It is not an everyday thing to see a player, who has played twelve seasons and had approximately 200 starts in the KHL, to sign with a team in the highest-level league in Slovakia. The newcomer from Prešov has managed to seal the deal with the goaltender Nikita Bespalov.
The Moscow native spent his entire career playing in the arenas around Russia, and Prešov is going to be his first ever experience with hockey outside his own country. “I was waiting for a good offer for a while. I spoke with my family, and we all agreed that Europe is the place where we want to go. So, I called my agent Gleb Luchnikov and he told me about Prešov. I am glad that he did that because me, my family and my kids have always wanted to travel across Europe. And now we will be able to do that! We can explore the city in my free time and get to know it better,” described Bespalov how the contract signing came to life. The top priority for him was his family to feel good and comfortable in the new location. “I wanted to cover everything that my family could possibly need and want in Prešov first, and once that is done, I can focus only on hockey. The management promised to help us find a place to stay – and we have two daughters, so they also promised to find a good school – preschool for them,” said the 33-year-old goaltender. Surprisingly, hockey is not the only thing that he can do in Slovakia. “I have been to Slovakia before, but it was a long time ago. I really like it here, the nature is beautiful, and there is a lot of mountains and ponds. I personally like to relax outside, for example – I like to fish. And I can do that in Slovakia too.”
Bespalov played in three different teams during his stay in the Kontinental Hockey League – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Sibir Novosibirsk and Spartak Moscow. “I have played a lot of interesting games in the KHL and there is a lot of really talented players. You have to go through a lot of long flights for example to Khabarovsk or China. I loved the atmosphere in the arenas, and I also like when the fans are loud. There are certain cities where people have an amazing relationship with hockey – they even play it themselves which is amazing!” Interestingly enough, he has backed up Slovak goaltender Július Hudáček in Spartak Moscow in the last three seasons. “Julo is not only an amazing player but an amazing person too. He is always positive – which is an important thing in hockey. Fans love him and his Huda show that he does once the game is over. We have a really good relationship, we are always trying to help each other not only in hockey, but in life in general too,” says Bespalov. It is not surprising that Hudáček was one of the people who helped him to make the decision to sign with Prešov. “We talked about Prešov, and he said he lives nearby. That made the process of decision making easier. According to him, it is a lovely city and people in Prešov will love having hockey there,” explained the Russian goaltender.
source: facebook HC Prešov
Bespalov is an experienced player who has to deal with a major change in his life and in his professional career. As we mentioned before, it is going to be his first time playing outside Russia and he is joining a team that is brand new to highest-level league in Slovakia. “It is a good thing for the city that they are getting a hockey team in here again. The players will do everything to make the people proud. I want to help the team to reach really good results, and I believe that together as a team we can beat anyone that we will face. I am a player that likes to win – I do not like to lose,” says Bespalov. “I expect nothing but good things from Prešov. I think I am experienced enough to be able to get used to the style of play they will have here. The only problem that could make things difficult is me not speaking English well enough, but I do believe that I can get through this language barrier with my new teammates.”
The ice hockey that we all used to know has changed ever since the pandemic of COVID-19 started. The games were being played without having any fans in the arena or only with a very limited number of them. Hopefully, the upcoming season will look different compared to the last season’s limitations in attendance because the fans in Prešov are thrilled to have hockey back in town. “I like seeing the arena filled with people who love the game, and I believe I will get to see it in Prešov too. Everything depends on how well we will play, for example how good my goaltending performances are, and I know people will expect a lot from me. But in all honesty, I just hope the pandemic will not interfere the season and people will be able to come see us play in the arena because playing hockey without having fans there is the worst experience I have ever had,” explains Bespalov. He is planning on coming to Slovakia and join the team soon enough. “Me and my family went on a vacation to United Arab Emirates and Maldives. We explored the Russian nature and went fishing too. I joined the training camp for goaltenders at the end of June too, but right now I am getting ready at home. I am finishing up things that I needed to be able to move to Slovakia, and I am ready to fly out, but I still am waiting for some documents. If everything works out the way, we planned then I will arrive on the 25th of July.”
author: Miroslava Meličková, Samuel Brecko | graphic: Lukáš Ďugel