In late January, Kirill Tulupov signed with the Danish team Frederikshavn White Hawks, and I had a chance to talk to him about Danish hockey, the team, and living in Denmark this spring. In addition to Tulupov’s interview, see also my accompanying article on Danish hockey, Hockey in Denmark – Traditions and Salutes.
- April 3 & 18, 2014 – Kirill Tulupov Interview, Frederikshavn, Denmark
PT: When you departed Gwinnett in late January, you immediately had a number of very good offers in North America and Europe – what made you decide to go to Denmark and sign with the Frederikshavn White Hawks?
Tulupov: I was considering starting next season in Europe and I thought a switch from North American hockey to European hockey would help me a lot. I believe finishing the season in Europe and getting use to the European style of hockey would be the perfect thing for me.
PT: You left the US and flew to Amsterdam but had trouble getting into Denmark – tell us about the Visa issues and how it was resolved.
Tulupov: Oh, it was a frustrating moment. Just because already before I boarded the plane I was stopped at the checkpoint and I asked where was my Visa? I said to the flight attendants that I don’t require a Visa just because there are people waiting for me and I was told to take a passport and a copy of my contract and that would be enough. They believed it so they put me on the plane. Ideally, they shouldn’t have done that because if I had not been Russian, or European, I would have to fly back to North America at the cost of the airlines.
I was stuck in Amsterdam for about 12 hours. The funny thing, it was priceless to see the look of the Customs officer looking at me like “Where are you going?” I said “Denmark” and he said “No, where do you think you’re going without a Visa? You need a Visa.” I tried to explain my situation and he called the customs police and they escorted me over to their special room where we had the remaining conversation and then they didn’t talk to me for a long time.
It was a good thing I had cash on my hands. I arrived around 8 or 9 in the morning and around 6 p.m. I had to purchase a ticket straight to Moscow. It was an exhausting time. It was a good thing I didn’t have to mess around with my baggage just because it was transferred to the right airplane without me handling it. The system works pretty well there and they coordinated to have my luggage switched.
Then in Moscow we started with the wrong step right away with the Visa. The idea was to find the fastest way to Denmark as soon as possible and then prepare the work Visa documents in Denmark in order to train with the boys and stay in shape and be ready to play hockey when the documents were ready, like it was back in Arizona. But this time, this time I went the wrong way so instead of requesting a work permit I decided to request a visitor’s Visa, so that alone took me about two weeks. And the problem is that the General Manager said the work permit would take about a month and a half at least but that was wrong. By the time I tried to get two different Visitor Visas the GM found out that it would only take two weeks at the most. And when I applied for a Danish work permit it only took them three days. So I lost a month, I came to Denmark out of shape completely and it was a struggle. The worst thing that can happen to an athlete is getting back into shape – it’s the most terrible moment of your life. And then along with missing a month’s paycheck which is crucial. But all of my expenses I had while trying to get to Denmark were covered.
It was crazy because the process was taking too long. When I came the Embassy I gave them the reason why I was going to Denmark but with that reason I also gave them my contract with my hockey club, and it was a bad idea already to start with, just because I was requesting a different document. I was telling them I was going there for a visit since the idea was to spend a minimum amount of time getting the easiest document possible, arrive in Denmark and finish with the rest of the documents. They took a look at the documents and said “well, sorry, you provided us with false information and there’s 85% chance it’s not going to work out and you will have to redo the documents. And what we have decided to do is to reject your passport from the embassy.”
I almost kidnapped my own passport, this is what it looked like. [laughing] When the Visa is in process the Embassy leaves a big stamp in your passport so when the Visa is ready they cover the stamp with that Visa so nothing is seen. But in my case I’m walking around with a stamp and when I decided to try another way through connections I had through the French embassy to get the same type of Visa for a period of 3 or 4 days to save myself a week by doing that crazy move. The rule is simple because it is a Schengen Visa, Russians need a Schengen Visa to get into any country in the European Union. But the funny thing is that the French Embassy saw the Danish stamp and called the Danish immigration system and asked questions. They gave me the Visa, but instead of a yearlong Visa as it usually goes, they gave me a Visa for the amount of time I mentioned in my documents and applications. They gave me a chance to enter every single country in the European Union EXCEPT Denmark! That was horrible! [laughing]
The next day when I received it, the General Manager asked me politely to go on Skype and he told me the story that the main guy from the Danish immigration system called my GM since I had left all of that information of whom to contact in Denmark in case there were any questions. He calls my GM and says “If that guy [Tulupov] is going to Denmark you will have problems forever signing import players on your team.” I took a look and there are about 8 imports on this team – so close to half of the team are imports, that’s why he was worried so much!
So instead of taking a risk, the THIRD time I applied, but this time it’s for the right document. So that is why it took almost a month.
It was frustrating for me because I thought the season was over for me. It wasn’t a good time for me, because I had to be training by myself. It’s impossible for me to train in Moscow just because I don’t have the freedom, as in America, to have a number of training facilities available and the quality of what I have been using. Plus you can’t leave your hockey equipment at the arena, you have to be traveling all the time just to get rink time, waking up at 5 a.m. to get to the rink by 7 a.m. The beer league guys don’t have any idea of how to play hockey and you feel like a dummy out there with them.
It was nice to see my parents and stuff like that, but ….
Denmark – At long last!
PT: You finally arrived in Denmark on February 25th and you were able to play in the last 2 regular season games before the team moved on to the playoffs. You didn’t have much time to practice with the team, and get back into shape – how difficult was it to jump in so quickly into a playoff mode with a brand new team?
Tulupov: I was lucky to have the two games to play just because the games got me back into shape quickly because they were back-to-back games. I needed an oxygen mask on the bench between the shifts. [laughing] That’s a joke of course, but that’s what I felt I needed! Despite that, I was playing very good games. I was getting tired very fast but I was doing the right things, so I was not worried.
PT: The team went into the Quarterfinal playoffs against the Odense Bulldogs in a best of 7 series and ended up beating them 4 games out of 5. The Semifinals however were a different story, with Herning Blue Fox beating you in 4 straight games, however, the games were actually much closer than the stats show. Tell me about the two series.
Tulupov: The first series was like a walk in the park. It was a good thing for the confidence of the boys, especially for offense just because after scoring 25 goals in 5 games I thought they were going to have a lot of firepower when we advanced to Blue Fox in the semifinals. Unfortunately it was too easy – half of the goals were not even supposed to be in the net for the lack of a good goalie and a good defense squad for the Bulldogs. It made our offense a little bit sloppy – a great example of it was our first game against Herning. I knew what it would be like, so perhaps that’s why I was able to react so fast when they scored the first goal, then I scored my goal just right after and I thought it was going to be a game changing type of goal, but no. We just got demolished – 6-2.
It was frustrating at the same time just because the boys only realized that they lost at the end of the game. They thought it was going to be as easy as before so they could walk around, skate around, shoot the biscuit, and control the biscuit without any problem, without any pressure. But no, it was not the case.
I felt like we were better than this team, skill-wise and everything – I’ve seen that because the last two games before the playoffs were against Blue Fox. I felt very comfortable playing those games because I had a lot of scoring chances and I just couldn’t finish them or I’d have had four goals at the end of those two games. So I was very optimistic going against Blue Fox in the playoffs. I actually wanted to go against Blue Fox – but I never could expect our guys not being prepared that much. It was heartbreaking just because I’d say two and a half games we owned them – for two and a half games we completely owned them, but we were just out-of-place in the most important moments of the game. And it tended to be the last minutes of the game as well where they would turn the score sheet over and it was too late for us to come back.
Herning was very smart defensively – they had a very strong goalie [Slovakian goaltender Lubos Pisar, age 33] and the whole unit on the ice was tending to block the shots. I have never seen, even in North America, players blocking so many shots. It was just crazy. I actually said “wow” to myself as I was on the bench watching them play. They were just collapsing. I thought they were playing like NHL 2013 where you can pick the mode where everyone is collapsing around the net blocking the shots, but I’ve never seen it in true hockey. When there are individuals on the team blocking, it doesn’t look as impressive as when the entire team does it. When everybody does it, it feels like a huge wall impossible to penetrate. Just impossible. It slows players down … slows their thinking … stops their offense. It’s hard to believe you can even score goals after that.
PT: Mentally it would be easy to lose your confidence when facing that situation.
Tulupov: Yes, I thought big hits, like what I did back in the Juniors at the beginning of my career, might turn the game over, maybe some fights, something like that, that type of thing would give the advantage to the winner, but no. Actually the things done by the entire group of players makes quite a big difference.
PT: Tell me about your huge hit on Tomas Horna in Game 3 – some felt it was a clean hit, while others disputed that, but the referee who had a very good view of the hit gave you no penalty.
Tulupov: When it is a high paced game, and my team is not chasing, it is pretty easy to make those hits because everybody is playing to the highest of their abilities. And usually when you are playing for a long time at that level it is sometimes hard to react to new things that come at you. For me, it is easy to read those plays. The guy just had nowhere to go. I angled him pretty well and I knew it would happen, I read it correctly. I even went chest open – chest to chest let’s say – I sacrificed the pure strength of my hit just not to get penalized because I realized that the refereeing is not as great as it could be in AHL, or NHL in North America. I did everything possible to make it clean, and even sacrificed my own defense to make it more legit. I thought of it twice before I did it.
PT: You’ve played in North America, Eastern Europe and Russia before – but tell me about hockey in Denmark – are there any differences?
Tulupov: Not really because all European hockey is pretty close. The level of hockey to me is just determined by how many highly skilled professionals are in the same club or in the same league – the amount of them, but the type, the class of hockey is very similar. There’s a North American type of hockey and a European hockey – there’s only two branches of hockey that I can tell. And the quality of the league just tells you if they have better players – those players who can handle the puck, do all those things. Since I had played European hockey, I knew what to expect.
PT: The team is primarily made up of Danish players – even a few who are very young, age 18, and many who are local to the area – but there is also a group of Swedish players, and even two Americans. The Head Coach is Swedish and the assistant coach is Danish – with this many nationalities, how does day-to-day training work?
Tulupov: To my surprise everything was in English. The process itself is in English and I was even told if there were no Europeans [players outside Denmark] they would still speak in English. It was very interesting. I was really surprised when the Danish referee came over to our coach, he even spoke in English.
PT: Tell me about your practices in Denmark. It was a bit different from the normal early morning practices in North America.
Tulupov: We have practice later in the day, early afternoon around 3:45 p.m because many of the boys work or go to school. It worked out well for me. I could easily stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. and then wake up at 12 p.m. and still have enough time to have my breakfast and lunch and be awake and ready for practice that starts around 3:45 p.m.
I have done everything that I needed to – I was always in a great mood, always supportive. I was the heart of the team because I wouldn’t let anyone down – I would energize everybody – so the schedule worked absolutely perfectly for me.
PT: What is your impression of the Danish League? And tell me about your time there with the team.
Tulupov: It is a very young league, a lot of young players and there are very few players over 30.
Yes, it was really a great experience for me there. I took a main role on the team, and the coach trusted me in that position. I started every single game in the starting squad, in the first lineup and advanced to the pairing with the Captain of my team in the last 2 games. I think I have improved during that period of time – I have realized that I am able to be very creative. I am able to be in power of changing the way the game goes. I don’t have a rigid thinking hockey mind, I have an active mind where it can be handy and creative. It was an important moment in my career to be here in Denmark.
PT: Shortly after you arrived the team held their annual jersey auction and your jerseys were auctioned as well, although you had only played 2 games at that point. From the team article, the highest bid for a home jersey was 15,000kr – that was your jersey, and even your away jersey went for 5,500kr. How did that happen?
Tulupov: I don’t know. It’s really hard to say. [laughing] Maybe natural charm? Perhaps I did something special during those two games? Who knows! Maybe the fact that I was the first Russian in ten years had an impact on the jersey price? Hard to tell about those things. Maybe all those things at once!
It was a nice event, convenient for the players – after the game we changed our gear, had a chance to eat, and afterward we mingled with the fans. The players went then one-by-one to have their jerseys auctioned in a special conference room. People could eat, enjoy a drink, watch the auction, mingle and visit.
PT: The Danish press have taken to calling you the “Big Russian Bear” – how do you feel about this?
Tulupov: [laughing] Russian Bear. None of those words surprise me just because even back in America, the first things that Americans think is that we have bears as pets on a leash as domestic animals. Vodka pouring from the sink instead of tap water, and playing balalaikas, those type of things. It gets to the point where it can become annoying just because all of the countries come up with the same stereotypes.
Now and then I crack a joke about it, but maybe somewhere deep down in my heart I’m cursing about it.
Danish Fans and Team Traditions
PT: Let’s talk about the Danish fans – I’ve been very impressed with them and especially love watching the fans “salute” their teams, and likewise the teams “salute” their fans as well.
Tulupov: When playing there, especially in our own facility, it was quite impressive just because of the things that the teams do before the game starts is something unique. After the warmups you return to the dressing room and leave your helmet on the bench – the trainers take care of your helmet and visor – and when the players jump on the ice just before the first period they are not wearing their helmets. First thing, the players line up in the middle of the ice against the blueline, not parallel, so you are facing the fans and you stand there until the last guy jumps on the ice and joins the line. Then the line skates down, makes a circle or two around the net, and then they move to the blueline. Now the team is facing the opposing team. The players are only allowed to move after the Captain skates past all of the team standing on the blueline, tapping our pads or jerseys, and after that, in the same order the team skates around the circle and jumps on the bench, and the starting lineup starts the game. It happens very quickly.
It lets the team salute the fans, and then the other team – it’s highly important and they pay a lot of attention to it.
PT: There is also a postgame tradition as well – tell us about that.
Tulupov: It is just as much as after every single game – after a home game we skate around the ice, clapping back to the fans that are still there in the stands. And then we go back to the dressing room. I have a habit of just stripping my gear down as quickly as possible, because by the end of the game it just annoys me. It’s greasy, sweaty, and I just feel greasy. Nobody warned me in advance that I had to keep my gear on just because the team jumps back onto the ice again to say hi and thanks to the fans again.
This is what happened on the last game in Aalborg when we won the Bronze. I had no gear on me whatsoever – absolutely none. I had already cut my laces open – because they were old and I was going to change them anyway since that was the last game and I would not be playing hockey for a while – and I had to jump back onto the ice! [laughing] The way I re-laced my skates was so funny, I had only the first three holes and the last hole laced, and the main part of the skates was missing. So there I am in my compression shorts and shirt with skates on, jumping onto the ice completely naked of gear, saluting the fans and just jumping off. [laughing] It was so funny. I was risking my life out there just because all the extra lace was on the ice wearing my blades and I was about to fall on the ice, so I had to be very careful.
This had also happened when we played against Blue Fox at that last home game in the series and at the end of the season, so I think it happened three times while I was there. And all three times, I had no clue it was happening and I was caught in the exact same situation in the Bronze medal game that I explained to you. It was funny.
[PT Note: The video above takes place at the end of the Bronze Medal game in Aalborg, on April 5th, 2014. The Bronze Medals are presented to the White Hawks team, and the White Hawks fans sing and salute their team, and the team returns to the ice saluting their fans.]
Team Treats for the Fans
Tulupov: Every Sunday home game the team would buy treats, pastries and cupcakes for the fans. Everybody could take as much as they want for absolutely free – it was the teams way of saying “thank you” to their fans. I don’t know exactly how it worked, but every Sunday home game the organization got the treats for the fans. Apparently there’s not many Sunday games over the season. Those cupcakes, they’re not just regular cheap Walmart cupcakes! They go to professional bakeries and they order a lot, probably around $4000 to $5000 dollars’ worth. For one treat it was about $1 and there were a lot of them. The treats were extremely good! They were like treats you allow yourself once a week in a fancy coffee shop, have some coffee and buy yourself a great treat! As a comparison, it’s very similar to Godiva chocolates – that same class of treat!
There’s no restrictions – there is a constant line going around the tables of treats, and the fans are welcome to take as many treats as they want, but everybody understands. It’s great!
Tulupov: The fans would bring, I don’t know what you call them, it’s like a big torch out of fireworks – they light it up and it’s like a torch, like a big sparkler – everybody had them! The arena lights were dimmed and the sparklers were going off – it looked really good! [laughing] But it was pretty hard to play the first period because the smoke is just above the ice. There was a day we were home, wearing whites, and there was so much smoke! We had a plan for a breakout from D to D past the far blueline. The D to D was very close to our goalie net so I had to make a pass right across the entire ice and I couldn’t see [Alex] Berry on the far blueline. It was so smoky! I just couldn’t see the guy. I had an idea he was there, I could just see the outline of him, but I couldn’t see the details or anything like that. That was funny.
Some of the fans light them at the beginning of the game, some wait until later in the second period, or later, so it’s constantly going on for some games.
Tulupov: The Danish fans are very good! They are singing all the time, clapping all the time, drums going. They have team songs. They are not as aggressive as the fans in Russia, especially Moscow, those fans are superfans, especially in Moscow – they tend to be like professionals and sometimes after the games they go out and fight other fans.
Danish fans are very laid back superfans, nothing aggressive. They were as perfect as they could be. Back home [in Russia] when I played I’ve seen a lot of hooligans – but there’s nothing wrong with that. There was a good side about it as well, it’s just what happens after the game that is sometimes scary.
Compared to North American fans – North American fans can be very aggressive, they slam on the glass and they scream aggressive things to players. It doesn’t matter where you are, there are aggressive people out there, but I’ve never seen anything bad. It’s interesting, I’ve never really thought about it before, but fans are very different in different cultures.
Impressions of Denmark
PT: You have not been there all that long, and you have probably not had a chance to see much in that time, but how do you like Denmark? What is Frederikshavn like?
Tulupov: My little town is a former fishing town so pretty much everyone used to be – from what I’ve been told – fishermen, or involved in that business. This town is very close to the sea, within walking distance, about ½ a kilometer from the sea. You can smell the sea and if you are on the second story of a building, you can see it.
Tulupov: The more I learned about Denmark the more I love it. It is a very laid back style of living. It reminds me of Canada quite a bit. It’s simpler. It’s a rich country and I think people here are very happy. They don’t need to pay any money for education, in fact the government pays them money to study, depending upon what you are making – your paycheck. Same with health care – nobody pays, you go to clinics for free. That tells me a lot. They have to pay a big tax, close to 50% to the government, which pays for all of the benefits, but in the long run it comes back to you. Think about it, you don’t need to be saving money for your kids to go to school, nor even pay them per diems to go through month to month.
The people themselves, I don’t see them living a luxury lifestyle. I believe most of them have the ability to live that type of life, but you would never be able to tell if someone is rich or if they are poor. I don’t think I’ve seen a single person begging in the street. Nobody is trying to be flashy. Everybody kind of dresses the same, no one is standing out, showing off the brands they wear. It is very laid back and I love that about it.
All the vehicles are very close to being the same. I never thought that countries would have those types of vehicles, because in Moscow and in Russia those vehicles are disrespected. No one even considers them – it’s not a sedan, it can still be a four door, but it’s a little car like a Beetle or Smart car – a small type of vehicle. Very compact. The engine is usually a 1.1 for the cities, not for long distances – they are very efficient with gas and don’t take up much space.
The mentality of the Danish people is very home welcoming I’d say just because people don’t focus on how others look and what they do in life. The city is so small everyone knows each other, and they feel like a big family.
I haven’t seen a single police officer in the street and I have never seen a single police officer vehicle. There’s just no crime around here. Every single time I get to read some news the boys keep telling me there are incidents, such as a drunken fellow kicked out from the bar for not behaving properly, so the guy came back with an ax and was trying to threaten some other people. The guy wasn’t even taken to jail! The guy had his ax taken away and he was sent home and put into bed. He didn’t do any harm, so he was just sent home. This is what surprises me. It’s like a little fairy tale.
PT: Have you had a chance to visit the beach yet? It’s been cold weather there, but have you had an opportunity to see the tip of Denmark just north of you, Grenen Headland, at Skagen?
Tulupov: It’s not been cold here at all! [PT Note: Keep in mind, he’s Russian!] It’s been very windy a few days here. No, I haven’t been exploring much – all the important things I needed were right here, within 2 or 3 minutes walking distance. And I was trying to sleep as much as I can – we have practice later in the day – early afternoon.
PT Note: Prior to Tulupov’s departure from Denmark, he did indeed travel north to see the Grenen Headland where the two seas, Skagerrak and Kattegat, meet at the northern tip of Denmark and the waves break to the shore in opposite directions.
Links to earlier Tulupov Interviews and articles:
- Kirill Tulupov — OKC Barons (December 7, 2011)
- Ice Hockey and the Wild West: Kirill Tulupov and his Stint with the Arizona Sundogs (April 21, 2013 at Tend the Farm)
- Kirill Tulupov: This Season and the Arizona Sundogs (Interview: March 26, 2013)
- Kirill Tulupov signs with Frederikshavn White Hawks (Visa Issue Resolved!) (February 21, 2014)