Behind the Mask #6 | Ervins Mustukovs: Sheffield Steelers

Ervins Mustukovs, Latvian native and two time player for the Sheffield Steelers. The 32 year old netminder came back to Sheffield at the beginning of this season after being invited by coach Paul Thompson with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Currently sitting at the top of the list of Elite League starting goalies on goal save percentage, he is arguably one of the best goalies to grace the ice this year and I sat down with Mustukovs to discuss his work ethic when it came to playing in the UK’s top league.

“Yes, statistically I have best save percentage and most wins, like last time, but it was still not enough to win the league because teams are very even and strong and every team has good goalies.”

Coming from Latvia, where the ethic of playing seems very similar to that of Russia, we talked about playing as a youth and how his day went as a youngster.

“I started age of 5. We had only one hockey rink in all the country, in the capital city, Riga. Practice was really early for kids. Around 7.am. We had no car and travelled on public transport with my hockey bag. Later, when I was at junior age in country was more hockey rinks. My home was around 10 miles from the hockey rink., early practices then straight to school. When I was older we had ice twice a day. Hockey its been all my life. First year was just skating and then around age of 6 my coach asked who wants to be a goalie and I agreed, I have always wanted to be a goalie.”

 

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Latvian goalie, Arturs Irbe was Moose’s inspiration as a youngster. (credit: Sportsnet) 

Earlier in the season, it looked like Moose might not get the much coverted shut-out, but recently he added one more to the season, I asked him how it feels to get that much desired result.

Shut out is always good. This season I got goals against in last couple seconds 5 or 6 times. One time against Nottingham, 10 seconds to go and the puck was still in their zone, but they scored at 59.59.   I got a shut out I think two months ago and also one in Challenge Cup semi final against Nottingham.”

Anyone who knows me, knows I’ll stand up for a goalie after a loss. I think it’s one of the most difficult positions to play in Ice Hockey. From my own personal experience seeing social media posts after games, goaltenders are either forgotten about if their team wins and vilified if their team loses. I often find myself feeling sorry for goalies, considering there are five other men on the ice at the same time who are also responsible for the scoreline of a game, the goalies often get slated by their fans. I find myself reminding people that goalies are the last line of defence, not the only line of defense.

“Goalies have more pressure and responsibility.” Mustukovs says. “Thank you for the support.”

What made him come back to the Sheffield Steelers after a few years away, playing in Europe? His last campaign with the Steelers saw them winning the League Title.

Last time I won the championship here. I was named best goalie and had good memories and also I was with Thommo in Aalborg, Denmark two years ago. He gave me a good offer and I came here.” Did it live up to expectations? ” I think the game level is higher now because bottom teams are better. 6 years ago if you played against Dundee, Edinburgh etc.. you knew you were going to win, but this season teams are more even. Yes, statistically I have best save % and most wins, again like last time. But it was still not enough to win the league because teams are very even and strong and every team has good goalies.” 

And who does he consider the best goalie in the league? Besides himself of course? “It’s hard to say.” He says, somewhat predictably. “They are all good and have different styles. To say that, we need to switch teams every season and then we can think about it. Every team has a top class goalie who could play at higher level.” 

I’ve been talking a little more in-depth with some of the goalies recently, following the discussion I had with Nottingham Panther’s Miika Wiikman and I wanted to know Moose’s feelings about the number of games that import starting goalies have to play, his answer, somewhat surprised me and I wondered if it was perhaps his upbringing in Latvia that game him this perspective.

“If i can play I better play. I played so many games with minor injuries, for me it is not a problem. Six years ago here in the UK I played half season with groin problems, I could not do J.C. Van dammes split at all, but still played every game.”

“Maybe… I just came here to play and if I can, I go.”

 – Ervins Mustukovs

When asked if his upbringing had anything to do with his work ethic.

We move on to discussing the play offs and I ask if there is anyways in which he is preparing differently. “No.” He laughs. “All games are the same, same ice, same puck, same skates. Really, everybody says because it is against Nottingham and a derby, but for me it is not a derby. Every game is important. Still need a win.” 

How does he handle the road trips and the long bus rides?

“On the bus, get a little sleep. Stop at some services for food, maybe watch some movie on my phone. They are not much fun. Part of the game though. In France we had sleeper coaches, with beds. We traveled the night before and stayed in a hotel. Everything else is the same though.” 

What is his take out food of choice? “McDonalds. Chicken Nuggets.” I laugh, it’s not actually one I’ve heard before and I jokingly tell him that he probably shouldn’t tell his coach. “Oh, he eats it too, so I learn from him.” Leading by example there Thommo, I joke. “Oh yeah, no excuses.” He quips back and I’m chuckling to myself as we keep talking.

Are there any specific things you miss from home? I ask him, it’s always interesting to me to see what sorts of things people miss and by not being specific I get all sorts of answers, from food to people, to places. 

“No.” He said simply. This surprises me and I counter back. Nothing at all?

“No. I played away from home since I was 19.  In Canada, QMJHL. Now in the UK, we even have Latvian store…food store. My favourite thing to buy from there is Šokolādes sieriņi un pelmeņi. Google  it.   Šokolades sieriņi and then Pelmeņi.”

I’ve since discovered it’s some kind of chocolate dumpling thing. I think. If anyone is able to explain it, please let me know in the comments. Moose spent some time trying to explain it to me and I was googling at the same time, that’s as best a description of it as I can find. It definitely looks tasty!

So talk me through the design of your mask, it’s quite simple in comparison to some I’ve seen.

“Moose, my nickname, given to me in USA as it was easier for fans to say. Columbo, my favourite movie, team logo, number. Columbo is a detective, he looked silly to everyone but really he is smart.”

So, we continue, if I was to buy him a drink after the game, what would he order? “Apple juice.” He says immediately. Not a beer guy, it seems. It turns out that he doesn’t enjoy the taste of beer, so based on his love of apple juice, I suggest one of my favourite apple ciders, Somersby. By the time I remember the name and find him a picture he’s already googled it and says he’s going to head to the shop to buy some and see if he likes it. I should probably get back to him on that and see if he liked it?

I also asked him about his magic tricks. Those who follow him on twitter, will probably have seen some of them. He’s planning to put some more videos on there when the playoffs are over. He enjoys tricks that involve cards, coins and ropes. Interesting definitely and something really different. He got into it after he saw Uncle David when he was in the USA. He’s been playing with it all ever since. Magic Moose, it’s got a great ring to it!

___

Thanks for this interview go to Ervins Mustukovs for agreeing to chat to me and Dean Wooley, for use of the feature photo. All other media content belongs to it’s respective owners. Words are taken from my Skype interview with Moose. 

I definitely enjoyed getting to learn a little more about Moose and I hope you enjoy it too. If you did, I’d love to hear from you. Below is a list of the other Behind The Mask interviews I have conducted over the course of this season.

  1. Brian Stewart – Coventry Blaze
  2. Ben Bowns – Cardiff Devils
  3. Gary Russell – Braehead Clan
  4. Miika Wiikman – Nottingham Panthers
  5. Mike Clemente – Manchester Storm

Coming soon, will be Jordan Marr of the Edinburgh Capitals.

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