The head coach of Kyiv Capitals, Vadym Shakhraichuk, reflected on the outcomes of the 2023/2024 season, assessed the leadership and scoring prowess of Yaroslav Panchenko, discussed the performance of the international players, and highlighted the significance of Kryzhynka-Capitals triumph in JHL.

Vadym, Kyiv Capitals had a debut season. A certain amount of time has already passed since the team’s participation in the championship ended. How would you sum up this season?

If we evaluate this season in terms of club performance and structure, I believe it has been a success. However, the men’s team faced more challenges. On a scale of five, they would be rated around three. There were high expectations for the boys to achieve better results in sports. We consistently held a top-three position throughout the season and even led for a period of time. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, we ended up finishing fourth. This meant our semi-final opponent in the playoffs was the eventual champions – Sokil from Kyiv. The head-to-head matches between our teams during the season were highly competitive. Despite more losses than wins, our matches were always closely contested, often decided by narrow margins, including minimal victories and series of shootouts. To be honest, the expectation was to conclude the semi-final clash with a scoreline of 1:4. We understood how to approach this opponent, but our squad lacked depth. Additionally, Sokil had more experienced hockey players who had participated in crucial playoff stages. This was a significant factor in the outcome. If we examine each game of the series individually, we can focus on the third matchup, where we maintained a 1:0 lead until the 55th minute. Victory seemed within reach. Despite playing without our top defender Deniss Berdniks, the team showed great unity and determination. However, Sokil managed to score twice, shifting the game in their favor. If we had held onto our lead, the series could have had a different outcome. Unfortunately, the strategic advantage slipped to our opponents. While I don’t claim certainty of victory, prolonging the Capitals’ hockey season was a possibility. Ultimately, we achieved fourth place. Therefore, from a sports perspective, I am unable to view the season as a success.

Experts and you noted at press conferences that in November-December the team was in better shape and, accordingly, was first in the tournament table. Why do you think Capitals haven`t shown their best in 2024?

I would like to admit that the team comprised numerous dedicated individuals determined to succeed. They aimed to demonstrate not only to themselves but also to the coaching staff that they have the ability and determination to compete for the championship. It’s important to mention that the club has provided excellent facilities, including fulfilling financial obligations promptly and providing a significant amount of equipment – something that is not common in Ukrainian hockey, especially following the onset of a full-scale invasion. Unfortunately, it seems that the players may have sensed a lack of urgency, resulting in complacency when in the lead. Conversely, when crucial matches called for heightened focus, the team struggled to gather the necessary determination. Regrettably, the team faltered in showcasing the aggression and resilience needed to secure crucial points and attain better standings. These are the sporting aspects; however, external events outside the hockey rink also had a substantial impact on the team.

Yaroslav Panchenko became the team’s top scorer in the season and playoffs. Do you think he lacked support from his partners in the semi-final series? First of all, we can mention Andrii Kryvonozhkin, the second-ranked sniper of Kyiv Capitals.

In this regard, we once again delve into the intricacies of team dynamics. I anticipated stronger support from our second link of players, who had shown promise throughout the regular season. Andrii, on the other hand, had a stellar season, steadily improving with each match. Surprisingly, Kryvonozhkin hit his peak performance in 2024, despite the team facing a noticeable decline. In instances where our primary attack line faltered, he stepped up, taking charge of the game and scoring crucial goals. Andrii’s contributions, unfortunately, fell short in the playoffs, but it’s essential to remember he is young and has good potential for growth in the sport. Kryvonozhkin’s unexpected excellence showcased his talent; however, his lack of experience led to inconsistencies. In our semi-final matchups, each player had distinct roles to fulfill, yet not everyone rose to the occasion. When facing off against the reigning champions, boasting a deeper roster with renowned players, we required every individual on our team to give their all and then some. Regrettably, this collective effort was lacking.

If we evaluate the face-to-face matches of TOP-4 representatives, can we say that the season turned out to be successful for Ukrainian hockey fans?

First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge the ongoing war in Ukraine and express gratitude to our country’s defense forces for enabling us to hold this championship. I believe that this season has been more captivating than the previous one in 2022/2023. One of the major highlights has been the hosting of Kyiv hockey matches at the country’s largest arena, the capital’s Palace of Sports. Towards the end of the season, we were thrilled to see fans back in the stands, greatly enhancing the atmosphere. The competition among the top four teams was incredibly fierce, with unexpected outcomes adding to the excitement. Tryzub triumphed over Sokil, while Berserks managed to secure points against Dnipro. Both teams came close on couple occasions to pushing Capitals to at least overtime. Overall, it has been a thrilling season, and I hope to see more teams in the running for top spots in the future.

How would you rate Capitals’ legionnaires squad for the 2023/2024 season?

After the final series, I expressed my deep appreciation to our foreign hockey players for their courageous decision to come to Ukraine and dedicate significant time to our team despite the country being in a state of war. Their actions were truly admirable, showing a level of bravery that goes beyond the realm of sports. But I think that the time in Ukraine wasn`t the worst in their life. They handled themselves with professionalism and dedication, particularly in addressing the positions of defender and goalkeeper where our team had been struggling. While the expectations surrounding the arrival of these international players were high, I am overall content with the performance of the team. They fulfilled the roles we had hoped for them and played at the level we had anticipated. I would like to highlight the efforts of Colin Whitt. When the American player first arrived, he was not fully prepared for the season and had little understanding of Ukrainian hockey, which is significantly different from what he was accustomed to. However, over the course of a month, Colin made remarkable progress and adapted well to the demands of our team. He mentioned that he had never experienced such intense training before. Colin was meant to be a valuable asset during the playoffs and was expected to bolster our defense. Additionally, his positive personality and good sense of humor brought a welcoming atmosphere to the team. Unfortunately, a serious injury cut short his time with us, preventing him from showcasing his full potential and concluding the season as planned.

Series for third place: would it be interesting to bring it back or, after all, the focus of the fight is precisely to win a ticket to the final?

I believe that this particular series lacks excitement as most emotions are experienced during the semi-final matches. Consequently, such encounters tend to be more statistical than emotionally engaging. A similar format would be better suited for top-tier championships with a larger pool of participants, leading to a more thrilling competition. Moreover, this format would offer players more matches throughout the season, helping them stay in shape and perform at their best for longer periods.

This season, Kryzhynka-Capitals won the Junior Hockey League for the second time in a row. Is this result a sign that the nearest reserve is moving in the right direction?

I believe that this success is a testament to the entire club. Seven members of the youth hockey team from Kyiv Capitals participated in training sessions and matches. The coaching staff held them to the same high standards as the adult players, challenging them to compete against much older opponents. Throughout the season, these young players exhibited tremendous growth and belief in their abilities. They showcased exceptional hockey skills during the series against Sokil, a formidable opponent. At times, their performance even surpassed that of the adult championship participants. The boys’ resilience was evident in their hard-fought victory in the semifinal series against Bilyi Bars, overcoming an early 0:1 deficit. Kryzhynka and Sokil rivalry was always intense, and it was particularly satisfying that our team emerged victorious in the crucial matches. Our boys deserve recognition for their impressive achievements.

Nazar Boiko became the MVP and the best player of the JHL. Does this an argument for you that he expects to spend more time for Kyiv Capitals?

In the early stages of the season, Nazar made significant progress in securing more playing time. Despite being sent to the youth team at times, where he emerged as one of the team’s leaders and consistently played the full 60 minutes on the ice. Developing a winning mentality, fueled by crucial goalkeeping saves, will be vital for his growth. Boiko, who also excels in the youth national team, is undeniably a talented individual.

After the suspension of participation in the championship, Kyiv Capitals continued to train for some time organized different activities (in particular, we are talking about open training with fans). Are such events an opportunity to expand the hockey audience and your own fan base?

I always support events that involve meeting fans on the ice, as it offers an engaging format. Recently, we had a unique experience of conducting joint training with the women’s team, which was beneficial for both teams. Whenever our schedule permits and these events do not disrupt our preparation for official matches, I am always in favor of participating in such activities. Moving forward, we aim to increase the frequency of such interactions to cultivate our fan base.

What are the plans of Kyiv Capitals for the preparation to the next season?

Currently, the team is on vacation. Time is needed to catch our breath after this challenging debut season. I am confident that it will remain in everyone’s memory, as the club was just in the forming stage. Together, we achieved our first victories and experienced defeats. I can say that all salaries were paid for the players, which is very important in our difficult times. As for the future, I must emphasize that we are slowly building the team, extending contracts with players. We can already announce that Deniss Berdniks will stay with us for the 2024/2025 season. We are also in talks with potential newcomers. But most part of players will stay here for one more season. Currently, we are working on a training plan, but we are awaiting the start date of the next season. We plan to start training in a light mode in a month, focusing on physical preparation. For this purpose, the club will hire a specialized coach. This option will allow the boys to stay toned and smoothly transition to heavier trainings.