UFA – At the end of November, 18-year-old goalie Andrei Vasilevski debuted in the KHL. In two games, he played a little more than 10 minutes for his hometown club, Salavat Yulayev Ufa.
Andrei is from a hockey family. His father Andrei is 46 years old now. He was a goalie of minor repute with Salavat Yulayev and Rubin in the Soviet era. Nowadays he’s a goalie coach with Ufa's junior club, Tolpar, in the MHL. Andrei has a brother, Alexei, who is one year older. Initially, the two brothers played at forward, but later the older one retrained as a defender and the younger one became a goaltender. By the way, right up until the end, Alexei was listed as a candidate for the Russian national team, but ultimately he wasn't taken for the World Juniors.
Veterans, maybe for fun or maybe seriously, have claimed that the wife of Andrei Sr. is a sorceress. She sat behind the net of Salavat Yulayev and made her magic. Evidently, because of his mother’s skills and his father’s training, Andrei has had a great goaltending apprenticeship. His technique is flawless. After the 2012 World Juniors in Calgary, experts remarked: “Here’s a Russian goalie who plays like a Canadian.”
Vasilevski is a big guy. He can get down on the ice to covering the lower part of the net. He works artfully with his catching glove. He can read the game like a detective. He doesn't lose his head after letting in a bad goal.
By comparison, the famous former Soviet netminder Vladislav Tretiak didn't necessarily have a rich technical arsenal, according to some, but by being a determined fighter, he made up for this deficiency to become one of the best goalkeepers all-time.
Tretiak was a fortunate man. He was trusted by the great coach Anatoli Tarasov, who took him to CSKA Moscow and overlooked his mistakes. At the age of 17, Tretiak was invited to join the first national team. He was taken to the 1970 IIHF World Championship and to the 1972 Olympics as the main goalie. All that by the tender age of 20. Vasilevski hasn’t had such an opportunity.
Although the NHL’s scouting service recognized Andrei as the top European goaltending prospect, Salavat Yulayev didn’t place as much confidence in him. For a long time, he trained with the youth club, Tolpar. He also wanted to move up and play for the adult club, Toros, in the VHL, but it did not work out.
“You need to go on the adult level,” said various journalists “Don't you want to play for Toros in VHL, where you older brother Alexei is?”
“I would be happy to play in the VHL,” was Vasilevski’s reply. “There are many goalies in Ufa, and two of them were sent to Toros. For me, that was not the case.”
“Do you dream of performing for Salavat Yulayev?” the reporters persisted.
“Maybe when I turn 40 and come back from the USA,” Vasilevski said with a grin. “If everything goes right, I will come back there to end my career. If there’s a serious chance, I would play [for Salavat Yulayev] with pleasure, but I wasn't given a chance.”
“So, your path will take you over the ocean?”
“Yes, I will leave the very next year,” said Vasilevski. “I'd like to thank Tampa Bay for drafting me so high [19th overall in 2012]. To be the first goalie chosen in the draft is a big honour for me. I didn't even dream about it. Probably, I was chosen so high because of my performance for the U20 national team of Russia.”
“Tampa is searching for a good young goalie,” Vasilevski continued. “That goalie is me. But the road to the NHL can be long. I was asked if I am ready to play a couple of years for the farm team. I said I'm ready. I need to develop, and if I am not able to play for the first squad in Ufa, what am I doing here? If I stop developing at my age, that can end my career. And I want to follow the example of Sergei Bobrovski, who came to training camp and very soon started to play for the Philadelphia Flyers.”
This conversation occurred last summer after the NHL draft in Pittsburgh. Half a year earlier he won a silver medal at the World Juniors in Calgary. His GAA was 2.01 and his save percentage was 95.3.
In the opening game he earned a shutout against Switzerland, making 40 saves. He was named the best player of the team. The head coach of Russia, Valeri Bragin, acknowledged that this victory was the achievement of the goalie.
In the second game against Slovakia, the net was defended by Andrei Makarov, who allowed one goal in Russia’s 3-1 win. In the third game Vasilevski played again and Russsia didn't allow any goals. Latvia lost 14-0, but Bragin didn't name Vasilevski the main goaltender.
He played again against Sweden. Through two periods, Russia led 3-0. In the final period, Sweden tied it up and eventually won. However, in the quarter-finals against the Czechs, Vasilevski got the start again Russia won in overtime (2-1) mostly because of his game. In the semi-finals, Canada was awaiting. Russia took a 6-1 lead, and then trouble began for Vasilevski. The Canadians scored 4 times in a row and he was replaced. Makarov took over and Russia went to the finals.
“Nothing to say about Vasilevski – he is obviously tired,” said Sergei Cherkas, the goalie coach.
Sweden won in the finals – in overtime, with Makarov facing 58 shots.
Vasilevski seemed to then lose his charm. And in the summer series against Canada, devoted to the memory of the famous 1972 Summit Series, he appeared less convincing than Makarov. That's why he was not invited to the Olympians’ training camp in Switzerland and Makarov was.
In the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championships, these two Andreis – Makarov and Vasilevski – continue to compete. Vasilevski took the spot in the starting match against Slovakia and he was named the player of the match after a thrilling overtime win (3-2). Makarov was almost perfect in the next match against the USA with 2-1 victory for Russia. The next game against Germany, Vasilevki made 41 saves and Russia took a 8-1 victory. It will be really interesting to see which goalie will suit up against Canada on December 31. By the way, Makarov has not been drafted by an NHL club yet.
What awaits Vasilevski after the World Juniors in Ufa? Will he play more with Salavat Yulayev? These questions are still to be answered.
“I don't have a contract in Ufa for the next year, so I am not sure exactly where I’ll play,” said Vasilevski. “I don't know what will happen, but I want to play in the NHL badly.”
Here’s an interesting point. “Vasya” – that's the nickname for Vasilevski – tried to wear his Tampa Bay t-shirt for the Russian team’s open media day, but the staff told him not to.