On the banks of the Irtysh River in central Russia’s Tyumen Oblast lies the town of Khanty-Mansiysk. A locale with temperatures that make Edmonton look like a tropical paradise, this town of just over 80,000 may not seem like much other than its massive production of oil (51% of Russia’s oil comes from the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, of which the town is designated the city of okrug significance…think county seat), and maybe its flourishing chess academy. However, it is here where a great hockey story is quietly being forged.
Ilya Shevtsov got into hockey at the age of 5, and took up goalkeeping because everyone on his team wanted to attack and nobody wanted to play goalie. His coach made him the goalie, and he fell in love with it, working his way up to the MHL (Russia’s top junior league), where he would occasionally play with Kristall Berdsk. For 2015/16, he was signed by Mamonty Yugry (“Yugra Mammoths”), the MHL affiliate of KHL side Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk.
There’s one difference between Shevtsov and his teammates, however: Shevtsov is deaf.
Shevtsov has spent most of his life playing for adult deaf hockey teams, winning a national title in 2012 with a team based in Novosibirsk, earning a contract with Kristall. He stood out so much that in 2013 he was called up to play at the Deaf Hockey World Championships at the age of 17, in which Russia won the gold medal over Canada 5-4. Though Shevtsov didn’t play in the final, it’s still impressive that a teenager made the team.
In 2015, Shevtsov was the starting goalie for the Deaflympics team before suffering an injury against the United States in a 6-5 win. Despite this injury, Russia (coached by Andrei Vasilevsky, father of the Tampa Bay goalie of the same name) defeated Canada in the gold medal game 6-3, and won the gold medal. For this, Shevtsov was given a Russian Federation Presidential Certificate of Honour from President Vladimir Putin, a Certificate of Honor from the Governor of the Novosibirsk Oblast by Acting Governor Vladimir Gorodetsky, and was named an Honored Master of Sports in Russia. Three massive achievements, and this was all done before Shevtsov turned 20.
The Deaflympics were played at Arena Yugra in Khanty-Mansiysk, home to KHL side Yugra and their MHL affiliate, Mamonty Yugry. Shevtsov impressed at a young age, and on July 15, Mamonty Yugry announced that they had signed the Deaflympic champion.
In an interview with UgraNow.ru, Shevtsov was asked about his adaptation to playing with able-hearing teammates. Shevtsov responded, “Of course there were misunderstandings. But we’re friends. And my friends help me communicate.”
On July 31, Shevtsov made his debut for Mamonty Yugry, in a preseason game against Tyumen Oblast rivals Tyumenskie Legion. Coming on to replace starter Maxim Kukurudza with the score 2-1 in favor of Legion, Shevtsov helped Mamonty Yugry take home the victory, allowing just one goal in the 4-3 overtime victory.
Deaf athletes have created many a great story over history; it was a deaf school, Gallaudet University, that came up with the idea of the huddle that’s been a staple of gridiron football for decades. With a chance at cracking Europe’s top ice hockey league through performances with their junior team, Shevtsov may be the next one to write his own great story.