It was almost four years ago when, playing for the Dynamo Moscow junior team, Stan Galiev went to the Nike Bauer tournament in Chicago and it changed the course of his hockey career.
“After I came home, I tell my mom, ‘I want to play in America,’ ” Galiev said. “I like the style of the game — it’s physical, it’s faster. I just love it.”
That’s what Galiev did, playing in the United States Hockey League and then most recently in the Quebec Major Junior League. Fellow Russian Dmitry Orlov came over to play in the American Hockey League last year.
Galiev and Orlov are part of a wide trend of Europeans making a concerted effort to adjust early on to the North American style, and the Washington Capitals are set to benefit significantly from that commitment.
“I couldn’t imagine my 16- or 17-year-old son getting on an airplane and going to Europe to play hockey. So I give those kids a lot of credit; they sacrifice a lot,” said development camp guest coach Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers (Ontario Hockey League). “For those special players like Galiev, it’s a decision that obviously is going to pay off for them.”
It’s a benefit on multiple levels — not the least of which is on the ice getting accustomed to the smaller rinks than are the standard in Europe and, of course, the physical play that comes along with it.
“It’s really good for their development,” general manager George McPhee said. “There are no surprises when they turn pro other than it being better — a higher level.”
Galiev in particular has thrived since coming to North America, and the 19-year-old said he loves the style over here compared to the more free-wheeling game in Russia. Coach Bruce Boudreau praised Galiev for putting on 10 more pounds to prepare for it, too.
In addition to that, the experience of being at this camp last year and spending a year honing their games in junior action has helped Galiev and Orlov, who is considered the organization’s top defensive prospect not already with the Caps.
“I just noticed [Galiev is] smoother and playing with more confidence. He’s coming off a Memorial Cup win, he’s bigger, he’s stronger,” Boudreau said. “Orlov is the same way — the world juniors I think did a lot for his confidence and you can see he’s carrying himself with a little more confidence, which is good.”
Getting a head start on North American hockey also is about preventing a culture shock. Orlov still is working on his English — he generally is more comfortable still conversing in Russian — but Galiev has been working on that along with his play.
“It was pretty hard for me first time ‘cause I didn’t speak English, I miss my family, and it was tough couple months. But after I started playing good and my English is a little bit coming every day,” he said. “My first year in the [Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] was pretty good for me, and this one was — I’m not nervous. I feel like I’m at home.”