January 24, 2014
Moncton Wildcats head coach Darren Rumble was ready for a good night of hockey after leading his team through the paces of an energetic practice Thursday.
The team was on a four-game losing streak, but they finally got the gift they ordered back in September and placed him on the top line. He'd be lying if he said that didn't have anything to do with it.
"You could really feel it in practice,” Rumble said. "I said to the other coaches and staff that it’s the best vibe we’ve had from our team since we’ve been on our skid. I knew we were going to come out and have a good performance.”
Vladimir Tkachev finally arrived last night after a half-season of delays and wasted no time at all with a four-point debut and first star honours in the Wildcats’ 7-4 thrashing of Chicoutimi. He drew high marks from his head coach in his first game.
"He put on quite a show tonight,” Rumble said. "He’s an elite player. He gave our team a really big boost.”
He even earned some comparisons to a certain number 99 from his coach.
"I’ve only had a one-game sort of viewing, obviously,” Rumble said. "He sees the ice well. He’s got that change of pace that Gretzky used to have, where he’s got different speeds to buy himself time through the neutral zone. He’s very wiry, and sees other people well.”
Fellow Russian forward Ivan Barbashev, linemates with Tkachev in the World under-18 last summer and on Wednesday, could feel the energy as well. He also had four points in the win, to give him 37 points in 29 games on the season.
"It’s awesome,” Barbashev said. "We understand each other on the ice. It’s great to play with him and to have him on the team.”
Tkachev was drafted 39th overall in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, and was hoping to come over in September, but a government strike led to a visa backlog, preventing the pint-sized speedster from joining the Wildcats.
In the meantime, he earned practice time with Avangard Omsk in the KHL, and impressed enough to earn a contract, complicating matters further. Tkachev dressed in two games for Avangard, followed by 19 points in 16 games for Omskie Yastreby in the MHL, Russia's top junior league.
It took until December for Omsk to release Tkachev to the Moncton Wildcats, and then another few weeks for his passport to be mailed back so he could fly to Moncton, but he finally made it Wednesday.
Playing on a line with countryman Barbashev and overager J.C. Campagna, and less than 24 hours after arriving in the city, Tkachev earned his first two points in the first period en route to a four-point night.
"I’m really tired,” Tkachev said, using Barbashev as a translator. "I didn’t practice for two or three weeks so it was difficult today.
"I was waiting for a long time. I’m very excited to be here.”
Rumble said that it was obvious to pair up the two Russian players together.
"I felt like it was a natural fit,” he said. "He just got off the plane and doesn’t speak a lick of English, so I felt that, if I went to Russia and had a buddy on the team, I would assume that someone would put me on the team with the guy who speaks English. I could see Barbashev speaking with him on [who to take on] line changes, and he helped us out with some translation of our systems.
"Is that line set in stone the rest of the way? Nothing is set in stone, but obviously, I will be playing those two together again next game and if they continue to have chemistry, why not let them play together? They had a great chemistry and they looked like they had a lot of fun out there.”
Barbashev knows the difficulties of moving to Canada to play in the CHL. Last season, he was a rookie, knowing next to nothing of what to expect from playing in Moncton. He set himself up well, compiling 62 points in 68 games.
"My first month was really hard in Canada, and my English wasn’t good,” Barbashev said. "There were new teammates and new friends. It was really hard for me, so it will be hard for him too.
"He doesn’t know English at all. When I came here, I knew some, but for him it will be hard to learn it right now.”
Tkachev said he’ll do what it takes to play and learn in Canada.
"I’m ready to learn, but it will be hard, I know,” Tkachev said. "It’s really hard for me to be on the ice since I haven’t been on for a while. The language makes it interesting too.”
Last season, Barbashev had a fellow rookie to lean on and learn from, St. Louis Blues prospect Dmitrij Jaskin. Barbashev said he wants to be the "big brother” to Tkachev like Jaskin was to him.
"Jaskin was helping me a lot last year, and now I change the role,” Barbashev said with a smile. "I will be helping him a lot.”
Rumble really liked the energy and the play of Tkachev on Wednesday, and found that Barbashev and Tkachev play complimentary styles to one another.
"They’re different players,” Rumble said. "Barbs is a North American player. He likes the physical play. Tkachev is a smaller body. He actually did finish a couple of hits, which I liked, but is he going to have the same physical impact as Barbashev? Probably not, but I wasn’t disappointed in that, especially when I saw his urgency in a couple of the backchecks, as the first forward back.”
Rumble added that there were a few things he noticed that he would like to work on with Tkachev.
"At first glance, I think we can up the velocity of his shot; of course he did score a couple of nice goals. Just some strength and conditioning will go a long way to making him an even better player than he already is.”