CSKA has been ruthless and relentless this season, and not only in the marathon that is the regular championship. In the hectic sprint of the playoffs, the Army Men sent a further warning to their rivals by overcoming spirited resistance from Jokerit, dispatching Helsinki’s finest in a 4-0 sweep.
The coup de grâce was delivered in overtime of Game 4 by Canadian sniper Geoff Platt, and he was also involved in a crucial episode a few minutes into the series. Jokerit had gifted CSKA an early powerplay goal, but were back at even strength and seemed to have settled when Platt found himself marooned in the corner with an opponent by each shoulder. However, Platt produced a determined burst to muscle away from his guards, went marauding behind the net, and in the ensuing chaos drew a defenseman away from goal to allow Greg Scott to fire the puck home. The Finns were 2-0 down after 6 minutes and 5 seconds, and could never regain the initiative.
Last year, Russians celebrated 70 years of playing the game their grandparents called “Canadian hockey,” and this year marks the 150th birthday of the Canadian nation. Nine years ago, a young hockey player from the Great White North, whose career had stalled in the NHL, followed the pioneering tradition of his forefathers and accepted an invitation to play for Dinamo Minsk, who had just begun competing in a fledgling tournament called the Kontinental Hockey League. That was Geoff Platt, and he has featured in every KHL season since. We at khl.ru decided he was the ideal man to give us a progress report on CSKA, the playoffs, and the League, and he kindly agreed to talk to us before Tuesday morning’s skate, on the eve of Game 1 of the semi-final against Platt’s former club, Lokomotiv.
“Jokerit were notably physical. And when our team says that, it is a big compliment.”
- We will begin with the playoffs. At one extreme, you could have a tough, seven-game series which sharpens the competitive edge. The opposite is an easy 4-0 sweep which conserves energy. You seem to have had a tough, fiercely competitive 4-0.
Geoff Platt: “We did, yes. It was an extremely tough four-zero. The score didn’t reflect how difficult the whole series was, because three were overtime victories, and all were really close games and very physical.”
- Last year Jokerit were criticized by some for not being physical enough. Is it possible they over-compensated?
Geoff Platt: “As a competitor in the previous season, I wouldn’t have said that myself. Maybe from the media standpoint, somebody said that - they say that type of thing. Certainly, this season, I wouldn’t say they were over-compensating, but they were notably physical. And for our team to compliment another team in that way… that’s a big compliment, because we play extremely physical ourselves.”
– In addition to the series winner, you had a double assist on that second goal in Game 1. How important was it to get off to a flying start?
Geoff Platt: “Paramount, really, because when you get off on the right foot, build a tempo and a momentum, you relax a tiny bit. At the beginning of a series, even if the seeds are 1 and 8, it is really an even match-up, and if you can show your dominance early on, that helps you to relax.”
“khl.ru is a really tremendous website; it speaks volumes for our League”
– You know as much about the KHL as anyone can, having taken part in every season, out there on the ice, in the thick of the action. How has it changed?
Geoff Platt: “There’s a tremendous amount of aspects in which it has changed, but first of all, I’ll focus on the style of play. The game was played, from a Canadians perspective, classically Russian; quite beautiful hockey. There was far less hitting, it was much easier to get to the middle of the ice, also mistakes and risk were abundant. Today, the game has tightened up and it has become far more defensive than it was nine seasons ago. And of course, on the business front the League was very young and had a lot of growing pains, but now it has turned into quite a spectacle. I think you can see that reflected in the KHL website. I think, besides, maybe reading nhl.com, can there be a comparable sports website in two separate languages out there in the world? It’s really a tremendous website, and it speaks volumes for our League - that they’re willing to push the product so well in terms of marketing.”
– And now further back in the past. You were in Russia in 2003, when you went to Yaroslavl and won the World U18 gold with Canada. Do you remember much about it?
Geoff Platt: “Yes, that was my first experience in Russia and it was very, very foreign to me, and very intimidating, you could say, because we were taught to feel that way. You know, after living in Yaroslavl, I walked the exact same streets as I did ten years previously, and I thought, “This isn’t bad at all! This is now home for me.” Of course, I was naïve and had been trained to think that way, but times change and people change, and I’m proud that I was able to look past my initial thoughts.”
“Our strength is our consistency throughout our line-up, from our first to our fourth line”
– When you were given a chance as a youngster, you won the gold medal for your country. You were given a chance at Dinamo Minsk, Lokomotiv, and now at CSKA, and you justified that faith. It seems strange you were not given a chance at Anaheim.
Geoff Platt: “Yes, if you look at my career, the point of being in the minor leagues is to develop, and I did precisely what the team asked me to do over three seasons. I was a goalscorer, and I scored very consistently for three seasons. Yet after that final season, Anaheim still wasn’t quite willing to make that full commitment to me. They still wanted to see more, but I was ready to take that next step myself, and happily, I came to Europe”
– So, first Finland, then Minsk, then Yaroslavl, then Moscow…
Geoff Platt: “It was actually Minsk, then Finland. I had a contract signed with the Finns as I left North America, but it did not begin until mid-October. I had a friend playing in Minsk, and of course, this was the first season of the KHL, and he just asked me, “Would you like to come play for a month?” I had no expectation. I thought, “Yeah, it would be great to play for a month and get ready before my actual season coming up, and nine seasons later – here I am! Kind of a KHL stalwart.”
– How hard was that? Moving to another continent…
Geoff Platt: “I think that as long as you go into the experience feeling positive, you can overcome a lot of the obstacles. Every day there are still obstacles for me, but back then, there was such a strong language barrier. It was hard, but there was a willingness from myself to want to learn, to fit in, and once you take an initial step - maybe it is just learning Cyrillic - something as simple as that – it makes life a lot easier. Then you learn from people around you, and you just adapt – it’s as simple as that.”
“We are getting the other teams’ very best game; it is a big thing for them to beat CSKA”
– You have said in previous interviews that it was a bit frustrating at Minsk, not having a settled side. You had a year-and-a-half at Lokomotiv, but now you’re in your second season at CSKA. Do you think you finally have that team structure now, where you don’t just have top-quality players, but you know each other, the understanding is there, and it is all coming together?
Geoff Platt: “Absolutely. Last season we were very fortunate to have some tremendous individuals: Alex Radulov, Nikita Zaitsev, Roman Lyubimov, who all left. And I think that, because so much of this group remains from last season, a lot of guys have-picked up the slack and realized that we need to be good as a group rather than individually. That is the only way we are going to be successful every night. I have said in countless interviews that I think our strength is our consistency throughout our line-up, from our first to our fourth line. We tend to play the exact same way and I think that is quite a burden on other teams. Most nights, they get two lines of a certain skill set and then two other ones, but we play really consistently throughout the line-up, and I think it is just numbing to other teams to see this every night - they think, ‘Agh! We’re going to get 60 minutes of the same game!’”
“I really like Max Chudinov in SKA. it is rewarding to play a hard game against a hard player”
– Speaking of the opposition, do they play or behave differently against CSKA than against, say, against Minsk or Lokomotiv?
Geoff Platt: “Absolutely. I have talked about that with my team-mates several times. We are getting the other teams’ very best game, so even when you think you’re not going to have a good night yourself, it is a big thing for them to beat CSKA. You have built up that reputation, you have earned it, so you have to defend it every single night. It’s great to have that reputation, but you must do a lot of work to uphold it.”
– Which defensemen have impressed you the most? For example, if you could turn off the alarm clock of one defenseman, so he would miss the plane and you would not have to face him, who would it be?
Geoff Platt: “I want to reply really carefully. (laughs). I really like Max Chudinov in SKA. He has always been a very hard player to play against, and I know that, statistically, he might not shine like other defensemen, but he competes every night. As a player that played against him, it is rewarding to play a hard game against a hard player, so I’ll give him an accolade for that because it has been quite a few years of very difficult battles.”
“The opposition at Lokomotiv are shaking in their boots some nights. I’m really looking forward to it.”
– You like hard battles, but you are not one of those players who racks up masses of penalty minutes. At what age does that self-discipline set in?
Geoff Platt: “(laughs) To be honest, I used to be quite hot-headed when I was younger, I mean much younger, let’s say 13, 14, and 15. Then I just realized that my game was far more successful when I was level-headed, so it all became one package - my style of play calmed down and my discipline was much more stable. Now I look at it like this: if I take a penalty, I’m really hurting the club. As you know, I don’t contribute to the penalty kill; I’m a powerplay player for the most part. I’d rather earn us a powerplay.
– You knew you were destined to face one of your two previous clubs, Lokomotiv or Dinamo Minsk, in the semi-final. It will be Loko, but did you have a preference?
Geoff Platt: “Probably Loko, just because it was my more recent club and there are more players that I played with. There has been such a turnover at Dinamo that there are only a couple of guys that I played alongside. And Loko has a really tremendous atmosphere. It’s a very hard building as an opposition player to play in, and then, once I finally played there, I saw how much of an advantage it was. And now I’m going back (laughs). Hopefully. I won’t be quite as intimidated, because, as the opposition in that arena, you’re shaking in your boots some nights, so I’m really looking forward to it. They have a really strong club, too. You always want really strong competition and that is what we’re getting,”
“Toronto in particular is a phenomenal melting-pot, and growing up there is a unique experience and mentality to take through life”
– How does it feel, being a player in the playoffs? How intense is it?
Geoff Platt: “Once the series begins, certainly, you’re very, very focused, because it’s constant, it’s every other day. In the previous format, it was even more intense - I think it was four games in the first five nights, and that was not a good decision by the KHL. But now that it’s every other night, it’s rhythmic, I guess you could say. You get into it, become part of it, you experience it, and really the only time you relax is when it’s over one way or the other. At this point now, I can barely remember the Jokerit series, and you don’t even want to, because it has no reflection on moving forward.”
– Finally, your country is 150 years old this year. Do you miss anything about Canada?
Geoff Platt: “Yes, I miss the culture and the mix of people. It’s a very cool experience, especially where I was born, in Toronto. Multiculturalism is, I think, the fabric of Canada, and Toronto in particular is a phenomenal melting-pot. As a child growing up there, I think it really shaped me as a human being. Growing up alongside people from all walks of life, whether they were first or second-generation Canadians, impacted me immensely. At one point my ancestors were immigrants as well (laughs), and it’s a unique experience and mentality to take through life, as opposed to a lot of places on Earth, because each culture brings a different set of values. For instance, when I was growing up, in my particular school and age group, there were a lot of children from the West Indies and Southeast Asia. At that time, it was a very specific type of immigrant that I grew up alongside I know today for instance, there are far more Chinese and Indian families that have immigrated. It shapes you and opens your eyes- the world is an extremely large place!”
– And if you go home to Canada, is there anything you miss from Europe?
Geoff Platt: “(laughs) Finland is home for me now, and I’ve lived there for eight years. That is where my wife is from, so I tend to miss more things from there than I do from my own country. Canada is almost like a faint memory.”