From Russia, With Skill
Beyond the work put in by the dynamic pairs and trios of a hockey team during a game, fans often take pleasure in tight knit relationships between players outside the rink. Take, for instance, the social media interactions between Mitch Marner and line mate Matt Martin, recorded pranks PK Subban pulls on his teammates, and the oddly thriving friendship of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who take pleasure poking fun at each other’s on ice choices with the puck.
These unique friendships are often initiated by an overlapping and unique trait (ie. Sidney Crosby and Nathan Mackinnon are both from Cole Harbour), and countless hours spent working as a unit to move the puck down the ice. For rookie Gleb Babintsev, sophomores Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Pavel Gogolev, and veteran Nikita Korostelev, both these things stand true in the formation of their impenetrable Russian ‘squad’.
Each Pete, other than Babintsev, joined the organization during the 2016-17 season, with Korostelev having been acquired from the Sarnia Sting in the new year. Each of them confronted similar challenges in their transition from Russia to the OHL (and previous minor hockey Canadian leagues), “I’ll agree [with Semyon], the language was probably the biggest issue at first, and just getting used to everything. The lifestyle the hockey because its different. When you get used to it, its fine, when you make friends its fine. It takes time.”
For first year player Babintsev, language continues to pose itself as an obstacle, although his comprehension surpasses far from what is assumed, as exemplified at the Petes Christmas party when he was asked to read an English trivia question. When he does struggle to articulate his thoughts verbally in English, his three Russian elders kindly step in as translators. The defenseman also watches English television in an attempt to improve upon his grasp on an otherwise unpredictable dialect.
Furthermore, some Petes, like defenseman Alex Black have acquired a bank of Russian vocabulary such as the translation for ‘reverse’ (задний ход) to pull out under game time stress in the breakouts of the defensive end.
Veteran Korostelev authentically empathizes with Babintsev as he once skated as the sole Russian among a roster, “Its pretty rare and cool to have that many players from your own country, it feels good, I’m not going to lie. Playing in Sarnia for the last two years I didn’t have anyone, I wasn’t thinking about it then. It was fine for me but after the trade here, you have more fun.”
The move to Peterborough for Der-Arguchintsev and Gogolev proved less of a shock, as both spent the previous year in Ottawa with the Canadian International Hockey Academy.
— Peterborough Petes (@PetesOHLhockey) July 19, 2016
When asked if Russian camaraderie spans across teams in the OHL, they explained it wasn’t to the extent of the NHL as described by Evgeni Malkin in interviews, however, Gogolev recalled an attempt he made to speak with now friend and teammate Korostelev, during a game against the Sting.
“We were losing and the play paused and we were standing beside each other I told him ‘Hi, stop making us look bad’ I think he looked at me and he said, ‘What are you saying’, so then I reexplained,” described Gogolev. Korostelev went on to explain that he was unaware that Pavel was attempting to speak to him in Russian.
— Peterborough Petes (@PetesOHLhockey) October 3, 2017
In addition to the adjustment of culture and language, all four players discuss the transformation of their game to fit in with Canadian style, “There is more speed, more physical play, and its in smaller rinks,” stated Nikita.
Its an ongoing joke around the Memorial Centre that where you see one Russian Pete, there will be three close by. The four boys have an undeniable bond that was initiated by the comfort found in a shared mother tongue, but it seems the friendship has transcended beyond a refuge of familiarity into a relationship that will surely follow their careers beyond the Petes and the OHL.