The NHL Lockout created a strange flux of players shifting and moving between the leagues this season and Kirill Tulupov is one of the players who found himself in a rather odd situation. A good number of AHL teams this season have a mix of AHL, NHL, ECHL and even CHL players on their rosters, however Tulupov’s situation is slightly different due to his circumstances.
Last season Tulupov played in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the OKC Barons, and this season following the announcement of the NHL Lockout he went to Europe and played in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia. Currently, he is playing in the Central Hockey League (CHL) with the Arizona Sundogs, the CHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes.
I sat down to talk with Tulupov about his season and how he found himself playing in the CHL. After 15 games with the Sundogs Tulupov now has 4 points (3 goals and 1 assist), with a plus-4. By the way, the Arizona Sundogs just played their way into the CHL playoffs with a three-game sweep over the number three ranked team the Fort Worth Brahmas. The Sundogs have been on an amazing roll lately and went 7-1-2 in the last 10 games of their regular season. This week they face the Wichita Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. All the best, Sundogs!!
PT: Last summer was an uncertain time for many players as they waited word on a potential NHL lockout. What happened in your situation?
Tulupov: As soon as the season ended in Oklahoma City I already knew where I was going. I knew I was going to Phoenix because the Phoenix organization was keeping in touch and they were willing to have me as a player and they didn’t want me to go anywhere else. I went home for a short break and then came back to Detroit and was getting ready for the season and working my butt off for two and a half months. I knew I had a really good showcase and I knew with the Oilers experience behind me I could show even more by giving myself a good chance to stay with the Phoenix organization or even to have such a good showcase that they would actually consider me for their main job.
At the end of the season with Oklahoma I already knew what kind of a contract I was going to have for the next season. My [former] agent told me that he was not happy when the team decided to lower the contract salary and he wanted me to go play somewhere else – to make a deal with a Russian team and as soon as the NHL lockout was over I would head back to my place in an organization where I could finish the season. So, in October I went to Russia and ended up playing hockey with the best hockey players at that time – Russian and NHL players.
PT: While in the KHL, you played against teams with locked out NHL players such as Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin with Dynamo Moscow.
Tulupov: Yes, and Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, and Chara. I also played against the Kostitsyn brothers.
[PT Note: His teams also faced Ilya Bryzgalov with CSKA Moscow, Jakub Voracek with Lev Praha, and Evgeni Malkin with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, among many others.]
KHL Top 10 Plays of the Week: #6 Kirill Tulupov — November 26, 2012 (Amur vs. Metallurg (Novokuznetsk) Nov. 21).
KHL Top 10 Plays of the Week: #10 Kirill Tulupov — December 13, 2012 (Amur vs. Ak Bars Dec. 7th).
PT: What happened when you learned the lockout had ended?
Tulupov: As soon as the NHL lockout was over I asked the General Manager of my KHL team to release me. I thought they were going to do it easily just because that team was not going to make it into the playoffs and it would have saved them a lot of money to release me and find a cheaper player with a chance to have him for a longer term. I had told them from the start that they should not consider me as a player who would be staying for a long-term. I explained it from the very beginning and they were agreeable that I was not considering staying longer than that.
The General Manager told me that he had to speak with management and that he would respond the next day. The next day was Friday and I never heard anything back from him; on Saturday the office was closed and that night we left on a two-week road trip. When we returned I tried to talk to him but I was just told to play hockey because I was going to play the next game – the next day.
I had already given up on the idea of going back to North America immediately so I had a plan based on the news that I heard that the Trade deadline was extended to April due to the NHL lockout situation. I thought the KHL season was going to end much earlier than that so I can finish the full season in the KHL and then head to North America.
The KHL season was very odd the way the schedule was organized. They would play hockey for two weeks and then there would be a break for two weeks. So for me being there for three and a half months I only played about 19 games which was just weird.
After another week break in the KHL the team let the players go for three days. Halfway through the first day off I received a phone call around 3 p.m. from the General Manager asking me if I still wanted to leave and I said yes. It was the 31st of January. They told me to come in and sign the paperwork. To make a long story short, by the time I came back to North America, I received the news that the deadline for signing a European player in the AHL was February 1st and I arrived on the 4th, and by that time even the ECHL deadline had passed. So the only choice I had was to play CHL or start my training and preparation for the next season, and I made the decision to continue to play hockey.
PT NOTE: Due to the lockout, the normal European signing deadlines had been shifted, and as a result the AHL European Player deadline was February 1st. For this season due to the NHL lockout, players participating in games outside of North America after the start of the NHL season needed to be signed to an AHL contract and be put on AHL waivers by February 1st. The ECHL (Overseas) European Player deadline was February 4th and the CHL European signing deadline was Feb. 11th.
Tulupov: When I came back to North America and received the bad news I didn’t know what to do – it was like dark days came into my life – like being left alone in the middle of nowhere and forced to make a choice about something totally unexpected. I still had to keep myself motivated, living in a hotel for a week, seeing my personal trainer, working out, getting into top shape for the hockey season. The only option I had to skate with a team was drop-in hockey where you pay $10 to skate with a Beer League, just so you have that feeling of ice. That’s not hockey and it’s really frustrating when you have to do that. [laughing] And sometimes you have a bad day and can’t even perform on that level and you begin to think what am I doing! You catch yourself in those bad moments. You do that every day hoping for something better, knowing that the 11th of February is the deadline for the CHL for European players coming into North America. Facing that day, coming closer and closer, not hearing any news was just crazy for me.
PT: How did you end up with the Sundogs?
Tulupov: Before making any decisions my [current] agent decided to act with the utmost respect to the Phoenix organization and he asked them whether they wanted me to start my preparations for next season or should I play hockey somewhere else. The Phoenix organization offered me the opportunity to finish the season with their CHL team the Arizona Sundogs, which is located about one and a half hours away from Phoenix so they can have me nearby.
When I actually bought the ticket knowing I was going to Arizona to a new place as part of an organization in North America I was very excited. I was quick to pack up and leave and I was excited to arrive. The organization is great – the way players are treated in North America is on an absolutely completely different level. I was once again not used to it. [laughing] I had to get used to being lazy again – not packing up your own bags, not carrying your own sticks after every hockey game. [laughing] Being treated like a Prince is something you can’t afford. That was a positive moment of coming back – a player can just focus on playing hockey.
My papers were not in order for me to be legally working in the United States, so the Arizona Sundogs had to apply for a new Visa for me, a P-1 Visa. The papers were supposed to return in 7 to 10 days and the team was preparing to leave on a road trip. I was told there was no expectation that I would be able to play on the road trip, but I went with the boys, which was very positive and it allowed me to get to know them, share stories and experiences.
The immigration papers came in three days after they applied for it, and that caught me by surprise because I ended up playing the night after a severe get-back-in-shape practice that morning where after regular pre-game practice you remain alone with the coach for another 25 minutes just bag skating and line drills where you end up just wanting to be in the shower, followed by a one-week nap. You don’t sleep all that well after practice in that situation and you don’t really get ready for a game since I was not expecting to play. Later, on the bus, just mingling with the boys on the way to the arena, I received the news that I would play that night but I just took it as a joke. It was like a hockey chirp – a joke! The assistant coach told me that, and then the main coach told me the same thing. And I thought oh, it’s a funny group of guys! [laughing] They couldn’t be serious because I have no legs to play hockey!
PT: So when did you finally believe it?
Tulupov: When I went into the locker room and saw my jersey hanging up! At that point I thought they were not joking, they were actually serious! [laughing]
PT: Tell me about how you received your new nickname with the Sundogs?
Tulupov: It’s 5 p.m. – it’s the time the players get together just before the game due to the game preparation. And the first thing you pay attention to is the roster and I’m trying to find my name on the list but I can’t find it. So, I think, I’m not in the lineup. I just don’t get it. So I take a closer look and I don’t recognize the names since they are a little bit reversed or corrected but the names are familiar to me, but I still can’t find my name. Across from the name of my D partner there is a funny name – “Sam” – and I thought who is Sam? There’s no Sam. There’s no extra healthy defensemen – there’s only six defensemen – so I figured that Sam was probably me!
After having a meeting with the coach [Scott Muscutt] the boys asked for an explanation about Sam – and why I am being called Sam – and coach said the only reason why I call Tulupov Sam is that he reminds me of Uncle Sam – just because of how much he loves America! Because I speak of how great America is, and how much I love this country – that’s the reason he called me Sam. I’m Sam. [laughing]
PT: What are your plans for the summer?
Tulupov: Maybe a very short vacation at the end of the season, and then I’ll go straight back to work. I know there are things I can work on and I already have a plan for the summer time – to get myself fully prepared to make everything possible next season. Being back in North America is great because it was never in my heart to leave it in the first place.
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