“We’re getting ready to play in the semi-finals and so far we have played pretty well, but not perfectly,” said team captain Ivan Miroshnichenko. “We’re trying to find chemistry on our lines and getting prepared to play in the playoffs.”
Through three games, Miroshnichenko has played with several linemates already as coach Vladimir Filatov has juggled lines in-game frequently. One that gets the most attention is when he plays with 16-year-old right winger Matvei Michkov, particularly on the power play. Through three games, Michkov has six goals and nine points and has been getting lots of attention from the local media and fans in Breclav. The two already played successfully together at the last U18 Worlds and at the 2020 Youth Olympics where we featured Michkov.
“He’s a very special player, for sure,” Miroshnichenko said about Michkov. “I cannot say that it’s a very easy thing to play with him because you’ve gotta know how to play with him. But obviously, he’s a very talented guy and he’s got a lot of skills.”
While Miroshnichenko has “only” six points in three games, the 185-cm, 84-kg left winger plays a valuable role on the team.
“They are different players,” Filatov said about his two best forwards. “Michkov is a sniper and can score from different places on the ice and Miroshnichenko is a big guy, a very physical player with many talents and can be used in many situations.
“He’s a true leader. The guys love him.”
“I get to play the ‘leader’ role on this team, on and off the ice, and I think that everything comes out of the locker room,” Miroshnichenko said about being the captain. “When we have the right attitude in the locker room, we’re gonna play like that on the ice too.”
After being held pointless in the opening game against Finland, Miroshnichenko racked up four points against Switzerland and then two in the last game of the group stage against the Czech Republic.
“It’s not always about scoring points,” said Miroshnichenko. “Sometimes it’s way more important how you play defensively. I believe that I played well against Finland as did the whole team, and then against Switzerland I was producing more offensively, but they were totally different games.
“I would like to think I’m the ultimate player,” he said without any arrogance. “I like my speed, shot and puck possession.”
Miroshnichenko was born in Ussurisk in the far east of Russia, less than 100 km from Vladivostok and the Pacific Ocean, and about 50 km from the Chinese border. But he started playing hockey some 8,000 km away in Voronezh, near the border with Ukraine. As a teenager he played in the Moscow suburb of Podolsk, and then last season he went to play for junior team of Siberian team Avangard Omsk, Yastreby. Even for young hockey players pursuing the pro dream, that’s a lot of moving.
“Basically, we never settle down anywhere and that’s because of hockey,” Miroshnichenko said about his family’s long-distance moves. “When we move, the reason is hockey.”
Prior to going to Omsk, Miroshnichenko intended to play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, but visa issues related to the pandemic caused him to eventually abandon those plans and delayed the start of his season until January. He was limited to just 25 games in the MHL, recording five goals and 15 points.
“Last season was obviously tough,” he said. “It was hard for me to get on a roll at the end of the season because of the lack of skating and lack of practising, but right now I feel great. I spent the pre-season and pre-camp with the team, so I feel great right now.”
After the MHL season, Miroshnichenko played as an underager at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Frisco, Texas in April. While Michkov stole the show with 16 points and the tournament MVP award, Miroshnichenko impressed a lot of scouts with eight points of his own – including two big goals in a 6-5 semi-final win over Finland – and excellent two-way play. Russia took silver after losing 5-3 to Canada in the final.
“It was a bitter pill to swallow, losing in the final,” he recalled. “But despite this fact and that we were inside the bubble without meeting any other people or seeing anything in the city, it was anyway a great experience and, so far in my career, nothing compares to it.”
“Of course I would like to make the roster of the under-20 team to help the boys in their push for the gold medal,” said Miroshnichenko. “And when it’s my turn to play for the under-18 team, I’ll do that as well.”
After the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is over, Miroshnichenko heads back to Omsk, where he might return to Yastreby in the MHL or play for Krylia in the second-tier professional VHL. There’s also another possibility: “My goal is to make the KHL team.”
Beyond that, Miroshnichenko has even bigger dreams. The well-travelled youngster wants to make the leap across the Atlantic Ocean and play in the NHL. While Michkov is the early frontrunner for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, Miroshnichenko is being mentioned as one of the top players available in 2022.
Unlike a lot of prospects, he’s not shy about saying what he wants.
“This is the last year before the draft and I’ll do my best to try to be the number-one pick. That’s my goal.”