Some amazing first class hockey is being played in Oklahoma City this year. The OKC Barons are currently tied with the Abbotsford Heat at the top of the AHL league with the most wins. Last season the Barons made it into the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, and this season looks to be even better. The team is great fun to watch on the ice, and off the ice they are a very nice group of guys. As AHL hockey fans, we realize their hopes and dreams are focused on breaking into the NHL, but in the meantime, we can enjoy the fast exciting hockey they are offering here in Oklahoma City. As they put their heart and soul into their game, my best advice to them is to just take a deep breath and enjoy your time here in Oklahoma City. Enjoy the fans! If you do that, you will have fans for life wherever your career leads you.
One of the benefits to OKC Barons hockey fans is that there is the possibility of much more fan-team interaction at the AHL level. Sunday games offer the possibility of skating with the team, and there are a number of post-game signings and events throughout the season. The weekly Barons Radio Broadcast with Jim Byers at Buffalo Wild Wings also features one player and Coach Todd Nelson when they are in town, and they are always happy to chat with fans following the show.
As part of my History of Hockey in Oklahoma series I will be interviewing some, and hopefully all, of the OKC Barons players this season. Knowing a little more about the players as individuals just makes the game on the ice all the more exciting and fun to watch!
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Kirill Tulupov for participating in this interview – you were a great sport and lots of fun to interview! And also, many thanks to Neal Livingston for tossing a few of the more interesting questions into the mix! Thanks also to Steven Christy and Candace Riley for allowing the use of their photos.
Kirill Tulupov came to North America from Russia at the age of 15 to follow his passion – to play hockey. At the age of 23, he speaks very eloquently and openly about his life and experiences living between North America, Eastern Europe and Russia. He is still very young, but in many ways wise beyond his years. Earlier this summer, Tulupov caught the eye of the Edmonton Oilers and he is now in Oklahoma City, experiencing AHL hockey with the OKC Barons for the first time in his life.
Kirill’s spoken English is excellent and he has a great sense of humor. He is able to laugh at himself – but he is also extremely serious about his profession, and his hopes and dreams of playing hockey in the NHL. Tulupov intends to do everything within his power to break into the AHL and NHL. He has already won OKC fans over. Tulupov’s feisty spirit and his readiness to drop the gloves to stand up for his teammates and himself has generated excitement among hockey fans in OKC. And while he is very proud of that part of his profession, he is always striving to expand his skills to become a better player, even a great player, who will be known for far more than just his role as an enforcer. OKC fans look forward to Tulupov’s first Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, an assist and a fight – and even better, a hat trick. Three goals in one game.
- Kirill Tulupov — Number 8
- Position: Defenseman
- Born: 04/23/1988
- Height: 6-4
- Weight: 230
- Origin: Moscow, Russia
Interview with Kirill Tulupov — November 30, 2011
PT: You grew up in Moscow?
Tulupov: Yes, I did.
PT: When did you first learn to skate and play hockey?
Tulupov: I was a very unusual kid. Most kids hit the ice for the first time at the age of 5 or even 3, but I started at 11.
PT: What caught your interest about hockey? – Why hockey?
Tulupov: An inside passion and drive.
PT: Were you watching hockey?
Tulupov: No, never. I just loved the outfit. [laughing] It made me think I was a knight.
PT: Does any of your family play hockey, or were they ever active in hockey in some other way?
Tulupov: None of my family members has ever played hockey, but I have a very athletic family. It was really a healthy nation. Everyone was involved in sports. It was in the blood. My father did karate, he was lucky to have a great coach and he reached a very high level. He even wanted to follow that career but something popped up and my father ended up in the Army. He retired long ago.
PT: How odd that you got into hockey then!
Tulupov: Things happen.
PT: When did you first go to Canada?
Tulupov: I left at the age of 15. I started at the Junior A level. Some private club for those who wanted to join the college through hockey. You practice twice a day and the rest of the day you get ready for the exams. Two years later I made the Russian National team.
PT: Since you were there for Juniors, did you live with a Canadian family?
Tulupov: Well, it was a little bit different system than most of the juniors. It used to be an old school. It is the Toronto Rattlers Touring team. It is in the little town by the New Market called Orangeville area of Toronto. It was an old school that was purchased and transformed into a training facility for hockey players. It was the perfect place for hockey players. The players lived in the dorm. It was fun and I have so many friends from that time, from all over the world. There were Swedish, Russian, Czech, basically all of the hockey nations, even people from India. It was just insane. I still have many friends from that time and a couple of them I even saw this summer. So it was amazing.
PT: Were you able to return to Russia during the summers to visit your family?
Tulupov: Yes I did. Sure thing.
PT: Was your English this good when you first arrived in Canada, or did you have trouble?
Tulupov: Oh, I had an accent, like a heavy Russian accent. It took me about three months to get rid of it, to pick up the slang and understand most of the people.
PT: You undoubtedly had studied English before you arrived in Canada?
Tulupov: The school I attended in Moscow was a special one. With a profound study of English. Plus my father had helped me all my life. He knows about five languages.
PT: You no doubt also had to learn French since you were living in Quebec? Did you study French?
Tulupov: I was there for three years, but it’s not that fluent. But quite enough to date French Canadian girls. [laughing]
PT: When you were in Canada, did you watch hockey? And if so, what teams?
Tulupov: That’s the weird thing about me. I didn’t like watching sports events. I hated watching them. I liked doing them. For some reason, I was always away from the TV. It’s not that I didn’t have TV’s back home; I just never turned them on. When I was a kid, no, I never watched hockey. When I moved to Canada it was a big thing, NHL, and that was when I started watching them. In Quebec, it was only the Montreal Canadiens and you didn’t need to buy a satellite to watch them. They were on regular channels and that was fun. I wish I could follow more but I didn’t really have a chance.
PT: Do you follow any other sports?
Tulupov: No, not that much. I like American football though I only watched one full game, college football – Michigan State.
PT: As a Russian hockey player, do you pay attention to what the other Russians are doing in the NHL? You have probably played with a lot of them.
Tulupov: Yes, I played with a few. It is really interesting but I am not watching them. If I get to hear the news, I’m interested. It is important because the Russian generation of hockey has fallen down just a little bit. I remember back in 2006 there were 30 to 45 Russian players and now it is about eleven or something. It has dropped dramatically. It has to change.
PT: There have been some issues with a few teams and their Russian players. It must be difficult for the players due to huge cultural issues, language issues, feeling as though you are in an alien land, etc.
Tulupov: There are many, many issues. It could even be the food, language, many things. Even friends. Talking. Not many Russian guys know English. You don’t want to be by yourself all the time. I don’t like when they always speak about Russians chasing money and they return home to get more money. It’s not really hard for us to sit a couple of games if we are doing something wrong. We are willing to change. There are not many people to support you and the media is always ready to rip on you if there comes a chance. Hard pill to swallow.
PT: When you were younger did you have a particular hockey player you liked to watch or emulate – someone you have styled yourself after?
Tulupov: In any team I played for, I always had a favorite guy who was good to take after and my father instilled in me the habit of seeking the best things in any player to make myself a more complete player. Of course, any NHL superstar could be your favorite, but the way I look at it is that every player has something good about him, so it is a good example to follow. That is how I look at it.
PT: Everyone who follows hockey usually has a favorite hockey player who they have watched from a very young age. They would have a hockey card, a jersey, a stick, something, and they would ask their favorite players to sign them – but you didn’t do any of that.
Tulupov: I didn’t do any of that. I don’t know why. It is just me. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I do it my way.
PT: What was the first professional hockey game you ever attended?
Tulupov: I went to a Montreal Canadien game.
PT: Were you a fan, or did you attend because you were there in that area?
Tulupov: It was because it was the only time I had a chance to do it. If there was an NHL stadium right next to us here with an NHL team playing, I would be there watching. It is fun! Actually watching the game from the stands is much better than watching on the TV. For understanding the game. The camera doesn’t show the entire view.
PT: I think many Oklahomans don’t realize that seeing a game in person is a completely different experience than watching hockey on TV. They really need to experience the thrill of it in person.
Tulupov: One day they will fill the arena up the roof. If the team keeps going that way they will.
PT: What hobbies do you have – other than hockey?
Tulupov: I like to cook. I haven’t had a chance to cook lately though. I like to read. I’m athletic and I like to do extra things besides hockey. Working out, making myself better, being professional basically. I like music a lot. I wish I could learn how to play music myself. Maybe someday I will have a chance to study. I need someone to help me to learn. I’m the type of person who cannot study music from books but will likely pick it up from another musician. It’s easier for me and it’s ten times faster for me and more interesting. Even, drawing, with a pencil, could be a hobby. There is nothing really I do for now – except for reading and walking. I like to walk. There are many things that I wish I could do, but it comes with time. As I become more comfortable in the system the more time I can give myself for rest and to do things I like to do.
PT: How would you describe yourself – what kind of person are you?
Tulupov: I’m an open-hearted person. I am really kind to people and friendly. Don’t mess with me though, because it won’t end up well because I can be mean. Though my boiling point off ice is not too high, it’s better not to test it for I’ll be the one winning. There is no doubt about that. I don’t know. I like to smile. I’m really positive and hard-working. I have a drive.
PT: What is the one thing about you that would surprise people the most?
Tulupov: I’m Russian. [laughing] It is actually – because when people talk to me they don’t know where I am from. They ask “where are you from, Canada? You have quite an accent” especially if I say “eh?” At the end they say, yeah, you are probably from Canada.
PT: Do you have a hockey nickname, and if so, how did you earn it? I’ve seen Tuli.
Tulupov: Yes, Tulutrain. Tulu, Tuli, Tulip, and Jimmy Teduski, for a short time.
[PT Note: Jimmy “The Tulip” Teduski is Bruce Willis’s hit man character in the movie The Whole Nine Yards.]
PT: What’s your reaction to the nickname Tulips?
Tulupov: Tulips, I’ve heard that before. Back in Juniors people were calling me Bobby Orr for a little bit. I don’t know, for fun, for a joke, but it was like a compliment for me.
This is what I have to pick up here too – maybe not that comfortable yet – of handling the puck and making all those plays that I want to do and that I am able to do with the puck. I just need time because I feel it is already opening to feel more comfortable.
I was really an offensive [player] in the Quebec Major Juniors for three years but then I switched to European hockey and coming back here, things have changed, such as the systems. It was unfamiliar for me to switch back and forth like that, but I’m getting better.
PT: Do you think it is easier for young Russian hockey players to come to North America when they are young and work their way through the system?
Tulupov: It all depends. Each to his own. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. There is never a certain answer to that. There are many examples and many stories and all of them are different.
PT: After you played in Toronto, you returned to play in Russia? Tell me about that?
Tulupov: At the end of the second season in Toronto I had a chance to showcase in the Russian National Under-18 team and I made it. This was a very huge thing. This is where my life changed. It was the best players in Russia and you can imagine how prestigious thing it was. So I started from the very bottom and I only had a few days to show my skills and I did it. I did really well.
I made the Russian National team but there were many tournaments and those tournaments determined who would be playing in the World Juniors. So I made it to the World Juniors and I played in the World Juniors in Sweden. I had six games and my statistics were 2 assists against America and Canada, the most important games. I was really mean as a defenseman because in 2006 it was still under the old NHL rules. So I was taking the full advantage of it. Nobody could do anything because I was almost as strong as I am right now. Plus 6 in 6 games. It was outstanding stats.
PT: And this is what prompted the New Jersey Devils to draft you. Were you surprised?
Tulupov: Yes. I was very surprised because when I was moving to North America going to the Junior A level the most I was dreaming about was playing in the OHL, for a team like the Barrie Colts because it was the closest team, or the London Knights, or some OHL team. This is what I was dreaming about. I never even dreamed about the NHL because it was so much higher, so unbelievable. Actually I got drafted to NHL first and then I was drafted to Quebec Major Juniors. I was shocked. Huge.
PT: You attended training camp with the Devils two times – and you were injured? What happened?
Tulupov: The second time I was injured. The second time – when I was really confident about myself because basically my first NHL camp was from Junior A. I was a Junior A player in an NHL camp. It is like the difference between a kindergarten kid brought to the university level and made to study there. This is what I felt. I just didn’t know what was happening out there. So the next year with some Major Junior experience under my belt I became confident about the Devils because I was third best defenseman in the Q, in the entire league, so I came to camp to show what I could bring to the table. At the opening night in the first period I had an assist, I had a great feeling about myself, I was doing fancy things, doing everything out there, and …. I got slashed, at the back from behind. I had no protection. A mistake. The funny thing, I couldn’t skate but I could walk and run. It was really odd. I had no problem walking, running or doing exercise. I couldn’t play, but I was training. As soon as I recovered, I returned to the Juniors.
PT: You were drafted in 2006 by the New Jersey Devils. Your style of play seems to fit the Devils Organization perfectly. What happened? Why did they opt out?
Tulupov: Right after the NHL draft they offered me a contract. My father still keeps it on the wall. He was very proud of me. The more so, because that Devils were the club where his favorite player Fetisov had played and coached. Long time ago he bought me Fetisov’s The Overtime. It was my guide book in the world of Hockey. I still keep it along with me. Under that contract my AHL money amounted to $33,700. It was the matter of discussion but the agent – my previous agent – backed off. He decided to turn it down without any negotiations. Two years later I was really high in their prospect system, I was the second best defenseman overall, and the sixth in the top 20 list. From the very beginning I moved up from 13th spot to 6th spot, almost double, and 2nd best defenseman right after Corrente, the very first round pick of 2006 – a defenseman too but they opted to let me go this time. You have to know Devils’ GM Lou to understand that he never offers something twice for a player taken in the 3rd round. I trusted my agent but I was wrong. One more year in Q as a 20-year-old somehow calmed me down.
PT: At that point in 2009-2010 you returned to Europe and played in Slovakia for the HC Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia – how was that year?
Tulupov: Yes, it was the best team in the whole league. We dominated the season, but we lost in the finals.
PT: Your agent is now the legendary ex-forward Igor Larionov – three time Stanley Cup champion. How did you two meet?
Tulupov: I met him actually in Slovakia. He came over to skate with my team because he was friends with one of the owners of the team. He participated in a promotion basically and I just went over to say hi to him and this is how we met.
PT: It sounds like Larionov has been a very good supporter for you.
Tulupov: He is like a guiding star right now to me because when a person like him believes in you, and actually encourages you to make it, telling you that you are good material to work with, it gives you an extra hand – it gives you extra drive.
PT: Yes, absolutely, because Larionov is very well respected – a legend.
Tulupov: Yes, “The Professor.”
PT: What else can you tell us about Larionov? He is a very interesting fellow.
Tulupov: I think he is the greatest example of how to live a life. What kind of a father and a husband he is. How he raises his kids and how he puts himself in life. What he does to other people. Most people think that rich people or famous people are the most annoying ones and the most unfriendly, and many other bad things, but he is just the greatest person. He is willing to help. He’ll talk to any person, he’ll listen to any person. He will give advice. He will help. I don’t know – usually you think so highly of your own relatives, your father, your mother, and you don’t expect to think as highly about other people. And I just think as highly of him. I’ve never seen anything bad about him, not a single thing. Not even at the back of my mind can I think of anything bad about him.
PT: Larionov won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002 and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.
Tulupov: There is only one more man in Russia like him – Slava Fetisov. They won everything – absolutely every championship. All the gold medals. Huge. He opened a door and gave me a chance and I did my best.
PT: In 2010-2011 you were with 4 teams: Spartak Moskva (KHL), Krylia Sovetov (VHL), Molot-Prikamie Perm (VHL) and Sary-Arka Karaganda (Kazakhstan) – 4 teams in one year. It sounds like a very rough year. What happened?
Tulupov: It was a rough year, but a good experience. It started from the best. From one of the most important things that ever happened to me. After that excellent year in Slovakia as a silver medalist I got promoted and I was recommended to the Spartak team headed by coach Milos Rziha. I had one more year with Slovan under the belt but when the coaches like Rziha want you it’s a stupid thing to think twice. I was recommended as a good player so he offered me a tryout. I made the team. I was the second best defenseman in points in the pre-season with 2g and 2a, +8 in 11 games. This is my first goal for Spartak in the KHL:
So they signed me. The team didn’t do that well at the beginning of the season and my coach was fired, only to play in the finals 5 months later with another KHL team. What irony. As soon as my coach was fired all the guys he had brought along were fired too, me being no exception. By the way all the guys on the video left Spartak. They are the best on their new teams. A couple of weeks before that they sent me to Krylia Sovetov, regarded as Spartak’s farm club, kind of. We don’t really have farm clubs back in the KHL. It is a new system and it doesn’t really work. They try to be like the NHL-AHL but it’s not even close. It’s a different thing. It has nothing in common. Nevertheless it was a great experience. The first away game was vs. Molot-Prikamie. We won it 2-0 where I sent a guy over the board along with a safety glass. It was marvelous. It took them half an hour to swap it. Right after the game their coach Joakim Fagervall from Sweden approached me and offered me a job. I was quick to accept it. By that time I knew for sure that I’d leave Spartak. But as misfortune would have it one month later my new coach decided to leave in favor of some local guy. New lords, new laws. I followed him realizing that a new coach would bring along his favorites. But I was lucky enough to get a call from Genadiy Tchegurov [Gennadi Tsygurov] who was running Sary-Arka at that time. He is a legend through and through. The old-timer. We won silver medals in Kazakhstan. Next year they will play in the KHL.
PT: Is hockey popular in Kazakhstan?
Tulupov: Well, it’s a good level there too. I was working with one of the most respected coaches in Kazakhstan. It was the best team in Kazakhstan. It had a really very highly respected coach. He was a legend too. He was famous for making the worst team in the league into champions. He had that experience and he did it three times in the biggest league in Russia, back in his day. He was really interested in working with me and he said that I should be working with him and he would make me the best player out there. So no matter where I went it was all for my benefit. The harder they press you, the harder you become.
PT: And then you received news about the Edmonton Oilers?
Tulupov: I was working out aware that I would go back to North America. I said that I needed to be playing here. So I was waiting for something to happen and out of the blue there comes a call from Igor Nikolaevich two weeks before the training camp kicks off. I moved to Detroit to my agent’s, and I was getting myself ready. I was skating with the Detroit Red Wings and I had my personal training coach.
PT: You are very determined to break into the NHL in North America?
Tulupov: Yes, it is the only place I want to play – the NHL. It’s a dream for me. I recall the experience that I had in Edmonton, how great it was to step back on the ice with 20,000 people watching you play, how many emotions, how many things you want to do for the fans. It’s like when you are down 3-nothing you can hear a fly flying around you in the arena packed with people, but when you are winning, making it back to 3-3 and end up winning the game or at least tying the game, you feel the difference and you want to do it from night to night. Just for the fans, the organization, how big is this show, this love for hockey, how great the players are, just battling on that high level – it makes you better. There is nothing like NHL for a hockey player.
PT: This past summer was very painful for the entire hockey world – first, the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak — and then the unimaginable happened when the Yaroslav Lokomotiv team died in a plane crash. I assume you knew some of those players, probably even played with them during your career.
Tulupov: I had two good friends on the Lokomotiv team. One of them was drafted the same year with me in the New Jersey Devils. We played together in the National U-20. He was a 2nd round pick, the forward Alexander Vasyunov. And I was playing in the Q with another forward, Sergei Ostapchuk. Even now it’s very painful to think about. I was in Detroit at the time. It is an accident. It can happen with anybody, anywhere in the world. It is hard enough for us as hockey players, but I can’t imagine how hard it is for those close to these players. So terrible.
PT: Are there any adjustments to playing hockey in North America vs. Europe and Russia?
Tulupov: The rink size first of all. All differences stem from this. In Russia the rinks are so huge that sometimes you have time even to have a cup of coffee before giving a pass or something. [laughing] A lot of the open space makes it easier to dangle and show off. And certainly the very game is more aggressive in North America. I like it. This is why I came back, because this is the kind of hockey I like. And I feel very comfortable playing this way, and that is what I am expecting, and I believe you become a better player playing in North America just because there are bigger challenges. Players have more drive, more passion for the sport.
PT: How do you change your mentality to play a different type of hockey?
Tulupov: I’m still working on this because I am not showing everything that I’ve got. I am not even sure that I am open 30%. There are a few things I still have to learn and a few things that are very new to me and I am really thankful to my coaches for showing me these things because it makes me a better player. It’s like breaking habits and things like that. But I’m really excited and I want to keep on going, keep on progressing, because I know I have all the tools to succeed. And I’m not just talking about it. I’ll always be there on the ice before any of the other teammates. I’ll be the last one to leave the gym. I’m doing my job first of all and it makes me even happier because I am basically doing my hobby.
PT: As a Russian here in North America, do you find that you have problems with cultural differences, or even language difficulties? – You speak English very well, but there will always be times when certain cultural and linguistic barriers could potentially create difficulties.
Tulupov: No. Primarily as a Christian I believe in God and I love him. So I love people because we all are made after him. It’s easier to live that way. I have learned how to live in both cultures. I was raised in Russia but I have lived in North American, Canada, since the age of 15 – the age of my maturity. I just love them both. Actually I am getting in trouble for that too – in Russia and down here – here I am still a Commie to some of them and back at home some people say to me don’t come back. It’s my life. And it is the same way I lived in Slovakia. I loved it too. I know what Christmas is like. But our Christmas is way later. We have a Thanksgiving, but it is not called that and we don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving. It is similar but not quite the same. Language, country, food, culture. I enjoy it a lot. I love them both. As I told you before, I’m open-hearted and everything is very interesting for me.
PT: Your YouTube workout videos are huge hits with the fans (both the Oilers and Barons). Were these intentional attention grabbers for scouts and coaches?
Tulupov: [laughing] No. When I started my career in Quebec it didn’t take too long for me to become fan-favorite. There were dozens of teens following me like a tail. I’m pretty sad that they never used my best skill plays – they loved me fighting and hitting people so they made these things. Those lovely Canadian boys and girls would find Russian songs without knowing even the meaning of the songs and add the music as the background to the fight videos and post them to YouTube!
PT: There are a lot of them!
Tulupov: Yes, and they’re still doing it! Some of them still follow me here in OKC and make videos here. They still do it. It’s just crazy how they are persistent. And about my workout video – it is just another funny story! One day I was working out there and my father was pretty impressed because I jumped off the charts. He wanted to record that and it was a great chance because the previous night he had purchased a new camera just to goof around, to take shots of things. He decided, well, my first shot is going to be you – I just want you to be the first thing I record. So then I left and I asked my dad to figure out how to send me the video. The size was so huge – it was in a very high resolution, so he said first “I don’t know.” And then he figured out how to put it on YouTube! I saw it and I liked it. And people saw it! I am glad that some guys still send me messages saying that they want to look like me. It is a great benefit to me. I work out and I get better and somewhere else some boy is getting better along with me. It’s great. It would be quite different if I would have been hurting puppies on those videos. [laughing]
You know, my Dad – yes, he is proud of me – he was born back in those days when they had nothing, not even a TV set, let alone a video camera. I don’t think he is that familiar with YouTube. If you see him type on the keyboard it would be – I call it a finger dance because he only uses two fingers. First he lifts the arms over the board thinking for a while what button to press while his 10 fingers are moving in a wave style before starting to type. It’s funny. I still get jokes about that video. Every time I go to the gym, the boys chirp me, saying “Hey, it’s not for the YouTube! You should relax out there, it’s not for YouTube, so take it easy!”
PT: Your fight – and I am not certain it should even be called a fight – perhaps a smack down? – with the Abbotsford player in the Barons vs. Abbotsford Heat, November 18th game was very impressive. Oklahoma City fans loved it! What happened – what instigated the fight?
Tulupov: As far as I know he is a fighter. Calgary took him for that reason. He just pissed me off. I was just there on his way and he slashed me for no reason and it was a painful slash and I don’t know what made him do it. I was about three or four feet away from him or even more than that. He passes by and slashes me. I was pretty fired up for the game anyway – I don’t know, maybe he was in the wrong place and the wrong time. [laughing]
PT: I’d say so! He went down very quickly!
Tulupov: He’s lucky the referees were there.
PT: You were ejected from the game due to your unfastened fight strap. Were you aware that an unfastened fight strap could get you ejected?
Tulupov: Everything was OK with me. As a pro-fighter the guy was very intense in his attempt to pull off my jersey. So it happened. Now I know that the jersey needs to be secured before getting into a scrap.
PT: We really wanted a Gordie Howe hat trick for you that night – you had the assist and fight, you just needed the goal.
Tulupov: I had that feeling it would be there just because I was hyper that night for some reason.
PT: You have to promise to keep that fight strap fastened now because we want that Gordie Howe hat trick for you!
Tulupov: I will. I will do it. [laughing] I will think about it.
[PT Note: On December 2nd in the OKC Barons’ game against the San Antonio Rampage, OKC fans cheered loudly as Tulupov faced Brian Sutherby – with his fight strap securely fastened.]
PT: How do you describe yourself as a hockey player – you play defense, but tell me more.
Tulupov: It is the hardest thing to talk about yourself. It’s very hard. – I’m strong. I’m fast. I’m maneuverable. I like to be physical. I like to use my body. Just because I train and there is a reason why I do it, I want to have a reputation and I hope soon enough that it will pay off for me, so I don’t have to do much of a job out there just because forwards will decide to enter the zone from the opposite side of the ice. There are things I have to show because I cannot be saying right now that I have a great skill and stuff, I just cannot say it right now because I have not showed it. I have to prove it first and then I can speak about it.
What I learn and what I want to be is a very good, well-rounded player. I want to be a great player. It’s my thing. It’s my job, it’s my passion in life and I want to be just as good as possible.
PT: Who has most influenced you in the game of hockey — anyone, a player, parent, coach, teammate?
Tulupov: My parents! When you start playing that late nobody but your father can help you to pan out. I was a small weak boy. But for my farther I would have quit too soon. With no knowledge of hockey the first thing he did was go to the Sports Academy to find out a way to make a big, strong man out of a sloppy kid who couldn’t stand up for himself.
PT: Do you have any favorite traditions or superstitions – either before or during games? Some players don’t call them superstitions, but rather traditions.
Tulupov: I always put on my left skate on first.
PT: What is your best hockey memory so far?
Tulupov: Many things. Russian National Team. Major Junior period. My first Major Junior goal. Coming back to North America. Being with Edmonton. First NHL game I played with Edmonton. Preseason games with Edmonton. It’s a lot. Even now, it doesn’t happen that often that you are playing for a winning team with a perfect coaching staff. I am lucky enough that it’s already happened to me twice. The first time in Slovakia, the second time here in Oklahoma City. Building a champion. That’s what our logo says.
PT: Do you have a favorite hockey souvenir that you picked up over the years?
Tulupov: Yes. It is a hockey lace wrapped around your arm as a bracelet. It is just a skate lace – it is wrapped around and stitched and you cut it so it just fits around your wrist. It’s easy to make. Cute too.
PT: Have you had any memorable encounters with an opponent?
Tulupov: It’s not the greatest moment but it was a little bit dirty, back in Juniors. It was a huge rivalry between two teams – Quebec Remparts and Chicoutimi. Ten games of nightmare. There was only one game left. The rest of them were in our favor. The head coach for Quebec is the famous Patrick Roy. It is not in his tradition to lose. So he wanted to prove that we are the losers anyway. I’m on the penalty killing, they have a power play, take the goalie out, put the sixth player in, but none of their players were the best players on the team. Not the ones who are supposed to score goals, but to fight – all of them. For us on the ice there were two 16-year-olds, one 18-year-old and me, another 18-year-old. With 2 minutes left into the game they just jumped on us as soon as the puck dropped. So I went to stand up for the teammate. I did well in the beginning and then, the next thing I remember I was just out. The guy didn’t want to throw punches. He just pulled me down. I fell right on his protruded knee with my forehead. That was the end of me. Some other fights occur to me. They were great just because I usually got the upper hand so there were not many players that could dare push me around. But, I don’t know. I don’t even think about my fights – it’s not what I want to be proud of – I want to have my hat trick and be proud of it more than about all my fights. I’m not really high on fights. I fight. If I have to, if I see somebody doing bad things to my teammate I will fight. If someone runs my goalie I will just smash the guy. But no, I’m not the enforcer just to fight just because I want to fight.
PT: The push to get an Oilers roster spot – a place in the NHL – is it worth it?
Tulupov: Is it worth it? Of course it’s worth it! That’s the dream of every little kid who plays hockey. This is something that everyone is going for. This is why people are playing in the AHL right now at this level. Everything you do is worth it. You cannot be thinking about it too much though because it is a big weight on your shoulders if you think about it every day. But at the end, the mindset, it’s there. But you are not thinking about it, just working toward that goal.
PT: What are your long term plans following this season? Still improving at this level?
Tulupov: Yes, of course. Not long ago Sary-Arka GM invited me to play for them in the KHL next season. I turned it down. Because I don’t think I will ever give up on my dream. I just want to be playing here. I feel that I get better here. It’s heaven to play hockey around here – just because people are crazy about it and there are people who know how to do things around it.
PT: Even though you have not been here in OKC for very long, you have generated a very loyal group of fans! They have very much wanted to see you play in many more games. Are you surprised?
Tulupov: It’s really a positive thing you know. I think it is going to help me advance just because there is a reason why. It makes me be a happier person. I can actually be proud of it. It’s a big thing.
PT: Has the Barons coaching staff given you any explanations as to why you have not been consistently in the lineup?
Tulupov: I think the coaches know what to do. What is best for the team is good for me. The team comes first! Our coach knows what he is doing. This organization is just great. It is the fact – just right on the table. We are on the top of the heap. It takes some time to prove that I can be a reliable person, that I can play hockey well. Of course I wish I could be playing more. It’s hard to stop abruptly when you get the momentum and feel that the consistency is not far away. I still need to open things that I can do, still can improve myself. And I have lots of things to improve. I just want to get comfortable so I can be playing my game. Having a respect for the tradition of the team and the system the coach wants to play, plus adding things to it that I am able to do.
It takes time, I understand it. The situation is also good because it boosts my work ethic. Still, the coaches give me a chance to play and every extra minute on the ice makes me better.
PT: Who is the toughest competitor in practice?
Tulupov: Triston Grant. The love for playing hockey is coming from him in waves. He makes us faster, he’s doing a great job. He makes it real.
PT: Who is most likely to play jokes on his teammates?
Tulupov: Most of the veterans. Josh Green is one of them. He is the best. If you were absent for a while and someone puts snow in your gloves, it’s probably Green. I love the guy.
PT: What is the best joke so far?
Tulupov: [laughing] Me and my work-out gloves in the gym. I just put them on and my teammates start joking about it. It’s not that simple to explain it for not many people will be laughing except my teammates probably. The explanation is that I have those on while others don’t, so most of them make fun of me, but that is what I feel comfortable with. No biggie.
Oklahoma and the U.S.:
PT: What is the overall feeling from you and the team about hockey in Oklahoma?
Tulupov: We enjoy it. We have a really good group in the locker room and the coach is a big part of it – we highly respect the coaches and we don’t have any issues. We never cross the border in our relationship between the team and coaches. Maybe the only thing is we are surprised why there are not many people out there in the seats. We wish there could be more people. It doesn’t mean we don’t have support – we have enough support – but just a crazy wave in the stands would be nice.
PT: Did you realize that football – serious college and pro football – would be very competitive with hockey here?
Tulupov: I knew football is one of the biggest sports. It’s like an explosion. That sound of a crowd. You can just hear it from all over the place. I don’t get to see the explosion but I hear about it a lot. I’m not into it, though. But I understand it is very huge here and people go crazy about it, but I don’t take part in it.
PT: How are you adjusting to living in the U.S. & Oklahoma? Have you had any difficulties?
Tulupov: I don’t need to adjust at all. I like the weather. It makes me feel comfortable. I can’t believe I am still wearing just a shirt outside, so it’s insane. I like it. Sometimes my bed is shaking. The earthquakes. It’s fun. My first earthquakes. What is good with the small one is that it gives you that feeling of a rocking cradle.
PT: Have you been able to meet people and make some friends since you arrived? I think there are other Russians living in OKC.
Tulupov: Yes. There are a few Russians and I have actually given tickets to them sometimes, so it is great.
PT: What do you like most about Oklahoma and Oklahoma City?
Tulupov: The weather. I’m really interested about the catfish. Lots of talking about the catfish. I heard you can catch them with your bare hands. I like the farms around, the horses, and the cowboy life. That’s really interesting to me.
PT: Have you discovered anything about Oklahoma that has surprised you?
Tulupov: The part of the history that was a land run. That surprised me.
PT: I know you are on Facebook. Are you on Twitter where OKC Barons fans are able to follow you?
Tulupov: No, not on twitter. I use Facebook just to stay in touch with the people I know. I wouldn’t mind if I had the spare time, but I don’t.
PT: How can we encourage you to join Twitter? Coach Nelson has now joined Twitter!
Tulupov: I need to become familiar with what Twitter is like. I will find out more about it. There are so many things I want to do in life, and so many things I want to learn and the net comes in handy. One click and there’s the info you are looking for. It’s great.
UPDATE: Links to sites that have published articles related to Tulupov’s interview:
- Kirill Tulupov’s Long Journey to the Show — The Copper & Blue by Derek Zona
- Oiler’s Prospect Kirill Tulupov Dishes on … Everything — Edmonton Journal by Jonathan Willis
- Philippe Cornet — OKC Barons (December 27, 2011)
- Andrew Lord — OKC Barons (January 30, 2012)
- Antti Tyrväinen — OKC Barons (February 14, 2012)
- Dylan Yeo — OKC Barons (March 5, 2012)