Mihaylov’s farewell

51-year-old Bulgarian’s last international stint


Goaltender Konstantin Mihaylov after Bulgaria’s game against Latvia at the 2015 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship. Photo: Esa Taka-Prami

TAMPERE – At the age of 51, Bulgarian Konstantin Mihaylov put on his goalie gear and the Bulgarian national team jersey for the last time in an international career that started 33 years ago and brought him to places from Klagenfurt to Sydney, from Mexico to Beijing.

The important thing is not winning but taking part. The motto from Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, couldn’t be truer in inline hockey than for Bulgaria.

And for no Bulgarian hockey player could it be truer than for Konstantin Mihaylov, who at the age of 51 likely played his international farewell game in a 14-0 loss to Latvia after 25 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship tournaments with the men’s national team and three IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship participations.

With their mix of both aging and very young players, such as Tomislav Georgiev, who helped translate for this interview, the Bulgarians take part at the Division I tournament of the Inline Hockey Worlds whenever they qualify despite having finished in last place in all four tournaments with 20 losses in 20 games and a 20-280 cumulated goal record.

Mihaylov shared duties in the net in all five games in Tampere with Nikola Nikolov, who 29 years younger could easily be his son.

During the best days in the ‘80s and early ‘90s Mihaylov was on the Bulgarian teams that beat countries like Denmark, Great Britain, Hungary or Japan in the B-Pool and C-Pool of the World Championship. His twin brother Boris, a winger, was the team captain for many years.

During the less glorious 2000s Bulgaria had to fight for survival at Division II level and in his last IIHF ice hockey tournament in 2014 Mihaylov was in the net against countries like Luxembourg, Hong Kong and DPR Korea in the Division III to help his team earn promotion.

IIHF.com’s Martin Merk talked with Mihaylov ahead of his last game.

Are you still playing ice hockey too, and will you continue playing inline hockey next season?

I stopped playing competitive ice hockey last year. And most likely this will be my last inline season.

What made you play hockey so long for your country?

The thing that mostly made me play for so long is the love for the sport. For me there is not a big difference between ice hockey and inline hockey. The other thing that made me play so long is that there wasn’t anyone as good as me in Bulgaria.

When did you start to play hockey?

I started when I was 14 in Sofia. My father used to play hockey.

What memories from all the tournaments you have played stand out?

I remember of course my first international championship [1982 IIHF U18 European Championship B-Pool], which was in Sofia and I was selected as best goalie of the tournament. I also remember very well my first World Championship with the men’s national team. It was [the 1985 IIHF World Championship C-Pool] in Megeve, in France. I have a lot of joy and also disappointments from the World Championships I played in.

You played in many places in Europe, and even in Asia, Australia and Mexico with the national team. What was the most special place for you?

I really liked it when we went to Spain [at the 1986 C-Pool in Puigcerda].

When you played in Sofia in the ‘80s and ‘90s, was it much different than nowadays?

It was a lot different. It’s a really big difference between now and then. Hockey used to be at a really high level and now it’s dying.

What happened that there was such a drop?

Until the early ‘90s with the perestroika the country and the government were supporting sports, that’s why sports overall in Bulgaria used to be at a high level. If you have money, you have sport. If you don’t have money, you don’t have sport. That’s what happened. The country and the government stopped supporting hockey and the national team and that’s why everything went down.

What were the best opponents you played?

In a tournament in Bucharest, Romania, 17 years ago I played with the Bulgarian national team against SKA St. Petersburg, Traktor Chelyabinsk and Dynamo Moscow. These were the best opponents I played against.

Did you work in a specific job besides playing hockey?

Originally no, I went professionally with hockey. For the last ten years I was doing both, working and playing hockey. I’m working at a company where I’m the right hand of the boss.

Do you have kids who play hockey?

I have a son who’s 25 years old. He used to play professional football as a goalie but then he stopped playing football last year. Now he’s playing hockey and he’s a forward.

How did you decide to become a goalie?

My father was a hockey player and he played until the age of 40. He wanted me and my twin brother both to be wingers, one on the right and one on the left. But I always wanted to be a goalie. That was my dream. My dad told me I was crazy.

Did you agree with him?

(laughs) No. But every goalie is crazy.

Are there any special games you always remember?

In Budapest in 1990 there was a men’s World Championship [C-Pool] and I was on the summit of my career and happiness because that’s when my son was born. I had my best World Championship and got the award for the best goalie. And in 2006 on home ice in Sofia [where Bulgaria finished in second place behind Romania but before Belgium, Serbia-Montenegro, Spain and South Africa].

Are there any players from other countries you kept in touch over the years?

There are many players I kept in touch from time to time, in particular Serbian players because I once used to play for Partizan Belgrade.

In the mid-‘90s you suffered some tough losses when newly independent countries started in the lower divisions such as 31-0 losses to Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Was that hard for you?

It is always hard when you’re a goalie and you let in many goals. It’s hard for yourself, for the team, for everyone. Everything stays in the statistics.

At the Inline Hockey World Championship you also have tough losses and many goalie changes. How do you as a goalie keep yourself motivated in such situations?

Many of us older players used to have Soviet coaches and we learned that as soon as the coach entrusts you to go onto the ice and play for your country, you have to be motivated because you play for your country, for the crest on your jersey. We always go out and play 100 per cent, no matter what the score is.

What would you recommend to young Bulgarians who want to become a good hockey player or goalie?

It requires a lot of hard work and to believe in themselves.

How would you describe Bulgarian hockey and the atmosphere nowadays?

For the moment? A catastrophe. Basically hockey now is at a really low level. We practise like amateurs. We have two ice practices a week. We have two operational rinks – in the whole country. Hockey is at a really low level now. I hope that things in Bulgaria will get better because otherwise things are going to stop.

Will you stay involved in hockey?

I’m coaching goalies in Bulgaria right now. That’s my plan in hockey for now and I hope that one day there will be somebody better than me. I’m also playing in an amateur league.

You often came back to the national team despite your age. Are you really sure you won’t come back again?

In principle I decided to stop. I’m sure that I’m stopping. I told the guys that I won’t be stepping in again with the Bulgarian national team.

NOTE: The 2015 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship ends today with the medal games in the Top Division and the Division I. All games will be streamed live.

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