Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
Semenov earns his stripes - Edmonton Journal
By DAN BARNES
Alexei Semenov, the odds-on favourite to win the Edmonton Oilers' hardest shot competition in Superskills action Sunday, has been on the organizational radar screen for more than three years.
But there isn't one hockey man in their organization who envisioned him nailing down a spot in the team's top two defence pairings this season.
Then again, when you're six-foot-six as he is, things are always looking up and Semenov's sudden emergence has changed
general manager Kevin Lowe's shopping habits with just 30 days left before the NHL trade deadline of March 11. If Lowe makes a deal of any importance, it will probably be for a scoring forward, not the No. 4 defenceman he coveted coming out of camp. Sources said Lowe had a serious interest in acquiring former Bruin Kyle McLaren earlier this year but held off as Semenov staked a claim on a place beside Eric Brewer, playing 18 minutes nightly.
"All along, our hopes and expectations were he eventually would be that guy," said Lowe, "and the answer is he's doing it now. It shouldn't shock us, a young guy fitting in, but it really is a pleasant surprise.
"He had a good camp but at that point our projection was to get him into some games, get his feet wet. The way Detroit did with Jiri Fischer; they brought him along slowly.
"Like us with Brewer, we brought him along slowly at first. Then he got to a point where he took off and never looked back. That's happening with Alexei right now."
Drafted in 1999, Semenov showed up at camp that year and made an immediate impression. They have liked a lot of things about his game since then, foremost among them the fact he played 35 minutes a game for Bert Templeton in Sudbury of the OHL.
They liked his toughness, his penchant for the big hit, his smarts and that cannon he has for a shot. But he was playing in a comfort zone in junior, not afraid to take the big windup or get himself out of position to smack somebody into next week. Up here, he's been far more cautious and so far the big hit and the big shot have been holstered.
It's not that he's uncomfortable. Far from it.
"I feel great on the ice. Really comfortable," the 21-year-old Russian said Saturday morning, before the entire team looked lousy in a 3-0 loss to Chicago.
"The first game I didn't play even 10 minutes. I thought, 'Just give me one or two games and I'll be comfortable.' When I started playing 15 or 16 minutes I said to myself, 'I belong here. I want to stay here. This is my dream.' "
He had heard about the NHL as a child and knew that many Russian players had paved the way there.
Chicago's Alexei Zhamnov was one of them, coming in the second wave 11 years ago, following in the footsteps of Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and others. Zhamnov didn't adjust nearly as quickly as Semenov has to the North American game.
"First of all, it's the language," said Zhamnov. "And for sure it's a different style of game. Smaller rinks. Tougher, too. You have to change your style.
"Some guys take not too much time to adjust. It took me probably a year to get comfortable. The second year, for sure, it's much easier."
There are accomplishments along the way that make it easier and scoring your first goal in a timely fashion is certainly one of them. With a blast from the left point that beat Roman Turek of the Flames, Semenov got his first goal in just his 18th NHL game on Friday.
A couple of Oiler teammates predicted Semenov's shot will be clocked at or over 160 km/h
today on the radar gun. He said he has never had it measured and has no idea how hard he shoots it, only that he comes by it honestly.
"Almost every day in the summer time I would put some kind of board on the wall, some cover on the ground and shoot the puck."
That was at his family's cottage outside St. Petersburg, his favourite city. He loves its history and its culture, and goes back every summer to see his family. But he is quite happy to return to North America each fall, be it to Sudbury, Hamilton or Edmonton.
"I'm just trying to keep going. I'm not trying to be one of the important guys out there. I just want to help out my team. I don't think about eyes on me.
"I'm still young. I don't have to think about something else, just the game."