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February 25, 2001

Ruslan Zainullin: My Father is My Hockey Idol

On February 14, 2001 Tampa Bay’s draftee Ruslan Zainullin has celebrated his 19th anniversary. Noticing his date of birth one may say, “Oh, he is evidently too romantic! It’s St. Valentines’ Day.” But I’d rather warn beforehand those who think that this huge guy, 189 cm in height and 93 kg in weight, will have some pity for his rivals onto the ice. He is always in the thick of things and ready to hit or to bodycheck any of his opponents within the game rules. Romanticism is not for this guy. He has become a realistic boy already at his early age.

Now this excellent puck handler has developed into a speedy player with a lightning wrist shot. Moreover the guy easily accomplishes tons of defensive work. He is good on PP teams. His only drawback is instability.

Ruslan is working hard during his ice practices. He polishes many important hockey elements and as he comments on it, “I think among them there are some in which I’m already good enough and the others still need to be paid more attention just to improve my play. There are no limits to perfection. I really work hard.”

On the question if he has ever had a hockey idol at whom he wanted to resemble he just smiled and responded, “His name is Farid Zainullin. It’s my father. He has been my hockey tutor and strict examiner since my childhood. My father is a former Soviet player of SK Uritsky team, now the club is known as AkBars Kazan, and I’ve met lots of famous players that time at my home. It’s possible to say that’s the thing which has predetermined my destiny to become a pro hockey player.”

He remembers his appearance with AkBars Kazan and his first goal, “It was in the 1999/2000 season. I’ve managed to score my first goal in the Superleague and register two assists in the game versus CSKA Moscow. We won the game 5:0. So I’ve been twice happier that time.”

Wondering if it has been a surprise for him to be selected by Tampa Bay in the second round at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft Ruslan ironically commented, ”You won’t believe me if I say “NO”. I’ve been waiting for this dream come true all my hockey life. I think it’s a kind of reward for my hard work. After under-18 WJC in Switzerland (Ruslan ended up the forth on the Team Russia with 3 goals and 4 assists) I received good press and my agent Don Mean informed me of my chances at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. As it turned out he was quite right that time.”

Predicting the next question he has described his impressions of the Draft ceremony in Calgary, ”I’ve been greatly impressed by the atmosphere and especially touched by easiness with which the legends of world hockey have been shaking my hand as if I’ve been their acquaintance for many years long. That time it has been difficult to find a man on the earth happier than me. Later I’ve already felt myself the piece of huge NHL world. The only thing remained is to prove that I’m really a word-class player.”

When asked if he is embarrassed by the fact that Tampa Bay has been and is still considered one of the weakest team of the league, he responded with knowledge of the business, “You know the bosses of Tampa Bay are forming young and perspective team which I hope will be a constant contender for the Stanley Cup in the nearest future. The team has already now some prominent players on its roster with Vincent Lecavalier, Andrey Zyuzin, Sergey Gusev, Alexander Kharitonov.  Pavel Sedov who is quickly developing with Khimik Voskresensk is another valuable player for the club. He has been among Tampa’s ten best players at the training camp. The Lightnings have bright future.”  

So far Ruslan is playing his second season with AkBars Kazan and hopes to win the medals of Russian Hockey Championships. He is not in a hurry with his departure for the North America because he thinks there are lots of things he still needs to learn in Russia. He wants to mature with such a strong team as AkBars Kazan is now. Moreover he has a nice chance to learn from former NHLer Dmitry Kvartalnov who has seen plenty of action in the world’s best league.

Denis Neznanov
HockeyZonePlus' Russian Correspondent


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