For Dmitry Shikin, the last two seasons have been eventful. After five and a half years in Sochi, he played for Kunlun Red Star and Avtomobilist and decided to continue his season in Switzerland in February 2022. In the spring, Shikin signed a one-year contract with Vityaz, and in this interview with KHL.ru he talked about how hockey works in the Swiss league and why he decided to return to Russia.
“I had my vacations starting in Europe, in Switzerland,” the goalie starts his talk. “I was lucky that I was quickly helped with the paperwork. I was able to travel around Europe, we went to Disneyland with my family and children. We visited Germany and Switzerland.”
Earlier, however, the netminder took part in a 3x3 hockey tournament. “It was a great idea,” Shikin says. “For guys who play at the professional level, such tournaments give them an opportunity to keep in shape, practice, spend time on the ice, and see friends and acquaintances. The format itself is very interesting. A year ago, I played in a so-called “short hockey” tournament, which has different rules from what I am used to. It was more advantageous for me to play on the field and face the opponent somewhere on the blue line – you could only score there using a pass. Now it was closer to the usual rules. It’s a very dynamic, fast-paced game in which you get as tired in 30 minutes as you do in a full game in the KHL. The workload on the goalies is just crazy.”
Shikin started the 2021-2022 campaign with Avtomobilist. However, the Motormen didn’t have their best season, and missed the playoffs after four consecutive postseason qualifications. “It’s hard to think about it now,” he says. “On paper, we had a strong lineup, with good chances for the elimination stage. But something went wrong. Somewhere it didn’t come together and we didn’t connect. We were going pretty good at first, but by the final part of the championship we had some setbacks that didn’t allow us to make the playoffs. Plus, also this situation with the coronavirus, the season ending early, the Olympic break. It all came together unpleasantly. We wanted to fight, we rallied as a team and were ready to fight for a playoff spot. In any case, I made a positive impression from our time in Yekaterinburg. I want to say a big thank you to the Avtomobilist’s players and staff.”
After the situation made clear that Avtomobilist wouldn’t make it to the cup stage, Shikin found himself a new team in Switzerland, signing a contract there for the remainder of the season with EHC Biel. “While there was no decision on the continuation of the season, I received an offer from Sparta Prague,” Shikin explains. “Then my agent contacted the Avtomobilist management, but they didn’t let me go because there was still an option to continue the season and fight for the playoffs. Then the regular-season ended prematurely and I received the offer from the Swiss club Biel-Bienne. I didn’t think about it for too long. The management didn’t interfere, we dissolved our contract and I moved to Switzerland. Russian players were not very well known there, so Russian players were not really in demand in the league. I had to change that situation somehow and I didn’t regret that I went and got that experience. I could have stayed in Avtomobilist and just keep on practicing, but there was a choice: either I would train for eight months until the next game, or I would use the opportunity to extend my season and play some more games. I’m always in favor of playing more, so I decided to move.”
It wasn’t an easy moment for Shikin to have such a trip. “From Yekaterinburg I flew to Hurghada, Egypt. There was a 16-hour layover, then I flew to Istanbul, and from there finally to Zurich. And from Zurich it was another couple of hours by car. It was a fantastic adventure. When they met me in Biel, I immediately asked to go on the ice. I wanted to see if I could put on skates after the 38 hours it took to get here.”
Moving to a different country also means having to deal with different realities and a different level of competition. “You can see how the Swiss league is progressing,” Shikin explains. “The teams play very fast, modern hockey. Everything is aimed at attacking; they don’t think much about defense. In the KHL, we have mainly two attacking lines, and two more containment units that run, shoot, push. But in Switzerland I was surprised that all four lines were attacking. It was very interesting – and difficult at the same time – to play. Overall, Swiss hockey gave me a favorable impression.”
The Swiss league is famed for its atmosphere, and Shikin noticed it. “When I arrived, there were no covid restrictions, they had just been removed. The arena was packed of fans, they didn’t shut up for a second, they were singing all the time. You can compare it to a football game. People just enjoy the game, but overall it’s very civilized. Minimal security, the fan sectors are with standing zones, they’re fenced off from the regular stands. The atmosphere is very cool.”
The organization was good, in Shikin’s opinion: “The club takes care of all the everyday issues. When I arrived, they gave me a small car and an apartment in the hotel complex, because at first, I was without my family. When my wife and kids arrived, they gave me a bigger car and a club apartment with a view of the Alps. I know that some of the guys even had food reimbursement for their families; the food there is very expensive.” Switzerland is obviously smaller than Russia, and away trips are done on a bus. “We usually had a morning warm-up at our arena, rested for a while and then took the club’s double-decker bus to the game. The bus has a kitchen, there is an opportunity to eat.”
However, the netminder did spot some differences. “The practices are a little different. It didn’t put me off, but younger guys would probably think twice. There are practically no goalkeeping practices there. The goalie coach on our team had two other secondary jobs – he painted helmets and worked in the grocery store. He only showed up at games. And the team doesn’t have a doctor, you need special licenses there. There are two paramedic massage therapists who have access to certain medications.” However, at least he didn’t suffer for the language barrier. “After playing for Kunlun, I didn’t have this problem,” he confirms. “I picked up the language well there. Miks Indrasis was on the team with me there, he helped me with some details, when communicating about medical topics, for example.”
Soon after the season, Shikin was offered an opportunity to stay, but he preferred to return to Russia and pursue a deal in the KHL. “We had a good series with Zurich in the playoffs, Jakub Kovar played there,” the netminder says. “Our team should have moved on, but that’s not how it went, we lost in the seventh game. After the last game of the season there was a meeting where I was invited by the team’s general manager and head coach. There was talk about a long-term contract, but I said that I wanted to see if I would be in demand in the KHL. We took a break in negotiations, thought everything over and realized that it would be better for the family to return to Russia. If I had stayed there and signed a long-term contract, then after that I would have probably never returned to the KHL. And just during that break, Vityaz came to me. There were other offers, but we quickly found common ground.”
His play was successful in Biel, and the fans loved him there. “A couple more months and I would have become a legend there,” Shikin says with a laugh. “In the places where I played, people already know that I carry my children in my arms after matches, the Swiss liked it. I was constantly being written to, called, approached on the street. The fans are a living organism. It usually takes time to win them over. And here everything happened in a short time, it was a pleasant shock for me. I loved being in that atmosphere and being with the fans. The whole town lives for hockey there.”
Now, Shikin has joined Vityaz, and at home, his goals are higher than before. “I have to help the team and try to make the playoffs. I think those are the minimum goals, both for me and the team. And then, once we achieve those goals, we’ll set them even higher.”
Born on Aug 28, 1991, in Elektrostal.
Playing career: 2006-2009, Kristall (Elektrostal); 2009-2010, Yermak; 2010 – Amurskie Tigry; 2010-2012, SKA-1946; 2011-2013, HK-VMF; 2013, SKA; 2013-2014, SKA-Kareliya; 2014-2020, HC Sochi; 2015, Buran, Dizel; 2020-2021, Kunlun Red Star, 2021-2022, Avtomobilist; 2022, EHC Biel-Bienne (Switzerland).
Achievements: 2011 WJC gold medalist.