21 March 2021 Bakanov
Although the Dragons did not have a great time of it in the season just finished, there are still some bright spots to discuss. Among them is Andrei Bakanov, who set a club record in his KHL rookie season: on October 7, in only his second game in our league, he scored for the first time and became the youngest goalscorer in the history of Kunlun Red Star. He was 18 years, 132 days at the time.
Bakanov was typically used as the 13th forward and did not always get extensive ice time – he averaged less than five minutes per game. Even so, he compiled 5 (4+1) points, including two goals in February game against Vityaz, where he finished with a +3 rating. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that Andrei became the latest subject of KHL series ‘The rise of youth’.
How it all began
“I was born in Chekhov and when I was four, they opened a new hockey arena in the town,” Bakanov recalled. “Straight away, my parents took me to the children’s section at Vityaz and since then my life has been bound up in hockey. Before that, I never even put skates on and I had to start learning to skate using a chair, like any kid.”
However, Andrei never played for the sports school in his hometown. It wasn’t long before the arena was closed for reconstruction, setting him on a new path. The Bakanov family moved to Moscow and Andrei went to CSKA. With the Army Men he got his first proper hockey coaching, under current Severstal head coach Andrei Razin.
“I remember that group very well,” said Andrei Vladimirovich. “Just imagine, 60 lads spilling all over the ice like peas! Even at the first session people were taking photos, there was an expectation that these kids should turn into good players. Some of them were already comfortable on their skates, some were still learning. Andrei Bakanov immediately stood out: he was a big lad for his age, but it wasn’t just his physical strength. He was a smart player and at first I saw a defenseman in him.”
“I spent a lot of time at CSKA but the way things worked out, I played junior hockey at Spartak and Dynamo,” Bakanov added. “I was always going for goal, I loved to score. I realized I had a good shot and I always wanted to be a forward.”
Razin, who initially saw Bakanov as a defenseman, played his part in that switch.
“Our set-up meant that we had six lines on the team each week and we kept shuffling them,” the coach explained. “If you practiced hard, you moved up, if you didn’t, you went down. This kept everyone on their toes and made it clear that every session was important.”
“I’m glad that I had the chance to improve myself at each of Moscow’s top hockey schools, because they have the best facilities for developing players,” Bakanov said. “I wouldn’t say that I kept moving because something wasn’t right for me; in reality, it’s quite common for players at schoolboy level to move from school to school.”
Before he left Dynamo, Bakanov’s productivity rocketed. His two final years at the one of the country’s top schoolboy teams were spectacular: twice in a row Andrei had 77 points in a 48-game season. But he also started picking up more and more penalties.
“I was always big for me age, but I wouldn’t say I went out on the ice hunting for people to hit,” Andrei said. “After all, my job was scoring goals. It wasn’t that I picked up a lot of minor penalties, it tended to be a 10-minute penalty in one game, maybe five for fighting in another.”
In 2016, when Andrei turned 14, his parents decided to send him to the USA. They picked out Cleveland as the perfect place to combine sports and scholarship. Bakanov played his final year of youth hockey in Oakland, where he compiled 89 (44+45) points in the championship.
Bakanov’s next stop was the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL. Then, in 2019/2020 he moved to the Ontario Hockey League with Guelph Storm. In his last season he found himself playing with several other Russian players, all of whom made a big impact. Pavel Gogolev was the leading scorer with 96 (45+51) points, Daniil Chaika impressed on defense and Fyodor Gordeyev had a good season as a forward.
“Of course, it’s nice when you have plenty of other Russians with you in a foreign country,” Andrei said. “We would often get together after games, it was a bit of a tradition for us. I went to the World U17 Challenge with Daniil Chaika and we came back with gold medals. We had a really strong team there, and several of those guys are already in the KHL.”
The pandemic severely impacted the schedule for North America’s leagues. Bakanov was getting ready for another season with Guelph, but the upcoming OHL campaign was cancelled. The forward was delighted to get a chance to come back to Russia.
“Kunlun offered a try-out at first,” he said. “Once the OHL season was called off, I decided to take that chance. I worked hard all through the summer, so I was in good shape. I’m really glad that I managed to establish myself in the KHL. This is the highest level I’ve played. There are so many skilled players here and it’s my first experience of adult hockey: in the KHL everything happens faster.”
And Bakanov got off to a great start, scoring in only his second game. It’s a moment that the forward will remember for the rest of his life.
“At the start of October we went out on the road,” Andrei said. “After playing at Dynamo Moscow, we went to Chelyabinsk. There, in the second period, when we were down 0-2, I scored that goal. My feelings went through the roof! It’s just an indescribable emotion.”
Twice during the season, Bakanov played against Severstal – special occasions for a youngster as he came up against his first coach, Andrei Razin.
“It’s great to see Andrei Vladimirovich in charge of a KHL team,” Bakanov said. “You remember how he coached you when you were just a kid and now you’re playing against each other at such a high level. After the games we met up, had a chat. It was like going back in time – he gave me some advice, talked about what to do in this or that situation. I’m so grateful for the experience that Andrei Vladimirovich gave me. He taught me discipline and hockey smarts.”
“I always enjoy catching up with my former players, especially when I see someone who I worked with as a schoolboy playing at a high level,” Andrei Razin said. “Even now, I often get calls from the parents of the kids who played in those hockey schools, asking for advice about agents or the level of their son’s game today. After the games against Kunlun, I chatted with Andrei and I tried to help him find the path to develop further. We talked about different aspects of the game, how he can add to his play. But Andrei has already made the hardest step – the move from junior to adult hockey.”
Born: 28 May, 2002, in Chekhov, Russia
Career: 2018/19 – Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL); 2019/20 – Guelph Storm (OHL); 2020/21 Kunlun Red Star (KHL)
Honors: U17 World Hockey Challenge winner (2019)