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Kulemin thrills kids from Kazakhstan: Team of 12-year-olds, in town for tournament, get surprise visit from Leafs forward.
22 декабря 2013 года. Rush, Curtis. Toronto Star

A boys' hockey team from Kazakhstan travelled 6,000 miles to play a hockey tournament in the GTA, and got an unexpected bonus: They got to meet their Maple Leaf hero, Nikolai Kulemin, on Saturday.

Through an arrangement with the Leafs' public relations department, the 12-year-old boys were bussed in to attend the team's morning skate at the Air Canada Centre.

However, the adventure hit a snag when the team bus became stuck after all-night rain turned the parking lot south of Orangeville into a skating rink.

A tractor was summoned to put a layer of sand down to get the bus moving off the parking lot at Teen Ranch, an elite sports camp, where the trip originated.

Two of the boys are from the same industrial town (Magnitogorsk) as Kulemin, who also shares his hometown with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

The town has a professional hockey team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League. Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia, also has a KHL team, called Barys Astana.

Before being drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2006, Kulemin played several seasons for Metallurg.

The day was even more special because the Leafs surprised the 21-member team by having Kulemin come from the dressing room after the skate and meet the players in the stands. They were originally told they could watch the skate only. The boys' eyes lit up when Kulemin emerged from the dressing room and walked up into the stands. He didn't say much. He didn't need to.

The boys gathered around him and snapped photos with Kulemin, and the Maple Leaf star signed autographs for several minutes.

"It was great to meet him," 12-year-old Igor Buloshikin said through an interpreter.

The coach said the boys were very impressed with Kulemin and the size of the Air Canada Centre.

"The closest we've seen a player has been on TV, so seeing him in real life is like seeing a legend," their coach, Vitali Kitvinov, said through an interpreter.

Kulemin, who missed 12 games due to an ankle injury earlier in the season, has four goals and five assists.

The boys team, named the Kazakhstand Torpedos, also stayed to watch the Red Wings practice.

The boys are here for a Christmas hockey tournament in the GTA called the Burlington Horseshoe Tournament. The only disappointment was that the youths could not attend the game between the Leafs and the Red Wings because they had an exhibition game scheduled late Saturday afternoon. 

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