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|23 октября 2006
From Russia with devotion // St.Peterburgh Times
A year in Siberia help s Nikita Alexeev appreciate what he ha s in America.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON - What Nikita Alexeev said he will remember most about his year playing in Russia were the days when his apartment in Omsk was without water.
Then again, there was the time a drunken man came to his door at 3 a.m. and demanded money. And the time the heat failed with the southwest Siberian city shivering at minus-40 degrees.
Really, though, it was those days without water that stick most in his mind. That was when you filled a bucket at a neighboring building and heated it on a stove so you could bathe.
Alexeev, who lived in a complex with other players, said it happened often, sometimes for days at a time, which made using the toilet an adventure.
By the time Avangard Omsk's Super League season was over, Alexeev, who is Russian, born in Murmansk, was fed up.
He was going back to the Lightning, he said he told himself, and this time, he was going to stick. He would no longer take his talent or playing in the NHL for granted.
"That's what I'm trying to say," Alexeev said. "You miss so much and appreciate where you live and what you have. There are no worries like in Russia. Americans don't realize what an easy life they have. It makes you a special person. It was a good lesson for me."
Alexeev, 24, might be on the verge of a special season.
The 6-foot-6, 227-pound left wing has tied his career high of four goals, all in the past three games. His seven points are tied for the team lead.
His plus-5 is second, and he is on a five-game points streak.
Two of his goals have come on tips in front of the net, and Saturday against the Capitals, he scored twice, once after stealing the puck in the offensive zone.
"That's what's really been fun to watch," associate coach Craig Ramsay said, "his commitment with and without the puck."
Alexeev admitted he was not always so committed.
The No. 8 overall choice in the 2000 draft was a perpetual underachiever. His work ethic was questioned.
Tampa Bay believed he was ready to make the jump in 2003-04. But Alexeev was sent to AHL Hershey after another bad training camp. He played with AHL Springfield in 2004-05.
Last season, he signed with Avangard.
"I just felt I wasn't ready," he said of playing in the NHL.
He also said he wanted to experience playing in Russia's premier league, something he had never done.
The result: "He's just a totally different guy," Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "It's not just maturity on the ice. It's off the ice. He's much more outgoing. He fits in in a way he never did."
Alexeev said it comes from his experience in Russia: "Playing there gives you a lot of maturity. It's a tough life there. Every day something happens.
"There's a big accident, somebody gets killed in the street, or your key doesn't work or your door is broken. There are so many things. You wouldn't believe what happens."
What made it manageable, Alexeev said, was fiancee Toni Ellingham, who was with him the entire time.
The two met in Tampa. Ellingham said she quit her job as a legal assistant to be with Alexeev in Springfield and just continued the journey.
They are expecting their first child in June.
Ellingham said Russians can be extremely friendly - if they know you.
Generally, though, "The people are very cold. They don't smile. If you are an outsider, they can be very jealous of something different."
"I think the whole lifestyle made him grateful for the opportunity to play now."
"It's not just for me. It's for my wife and future kid," Alexeev said. "I have to find a better life for them."
Where there is hot water.
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22 октября. Alexeev picks up slack on offense //
16 октября. Money Talks. Alexeev vs.St.Louis //
13 сентября. Stint in Russia gave Alexeev strength
22 октября. Alexeev picks up slack on offense // St.Peterburgh Times
16 октября. Money Talks. Alexeev vs.St.Louis // Toronto Star.
13 сентября. Stint in Russia gave Alexeev strength // St.Peterburgh Times