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1997. SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
KHRISTICH AND SAMSONOV BRING INSTANT OFFENSE TO BRUINS
By Greg Post
"It's nice to be pretty close to home and I'm hoping to spend some good seasons here with the Bruins," said Khristich. "I heard about being traded this summer and I heard Boston was one of the cities. It was a little bit of a surprise."
Soon after the Bruins' full training camp began in September, there was one other player very excited about the addition of Khristich – the young Sergei Samsonov.
"He looks at me as a veteran, someone who's been here awhile in the NHL," said Khristich. "I'm going to show him around and show him what he needs to know until he's comfortable on his own."
"We have become good friends and he's tried to help me – off the ice and on the ice – so that's kind of nice of him," said Samsonov.
"They have a bit of a bond because of where they're from and Dmitri is definitely a good mentor for him," said Bruins' goalie Byron Dafoe. He's helped him adjust to life over here and also to the game. Dmitri's put up some impressive numbers in this league so he can show Sergei how to go about things."
Samsonov, 19, and Khristich, 28, both speak the same Russian language but matured on the ice in very different cultures. Khristich was born in Kiev, Ukraine, which until the early 1990's was part of the Soviet Union. Samsonov, a native of Moscow, was 13-years old at the time Russia dissolved and was able to chase his dreams much easier than Khristich. However, both played their childhood hockey under the same watchful eye of the Soviet hockey elite.
Khristich played parts of five seasons for Sokol Kiev (1986-91) before boarding a plane and arriving in the United States mid-way through the 1990-91 season. He was 21-years old at the time. He had won a gold medal with the Soviet National Team at both the 1989 World Junior Championship and the 1990 World Championship. Like his junior teammates, Pavel Bure (Vancouver Canucks) and Alexander Mogilny (Vancouver Canucks), he also wanted to play in the National Hockey League.
Samsonov was identified as a future star at the age of six by the Russian club CSKA, a team he played two seasons for prior to his departure to the States. In 64 career games for the famed elite squad, he recorded 23 goals and 19 assists for 42 points (and remember, they only award one assist for each goal in the Russian leagues). During the 1994-95 season, Samsonov tallied an astounding 110 goals and 182 points in only 50 games for CSKA Juniors.
He arrived in North America late in the summer of 1996, destined to be a top pick in the following year's NHL Entry Draft. Samsonov was ranked by the Central Scouting Bureau as a possible number-one selection but he dropped to 3rd in the mid-season report and fell to 5th just prior to the draft. The Bruins chose Samsonov, whose height (5'8") had often been questioned, with the 8th slot.
Samsonov, who was 17-years old when he arrived, was locked out of the 1996-97 Canadian junior season and opted to hone his skills with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League. The left winger garnered the Longman Trophy as the IHL's Rookie of the Year after finishing the campaign with 29-35=64 totals and a team-leading +33 ranking in 73 games. He led his team through the playoffs, scoring four goals in the opening game of the Finals, and helped them capture the coveted Turner Cup Championship.
"I think the fact that he played in the IHL last year really put his game ahead a lot as opposed to other players coming right out of junior," said Dafoe. "I think he's going to be a marquee player in this league for years to come."
"I think last year is going to help me a lot," said Samsonov, in reference to his first pro season. "The biggest difference is the level of the game. It's pretty much the same style, both leagues are professional."
Khristich and Samsonov began the pre-season playing on Pat Burns' top line. "I think our line was playing pretty well. During the pre-season they played me and Dmitri together and we were playing pretty well," said Samsonov. "He's a great player and great playmaker."
Khristich welcomed the return of Samsonov to his wing during the regular season. "On the ice, we came from the same hockey school and, I guess, I understand his skills and his position. If Sergei comes back to my line, it would be fine with me."
Samsonov adds, "We play more of the European style of hockey so in some ways we play the same type of game."
Khristich has always been a solid contributor, whether playing with the Washington Capitals or Los Angeles Kings. The centermen, who can also play left wing, has compiled 370 career points and has been near the top in team scoring each of his six full NHL seasons. Samsonov has tremendous potential and is considered to be the next, great small forward, joining the likes of Anaheim's Paul Kariya, Calgary's Theo Fleury and Montreal's Mark Recchi.
Away from the rink, Khristich lives with his wife, Erin. "Sammy", as he's called by his teammates, has moved his entire family to the Boston area. "It's going to take some time to get used to everything but it's nice that my family has come over to help me out and support me," said Samsonov.
When Sergei was growing up in Moscow, the Russian aristocracy was not the only one to realize his potential. His father, Viktor, quit his job as an electrician and took a night job driving a limousine so he could usher his son back and forth to hockey practices. Because of this sacrifice, Opening Night at the FleetCenter was all that more special - Sergei was in "The Show", a dream come true for the Samsonov family.
"They were excited. I guess my parents were dreaming about this for a long time, me playing in the NHL. It was nice to have my parents at my first game."
As the Samsonov's watch their son live through his final year as a teenager, playing a game he loves so dearly, they can be assured of two things - Sergei has made it to the ultimate level of hockey because of his hard work and determination and, no matter where the team may be, he will always have a friend by his side.
"Dmitri's not a talker in the room or anything but he shows what he
can do on the ice," said Dafoe, who played with Khristich in Los Angeles
and Washington. "Suprisingly, though, you get him one-on-one and he does
open up a lot. I'm sure that's why him and Sergei get along pretty well."