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22 октября 2001 года.
A time for adjustment (for Igor Korolev) // "Chicago Tribune"
By Steve Rosenbloom 

Igor Korolev thought things were turning bad last season when Toronto coach Pat Quinn dropped him to the checking line and took away almost all of his power-play time.

Korolev thought things were turning bad last season when trade rumors began, specifically with the Blackhawks, seemingly right after the Moscow-born forward became a naturalized citizen of Canada.

Then Korolev's father died suddenly.

Soon after Korolev's mother died suddenly.

That's when Korolev learned what bad really was.

"It was a tough time, the toughest in my life," Korolev said. "It was a tough season."

Shortly after Korolev started the 2000-01 season amid high expectations for the Maple Leafs, he got a phone call from the old country.

"It was a shock," Korolev said. "At my dad's work, something happened. He got an infection in his lung and died in three months. He worked for [the] army. [He] made missile engines. He was [a] normal worker."

Korolev's pain over his father's death remains acute because he can't get any answers from Russian authorities about how it happened.

"There was [an] accident," Korolev said, frustration in his monotone. "I don't know. Something blew up. Nobody will tell us what. He was 62. He was fit as a bull when I left Russia. In three months he just died."

Korolev's parents had been married for 43 years. Two months after his father died, his mother passed away of what was called a heart attack.

"Probably a broken heart," Korolev said. "She just died. She died in [a] hospital, but she didn't want to live.

"They were always together, since they were 19. I left [Russia] 10 years ago and my sister hasn't lived with them for many years. It was just the two of them."

Korolev flew to Moscow both times to bury his parents. He tried to carry on for the Leafs last season, his new role unfamiliar, his world forever changed.

"I was just like a machine, like a robot," Korolev said. "I have to do it. I have to do it. I had to do something."

He did not do it very well. Korolev finished with 10 goals and 29 points, his worst performance in a season where he played more than 70 games since 1992-93, his second in the NHL. The Leafs finally completed the much-rumored trade to the Hawks on draft day, exchanging Korolev for a third-round pick last June.

"It came to a point where he wasn't playing as well as he'd hoped and a change of scenery would do him good," said Bill Watters, the Maple Leafs' assistant to the president.

Watters thinks Korolev is a "quality boy." Everyone does.

"I think he's wonderful guy," said Hawks winger Steve Thomas, who played with Korolev in Toronto the last three seasons. "He's a great family guy. He's got two young daughters that my kids have really grown comfortable being around. They've had my wife and kids and I over for dinner at his new house here.

"It's hard to get to know the Russian guys as well as a North American player. After the three years that I played with Igor, I think I've been able to crack that Eastern bloc-type mentality that they have and become pretty friendly."

Korolev began the year centering the Hawks' third line with kid wingers Kyle Calder and Mark Bell. Korolev was reunited with Thomas when Calder was moved to a line with Alex Zhamnov and Tony Amonte. Lately, after Hawks coach Brian Sutter flipped lines again, Korolev has been between Thomas and Steve Sullivan, a line Sutter uses regularly at the end of games.

Korolev's value isn't so much in points as versatility. He can check, kill penalties and play all three forward positions. He's also a smart enough passer to regain some time on the power play. Korolev has scored in two of the last three games, his goal in Sunday's stunning 4-2 win over Colorado coming short-handed, which was huge against a team that registered its two goals on the power play.

Just as important, Sutter says, Korolev is the player other Russians look up to for his work habits, quiet ways and reliability. He certainly is familiar to the other Russians on the Hawks as he lockers between Zhamnov and Alexander Karpovtsev.

"I grew up with them," Korolev said. "Same school, same age, same team, same junior team, national team, same coach, everything. Everybody was drafted the same year, '92. Me and Alex left that year. 'Pots' left the year after. Now we're on the same team."

He also carries that respect of not just Russian players, but of all players who know his story of persevering through the tragedy of last season.

"He seemed to have been able to pull through that and maybe was a better person for it and understand the responsibility he has to his family," Thomas said. "You don't want to say there's anything good that comes out of a situation like that, but in his case he's in a situation where he has to be strong with his own family in the U.S."

Korolev is different. Empty perhaps. He said he can't explain it in English. He lost a big part of his stability. Parents are always there, aren't they, even for 31-year-old sons tough enough to survive the brutality of the NHL.

"I think of it all the time," Korolev said. "You feel it all the time. You get home and want to call someone and there's nobody to call. This summer I went back. Nobody to see. It's tough." 

Copyright 2001 The Chicago Tribune

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