied the United States 1-1 and lost to Canada 2-1. It was 1-1 until four minutes before the end of the game when Rick Nash scored. This kind of moments you remember your whole life.”
He missed the 2007 Worlds, the last top division event for Ukraine which got relegated that year in Moscow, but he returned to represent the national team at Division I level from 2009 to 2011.
Konstantin Simchuk’s last official game with the national team was in his home arena in Kyiv at the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B with the Ukrainian national team against Kazakhstan. Photo: Pavlo Kubanov
But this week is not about reminiscing about his past. The Vierumäki camp is part of his future after one year as a sport director at club level.
“I had my job with Sokil and decided to keep going,” Simchuk said about his decision to get education as a team manager here in Vierumäki, “but I also have fun working as a coach or goalie coach.”
His future is still open as is the future of his club. The owners haven’t decided about the upcoming season and he doesn’t know what will happen with the team.
“I prepare myself for everything, everything is interesting for me. It depends what offers I will get. If the national federation wants me to work with national teams I’d love to do so,” he said.
“I collected experience during my career from the coaches I’ve worked with. I worked with some great coaches,” Simchuk said.
He calls Dave King one of the most interesting coaches. They met when they both were with Metallurg Magnitigorsk in Russia.
“Back in Kyiv, Dave Lewis brought a lot to the national team. He tried to teach something to everybody around him. He made an amazing job,” he added.
“Also with many Russian coaches I had interesting experiences. They are different from international coaches, but they’re all very authentic and know hockey very well.”
Working here in Vierumäki in the classroom and also practically as the manager of Team Yellow, nicknamed the “Yellow Submarine” here, is something different than what he did with Sokil Kyiv or at goalie camps, but he appreciates to learn new things.
“It’s different when you work with a whole team with many different things you do as a team manager but I feel comfortable with all the tasks. It’s a great experience for me,” he said.
“It was good that I learned English when I played in the United States and when I don’t know a word here, I just write it down and search it on the internet. There are many interesting things which I noted down and that I will take back to Ukraine.”