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Hard upbringing has turned Matvei Kazakov into a stalwart for Stony Brook hockey

Goaltender Matvei Kazakov defends the goal crease against Delaware on Jan. 15, 2023. Kazakov is a Russian-born goalie who has had a great career with the Stony Brook hockey team. PHOTO COURTESY OF AZTEKPHOTOS

Goaltender Matvei Kazakov’s road to stardom on the Long Island hockey scene may have been bumpy, but all that matters to him is that he is here to stay.

Born and raised in the small town of Serov, Russia, Kazakov first started playing hockey at just seven years old. After taking a quick liking to the sport, Kazakov’s competitive spirit began to sprout.

Though he liked soccer and chess, Serov’s frigid temperatures and a nearby rink made hockey the perfect fit for Kazakov. He took up a spot in net almost immediately after joining his childhood team and instantly fell in love with the position.

Once he put the goalie pads on, there was no turning back.

“I remember at that first practice, I made a couple of nice saves and started getting the basics,” Kazakov said in an interview with The Statesman. “I started liking it that day and I said ‘Hell yeah, let’s try it.’ I got into it and that was it.”

Growing up in a small city like Serov was often difficult for Kazakov. There were not many career opportunities available. Where Kazakov was from, he had three choices for his future: get an education, go into the steel industry after mandatory military service or try his hand at sports.

“It’s a pretty tough city to live in,” Kazakov said. “It’s honestly not getting any better and I’m grateful to God that I somehow got out of there.”

After spending the first 20 years of his life in Serov, Kazakov and his parents — Mikhail and Oksana — fled Russia for New York in December 2018 for reasons that he can not disclose. He now lives on Long Island year-round and hopes to get his United States citizenship soon.

Kazakov has not returned to his hometown since leaving, nor will he anytime soon.

“I would love to visit Russia one day, but I don’t see any reason to go back, especially during this time when there is a war,” Kazakov said. “I’m still at that age when I could be drafted.”

Following his arrival to New York, Kazakov and his parents vacationed in Los Angeles for a month with Russian friends to get acclimated to the country. The transition to American life was made difficult by the language barrier, as Kazakov spoke no English. After the month-long trip, he and his parents found a home in Brooklyn, N.Y., which is where the learning process started.

In order to help pay for housing, Kazakov picked up a couple of side hustles, working as both a mover and a busboy in a Russian restaurant. Adjusting to the strenuous nature of being a mover and the hectic environment of working in a restaurant was challenging  for Kazakov.

Luckily, he found a different occupation that opened up a world of possibilities for him.

“I got into coaching pretty quick because I have a coach education back home,” Kazakov said. “Fortunately for me, I just stumbled upon this rink in Brooklyn — Aviator Sports & Events Center — and the people there helped me start [getting into] the coaching business.”

As a goalie coach at the Aviator rink, Kazakov has taught a number of young kids how to properly play the position. His newfound coaching job helped reignite his desire to play hockey again. Prior to departing Russia, Kazakov had surgery to repair a broken wrist that left him in a cast for four months. After his long layoff from playing, getting on the ice as a coach helped get him back into playing shape.

During this time, Kazakov decided to try his hand at playing collegiate hockey after building an impressive résumé back home. At 14 years old, Kazakov made Hockey Club (HC) Dynamo Moscow’s youth team — one of the most prestigious hockey organizations in Russia. There, he was teammates with current NHL players Klim Kostin and Alexey Toropchenko. He even shut down current Washington Capitals left winger Alexander Ovechkin during a shootout attempt in practice.

However, without significant statistics and highlights in America, finding a team to play on was nearly impossible.

“I felt like there was some potential for me because I still felt hungry,” Kazakov said. “I started emailing NCAA Division I and III schools, but because I didn’t have any experience playing here, they just denied me.”

After sending emails to 25 schools, Vladimir Zeide — a fellow coach at the Aviator rink — told Kazakov about Stony Brook University. With nothing to lose, Kazakov contacted head coach Chris Garofalo to express interest in joining the team. Garofalo decided to give Kazakov a chance that no one else would.

Kazakov has made the most of his opportunity. Across two seasons as the Seawolves’ starting goaltender, Kazakov possesses a 2.67 goals against average and .920 save percentage while posting four shutouts in 52 games played.

Even with his success in the blue paint, Kazakov remains humble, crediting the team’s play for his strong numbers.

“It’s not just me,” Kazakov said. “It starts with the team. It’s how you connect with your defense and how players from the team buy into the system. Our success is in the defensive zone.”

Kazakov attributes part of his personal development in the crease to Danil Kataev, who was his head coach during his peewee hockey years in Russia. Kataev motivated him to not take any of his practice repetitions for granted and to push himself to the limit in the gym. This coaching helped pave Kazakov’s way onto HC Dynamo Moscow’s youth team.

During their time together, Kataev offered Kazakov a piece of advice that has stuck with him throughout the years.

“Enjoy the game,” Kazakov said. “If there is no enjoyment, there is no point in playing.”

Despite being a star netminder, Kazakov takes his academics seriously as well. He is a business major focusing on finance. Kazakov’s parents run a cosmetology business, which he helps out with, but his main goal is to create a business of his own one day.

Though working with his parents might be the simple route to take, Kazakov finds it more important to focus on a topic that he is passionate about careerwise.

“There are the same basics for everybody, but you have to understand your specific niche,” Kazakov said. “I understand something about hockey, so I can do some management, or do some marketing for a hockey team because I was into that. You want to understand your niche and not just the business knowledge.”

After graduation, Kazakov also wants to continue working as a coach on the side. Though getting one of his prodigies to the NHL is a tall task, he hopes to eventually see one of them get an opportunity to play at the Division I level. Kazakov is slowly creeping closer to making that dream a reality, as some of his students are already beginning their college careers. In fact, he squared off against New York University goaltender Daniel Onatsky last year, who is one of his former students.

For the time being, Kazakov is gearing up for what may be his final season with Stony Brook. At 25 years old, he realizes that it will soon be time to move on from his playing career. Before he reaches that end, Kazakov is looking to lead his team on a championship run.

“The way you play defines the person you are,” Kazakov said. “Stony Brook was at nationals every year and it feels embarrassing that it was my team who failed that quest to make them last year. Making nationals is a must-do for us.”

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About the Contributor
Anthony DiCocco
Anthony DiCocco, Assistant Sports Editor
Anthony DiCocco is an Assistant Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports derives from years of playing dek hockey and watching his favorite teams, the New York Islanders, New York Mets and New York Jets. He is the beat reporter for Stony Brook’s hockey and softball teams. He has also covered football, baseball, men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of his high school newspaper the Devil’s Tale at Plainedge High School. He is a local product from North Massapequa, N.Y.
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