Freshman forward Daniil Ovchinnikov laced up his first pair of hockey skates at the age of three. Since then, hockey has become a lifelong passion for the St. Petersburg native.
Although he didn’t imagine himself being in Plattsburgh playing Division III hockey coming from Russia, he found a warm reception here.
Ovchinnikov doesn’t remember much of his early days learning the sport, but he knows his dad played a large role in igniting his interest for hockey.
“My dad watched hockey a lot, and he just bought a pair of skates,” he said. “He put them on me and tossed me out on the ice.”
Ovchinnikov left Russia at 14 to play for Okanagan Academy in Austria for three years before moving to Canada to play for the Ontario Hockey Academy and then moving on to Juniors.
Leaving home at a young age was hard for Ovchinnikov. During the first couple years in Austria, he called home almost every day, he said. But now, he’s much more accustomed to living long-distance, but missing family moments never gets easier. Ovchinnikov missed his niece’s birth by a month. He hopes to not repeat that and to be there for the birth of his sister’s second child, who is due in December.
It wasn’t always easy for Ovchinnikov’s hockey career. The strain and emotions that come with playing hockey competitively for so many years wore on him so much he thought of quitting multiple times.
Last year, especially, was a moment where he seriously considered leaving the sport. Playing for the Boston Junior Rangers in an overtime semifinal match, Ovchinnikov fell short on a good opportunity to score and advance his team to the next round. Instead, his opponents won the game, leaving him uncertain about his future in the sport.
“It was one of those moments where I hated myself,” he said. “I really didn’t want to play hockey after that.”
What Ovchinnikov found that he needed the most was a good night’s rest. Hockey was too important to him.
“I love the game,” he said, “so every time I come down after a big loss or a big mistake, I just want to play more and more to forget about that mistake and to get better.”
After Juniors, Ovchinnikov found Plattsburgh State a good option for both hockey and education.
Head coach Bob Emery saw potential in Ovchinnikov but wondered if his emotional level was ready for the next step in competition. After watching him in a playoff game, Emery and his coaching staff saw the intensity they were looking for.
After the coaching staff extended an offer for a roster spot on the team, Ovchinnikov gladly accepted. Ovchinnikov is the first Russia-born player to play for Plattsburgh State men’s hockey team, but he doesn’t pay much mind to the milestone.
“It’s nice to be the first Russian on the team,” he said, “but it’s nothing new to me, I don’t think it’ll affect my game.”
Entering his first year playing college hockey, Ovchinnikov feels he needs to adjust to the speed of the game the most, but he is looking forward to playing at a higher level.
“I was really excited to see what college hockey is about,” he said. “Every day, I’m out here, and I love every second of it.”
Ovchinnikov recently got his first start of the regular season in the second win against Morrisonville and, although starting is not all that significant in hockey, Ovchinnikov was ecstatic at the opportunity.
“It actually means a lot,” he said. “That was a big moment for me, especially because I started on our home ice. I can’t express the feeling when they call your name and people cheer for you.”
Since arriving in Plattsburgh, Ovchinnikov has come to like the town, school and people. He especially likes the weather and looks forward to winter.
“Feels like home to me,” he said.
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