It’s always special for any player to make their NHL debut, and it’s no different for Ilya Solovyov, who donned the Flaming ‘C’ for the first time officially on October 26, 2023, against the St. Louis Blues.
Solovyov was drafted by Calgary 205th overall in 2020 and appeared in two games for the Flames during his recent recall from the Wranglers, averaging 16:35 of ice time during that span.
“It feels pretty good,” said Solovyov. “My first NHL game, you know, it was a good emotion and experience.”
“My family was pretty excited,” he added. “My wife was so happy, she was the first person to find out, then I called my dad and mom… everybody was happy.”
Flames head coach, Ryan Huska was impressed with what he saw from Solovyov in his debut against the Blues and said as much after the game.
“I liked him, I thought he was one of our best players,” said Huska.
While his first NHL game was an unforgettable one, Solovyov’s second game was no ordinary contest either, playing in the 2023 Heritage Classic in Edmonton against the Oilers on October 29.
An outdoor game…another first for the 23-year-old.
“That was my first time playing outdoors. It was a good experience… a little bit cold,” he chuckled. “My wife was there and her mom and brother too, so it was a good experience.”
Playing outside is one thing, but squaring off against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can be a daunting proposition for even the most seasoned blueliner, and Solovyov credits his Flames’ defensive partner for helping him settle in.
“I felt comfortable, and I had a great D-partner in Chris Tanev,” explained Solovyov. “He helped me, supported me, and talked to me a lot off the ice, as well. But everybody helped me out, so I felt comfortable, especially in the locker room, and if you feel comfortable in the locker room you can just be confident to go and just play your game.”
Like Tanev, Solovyov provides a steady, dependable effort on the blueline every night, fearlessly blocking shots while eating big minutes against opponents’ top lines.
Now, back with the Wranglers, Solovyov is using his stint with the big club as motivation to keep growing as a player and as a teammate.
His current focus is on the Wranglers’ success and playing his best hockey every game.
“Right now, I just want to keep it going and get better every day,” he explained. “I’m playing with the Wranglers right now and, honestly, though everybody wants to play in the NHL, we must play for the team first.”
The Wranglers are a tight-knit group, but the native of Mogilev, Belarus has formed a special bond with teammates Yan Kuznetsov (Murmansk, RUS) and Ilya Nikolaev (Yaroslavl, RUS), in particular.
Speaking the same language certainly helps, sure, but their friendship goes deeper than that.
Left to Right: Yan Kuznetsov, Ilya Nikolaev, Ilya Solovyov. (Photo: BTBW)
“Those are two great guys, honestly, they always support me,” said Solovyov. “Niko and Kuzy helped me move out of my apartment and into my house, like, moving couches, tables, and my TV. We like to make reservations for dinner, or they come over to my house for steaks or a barbeque.
“We all (speak) Russian so it’s pretty easy that way, but I try to talk with everybody. I believe that I have a good relationship with everybody on the team and I hope they know I can help them if needed, and if I need help, my teammates are there for me, too.
“We have a great team, a great leadership group and everybody has fun when we come to the rink.”