Andrej, how did you decide to join Kunlun Red Star?
I needed a change, and this is a big challenge for me personally. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an incredible opportunity to play in a new league, discover a new culture and play a part in developing hockey in that country. I’m going to China without any preconceptions and I’m eager to get to know the country better. I’m going there with an open mind about everything.
Did you talk to anyone before you made your decision?
I spoke with Tomas Kundratek and Marc-Andre Gragnani, who I trained with one summer in Montreal. And I also spoke to the team captain, Brandon Yip. Of course, I heard a lot about the travel, but it is what it is, we just have to deal with it. I don’t think there will be any problems settling in, we have plenty of guys from North America so it will be easy to fit into the team.
Brandon Yip is very much the face of the club and the kind of guy who can persuade people to join the club.
It’s good to see his example. He got some experience in the NHL then after dropping to the minors he moved to Germany and kick-started his career. Now he’s doing well for himself in the KHL, he’s a great example for any hockey player.
Is Kunlun a chance for you to kick-start your career as well?
That goes without saying! Last year didn’t go the way I wanted. In my last year in Tampa we signed a lot of good players and I was scratched half the time. We had a strong team on defense, a lot of good, experienced guys. Then I moved to Anaheim and the team wasn’t doing well. They decided to make changes and, unfortunately, I ended up playing in the AHL with San Diego. I want to show that I’m still a good player. I believe I can still play.
In San Diego you played with another new Kunlun defenseman, Trevor Murphy.
Trevor’s a good player, a very talented offensive player. He didn’t get too many chances [with the Ducks] but he’ll be a good option for us in the coming season.
And recently Red Star signed another Czech, goalie Simon Hrubec. Do you know each other?
Not yet, but I’ve already asked the club for his phone number so we can get to know each before camp starts. He’s already won a championship with Ocelari, but he’s still a young player so he’ll need some help from us when he starts a new role.
Have you heard anything about another of your colleagues on the blue line, Mathew Maione?
[laughs] Yeah, I saw that video from the All-Star Game. It was really cool. It’s great when players can show off their other talents and hobbies. It should be a nice locker room this season.
Have you ever been to China before?
I’ve not been over there yet and, to be honest, I don’t know all that much about the country. I’m trying to find out what to expect. I’m doing some research, watching a few videos but obviously the real test is when you get there and experience it for real. I guess my career might look a bit unusual: Alaska, then Florida and California, and now China. It’s another step into the unknown!
What targets do expect for the coming season?
The last couple years didn’t go so well so we really need to make the playoffs. I think all the guys understand that.
At the moment there’s a tendency in the KHL to move to smaller ice pads. Would it be easier for a player as big as you to play on a traditional European-sized rink?
I played on the bigger ice as a child and then at college. I try to use my size as best as I can to help my team. But the smaller ice might be an advantage for us because we have so many guys who grew up playing on rinks like that.
Which players are you looking forward to meeting in the KHL?
I played with Nikita Nesterov at Tampa Bay, so it will be good to see him again. He’s won so much [since coming back to Russia], the Olympics, the Gagarin Cup. And it would be nice to play against Datsyuk again. We played many times in the NHL and he’s always fun to watch.
You’ve not had many chances to play international hockey in the past. Maybe that will change this season?
I only had the chance to play at the World Cup. Either Tampa went deep into the playoffs or I was out of contract. Of course, playing for the Czech Republic is a motivation for me. I’ll do my best if the team is interested in me.
After 10 years playing in North America, I guess your family is happy that you’re returning to a European league?
Sure, now they’ll have more chances to get to my games. Moscow, Petersburg or Helsinki are way closer than the USA. So they’re happy that I found a team in the KHL. And they’re happy for me because this is something unique, it’s crazy and unknown, like when I was 17 and I went to Alaska.
Andrej Sustr. Born Nov. 29, 1990, in Plzen (Czech Republic)
Career: 2008-09 – Kenai River (NAHL); 2009-2010 – Youngstown (USHL); 2011-2013 – University of Nebraska-Omaha; 2013-18 – Tampa Bay (NHL); 2013 – Syracuse (AHL); 2018-19 – Anaheim (NHL), 2018-19 – San Diego (AHL); 2019-present – Kunlun Red Star.
Photo credtis: Bruce Bennett / Getty Sport / Gettyimages.ru