Kotschnew arrived in the KHL at age 27, with the Moscow club Spartak. He had previously played in Germany, where he was a regular component of the German national team, playing in four World Championships. His debut match for the Red-Whites came on December 4, 2008, having been delayed by a preseason injury.
“I didn’t have to think much when Spartak came to me. When a team like that reaches out… it’s a proud moment. When I was 10, my family moved from Kazakhstan to Germany. For me, their offer was not just a chance to play hockey in Russia, it was also an opportunity to learn the culture, to speak Russian. My feelings were only positive, even now I remember those two seasons in Moscow. We had a good team, we played better than anyone thought,” Kotschnew recalls.
Spartak offered Kotschnew the starting job, but injuries interfered. Czech goalie Martin Prusek stepped into the void and played well, but was nonetheless let go when Kotschnew returned. In Kotschnew’s first year, Spartak finished ninth in the regular season and swept SKA Saint Petersburg in the first round, before losing 3-0 themselves to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the second. A year later, the Muscovites again reached the second rounded and were again defeated (4-2) by Lokomotiv.
“The team was one big family. Spartak had a rough time in its last few years before the KHL [was formed], but the stars aligned. No one expected anything from us. We were aggressive, not caring much about defence, just attacking constantly. Milos Riha was a very charismatic coach – he fired up not only us, but the public, too,” says Kotschnew.
One of the most impressive games from that period came against CSKA Moscow on February 13, 2009. Kotschnew stopped all 50 shots he faced in a 2-0 victory.
“Games like that one with CSKA, you never forget,” says Kotschnew. “When I came to the league, I didn’t know all the traditions. The atmosphere at derbies was amazing. The energy of the fans really lifted us. That first year, we didn’t have much chance against Lokomotiv. The Yaroslavl was a real locomotive. The second time around we had a real shot, in the fourth game, at the end of the third period… It’s a shame it turned out the way it did.”
After Spartak, Kotschnew spent a season with Lokomotiv before moving to Atlant.
“I remember that year in Lokomotiv we had a very promising team with some strong individual players. From the very start with Lokomotiv, I realized that it’s a very serious club, a team with big ambitions. But we lost in the conference finals to Milos and Atlant. Everything went their way, we couldn’t catch a break.
“Then I went to Atlant myself, but before the season there was a tragedy [the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash]… So many years have passed, and it’s still hard to find the words. Life goes on. As a professional hockey player, I tried to do what I could for my new club. It was such a hard time from me, so many of my friends were still in Yaroslavl, and they died…” Kotschnew recalls.
After four years in the KHL, Kotschnew returned to Germany. He joined the Hamburg Freezers, who folded prior to the 2016-17 season.
“My years in Spartak were the best of my career,” says Kotschnew. “Everyone on the team was good friends with each other, which carrier over onto the ice. We played on emotion, not worrying about expectations. Everything worked out, went easy, and it was great to be in the capital.
“I’m pleased with my career. There’s a lot of people I have to thank. You can always find something you should have maybe done differently. But I have no regrets about how everything turned out,” he says.
After the Freezers folded, Kotschnew decided to call it a career. He had a son, and he realized that he did not want to move around anymore.
“After the end of my career, my son was born, we traveled a lot with my family. Now I’m finishing my studies at the university and just enjoying life, spending more time with my family. I’m not looking for a job in hockey, but I’m not saying this will never happen. I just don’t want to leave this city. I played in Hamburg when I was young, I met my wife here. That’s why I came to the team here after the KHL, I wanted to play here before the end of my career, and I made it happen.
“I’ve heard rumours about the KHL coming to Hamburg for a long time, but nothing’s happened yet. Two million people live here, including a lot of Russian Germans. Hockey was always popular here. 10,000 people would come to our games, the arena was wonderful. The city misses big-time hockey. If a new team is added to the KHL or the German league, the fans will gladly come and support them,” Kotschnew adds.
Born: July 15, 1981 (Karaganda, Kazakhstan)
Playing career: 2001-2007 – Izerlohn Roosters (Germany), 2007-2008 – Nuremburg Ice Tigers (Germany), 2008-2010 – Spartak, 2010-2011 – Lokomotiv, 2011-2012 – Atlant, 2012-2016 – Hamburg Freezers (Germany)