Photo credit: Sovetsky Sport

Last week, former Washington Capital Alex Semin settled on his lockout destination, surprising everyone by choosing Sokol Krasnoyarsk, a minor league team from his hometown. “When I was leaving for the NHL, I dreamed that if there is ever a decent team and an opportunity, I would definitely play in front of my local fans,” Semin explained during his introductory press conference. “And my (90-year-old) grandma hasn’t seen me play in person for awhile. I’ll give her a present.”

It was only a matter of time before the big guns of the Russian hockey media showed up in Krasnoyarsk, far from a hockey hotbed, to get the full story on why Semin came home. For their trouble, Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport and Alexander Rozhkov of got personal tours of the city from Sasha on the eve of his debut in the VHL. Semin showed them the rink where he learned to skate, his school, and the apartment building where he grew up.

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The ice rink where Semin made his first strides was the only indoor ice arena in the city twenty years ago. Today it is under major renovation. “They are not going to get it done by November, as promised,” Semin bemoaned to Sovetsky Sport. “There’s no ice-making equipment. The boards aren’t put together yet.”

“I started skating here when I was five,” Semin continued. “My dad put me in figure skating first. In a couple of months, I moved on to hockey. My dad just filed down the toe picks on the blades.”

The reporters and Sasha were driven around in an old Volga by a Sokol staff driver they call “Uncle Sergey.” Sergey has known Semin since he was a kid and decided to share a story about Semin and one of his youth team’s road trips.

“I remember they went to Finland, and they had some fun there,” Sergey began. “I am not sure if it was Sasha or someone else, but somebody broke a bed. So the Finns made the team’s coach buy that bed, which he then brought back all the way to Siberia. You can’t just throw away good stuff.”

Semin disputed some details of the broken bed story, as well as another legend, told by the driver and repeated by the play-by-play announcer during Semin’s first game for Sokol on Friday. That one was about Semin’s dad’s unorthodox incentive system for young Alex during the early years: a chocolate bar for every goal, and two for every assist recorded by the future NHL star.

“Where is Uncle Sergey coming from with all this stuff? Maybe I just forgot everything? I think we broke the bed when we went to St. Petersburg for the Golden Puck Tournament [Editor’s note: Premier kids hockey competition in Russia started by legendary Soviet coach Tarasov]. And nobody rewarded me with chocolate for hockey. My father promised me hockey sticks.”

The Young Sasha Tour of Krasnoyarsk next visited Krasnoyarsk School #141, where Alex did not show up too often, and when he did, he usually made a dash for a seat in the last row. “This is where I studied, or more precisely, skipped classes. Because I played hockey a lot. But there were subjects I liked – math, geography. Everything else – I just copied from someone else.”

Photo credit: Sovetsky Sport

The visit to Sasha’s alma mater did not go very smoothly. The security guard refused to let Semin and his entourage enter the building. The principal, who also used to be Sasha’s math teacher, came to the rescue. Not to be outdone by Uncle Sergey, she volunteered her own funny “baby Sasha” story. “I reprimanded him very sternly once. It was the night of the graduation ball. Everybody was there, dressed up. And only Sasha was late. And then I see him walking down the hall and chewing gum. I told him – spit it out immediately!”

As the journey moves on to the next stop – the yard, Semin opened up a bit. “For a while our family was doing well. My dad worked for KrAZ (an aluminum company). He was a department head, but then he was laid off. He went on to work as a coach. Life was hard, just like it was for everybody. We had to grow our own tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes. We ate whatever we grew. I used to always help my parents and grandma [with garden chores] at our dacha.”

Having arrived to the yard besides the building where he grew up, Semin lamented the loss of his childhood playgrounds, replaced by parked cars and “guys drinking beer.” His best childhood friend – also named Sergey, talked about the neighborhood where they grew up to Alexander Rozhkov of “It was easy to find trouble in every neighborhood; The Green Grove wasn’t an exception. But nobody touched Sasha – as an athlete, he was respected. Remember the movie – Slumdog Millionaire? That’s about Sasha, only the main character is from India, and Sasha is from Krasnoyarsk.”

As the Grand Tour of Krasnoyarsk wound down, Sasha answered the final question, what he dislikes about people. “Hypocrisy,” he told Sovetsky Sport. “I don’t like when they say something – and then something different behind your back. If you want something – come and talk to me. Say it to my face.”

Photo credit: Sovetsky Sport

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  • SO_CAL_Brat

    This explains EVERYTHING! I no longer need answers as to why the CAPS were so willing to let him go.

    I bet he thinks this blog is about him…….oh wait…

  • Hale

    Igor, thank you! Wonderful translation. Always look forward to these.

  • sonagain

    Very interest article and insights into Semin’s childhood. Thank you for the translation. Kudos to Sasha for spending time playing for his hometown hockey team and donating to buy hockey equipment for the youth league there. He is giving back to his community when others seem like money grubbers. Love the comment on the hypocrisy of people. Gee I wonder who he was talking about there!

  • I want to thank you again, Igor for translating these two articles. I really enjoyed reading this and getting a little more insight into Sasha’s childhood.

  • Just what does it explain to you? The articles were about him and his childhood. Would you expect him to talk about something else other than what was asked? Someone obviously doesn’t understand what interviews are.

  • SO_CAL_Brat

    I understand your defensive and desperate attempts to protect one of your favorite players. Please calm down. It’s obvious that no one understood the sarcasm and joke I was ATTEMPTING to portray. My bad.

  • JayBird

    hahahaha, wait. I got it… and laughed.

  • I upvoted your comment out of sympathy.

  • While there’s a part of me that will forever love the idea of Sasha being a lovable mute who does hilarious things with his bffe Ovie — the actual Semin is even more interesting. And this translation is amazing so thanks to everyone who had a part of it because more people should know about him. <3

  • PuckBuddyDoug

    Sasha not the best student? That’s unpossible! But notice even in Krasnoyarsk, he can’t stop himself from making those adorable faces!

  • What was defensive or desperate about my question? I asked what it explained to you? Wasn’t the slightest bit desperate or defensive. Just questioning your statement. A joke? Okay whatever.

  • AjaxDesperados

    chocolate bar for every goal, and TWO for every assist

  • SO_CAL_Brat

    Peter – I upvoted my own comment too! It was one of my worst. I was going for Janet Jackson (Song: You’re So Vain). I wish I could just delete the whole damn day.
    This is all my fault. I jinxed Semin last year by getting an autographed picture during the CAPS convention and now I’ve pissed off every female #28 fan within ear shot with dry sarcasm & big words. Thanks for the sympathy!

  • Stacy Harrison

    Interesting article. I believe many people have had, and still have, hard times in Krasnoyarsk. It’s a nice city, but a little sad. The sadness never really leaves the eyes of people there. Many redeemable qualities, though, about Krasnoyarsk. . .particularly my son!! And Alex, of course.