Here’s another excerpt from “This is Russia”, Bernd Brückler’s KHL memoir I co-authored. This is from the chapter in which he talks about the characters he played with and against in the KHL: Vladimir Tarasenko, an Olympian in about a month: “Vladimir may be the best player I’ve ever played with,” says Brucks.
Just like Misha in Nizhny, Vladimir “Vova” Tarasenko is a homegrown star in Novosibirsk, and just like in Misha’s case, Vladimir’s father Andrei had been a national team player.
Vladimir grew up in Novosibirsk, and at 16 he played in the Superleague. Of course, “Vova” learned the game from his dad, who had been a great forward. Andrei was also our coach — he was the head coach first, but then switched places with former Toronto Maple Leafs player Dmitri Yushkevich and became assistant coach.
The St. Louis Blues had drafted Vlamidir in the first round in 2010, but he had stayed in the KHL for another year because Andrei thought it was best for Vladimir’s development. Vladimir wanted to stay so that he could play for his dad, the new head coach of Sibir.
Vladimir may be the best player I’ve ever played with. His speed, his shot, his ability to read the game, his passion for the game — everything is top of the class.
He was even our alternate captain for parts of the season. Since his father was a member of the coaching staff, “Vova” didn’t believe that the team had actually voted for him to get the letter on his sweater. He marched into the coaches’ office to confront them about it, and his father showed him the voting figures. Even though he was just 19, he was very respected, and everybody liked him.
He may have been just a kid, but he had one of the longest tenures on the team. And having grown up in Novosibirsk, he knew every place to go to, and what to do. He knew where we should go if we wanted to be private, and where we were safe.
When he signed his big deal in Novosibirsk, he bought a brand new BMW 5-series car, and later, when he left for North America, he left it to his father. He was one of the nicest and most humble guys I’ve met.
And a hard-working one at that. People always said he was out of shape, but he’s just solid, he’s built that way. He’s got the biggest buttocks and legs I’ve ever seen, and the boy lifted weights like a horse. Of course, he was also deep inside the Russian system, taking IVs all the time and drinking protein drinks. I’d often stay in the weight room with him, and saw that he loved working hard.
On the ice, he was the same way. Vladimir always wanted to stay out there, long after the team had finished its practice, so that he could work on his skills. He always wanted more. Just one more shooting drill, one more set of penalty shots.
“Come on, Brucks, one more, very last one!”
He knew he’d be going to the NHL. He had been drafted high, all his idols played there, and he had already played for Russia in the World Championships.
At our trade deadline we knew we were out of the playoffs, and the club knew just as well that they’d make a lot of money if they sold “Vova”. He wanted to go to Dynamo Moscow because he thought he’d get to play a lot, and win a championship. It turned into an auction because all the other top teams were ready to pay a lot of money for him.
This was no ordinary trade, and it was all about money because no other player Sibir would get could replace him anyway. ska St. Petersburg declared that they’d buy him — whatever it took.
We had an away game in Chekhov, and Vladimir traveled to Moscow with our coaches. He was supposed to meet with Dynamo, and he did, but he also met with the Gazprom people who run SKA.
Maybe Putin spoke with him, and convinced him to play for SKA.
Getting one of the best scorers in the whole league, who was also Russian, was too good to pass up. Also, by snatching him up, ska made sure he wasn’t going to score against them. It was rumoured that they paid more than a million dollars for him, and there were only fourteen games remaining in the regular season.
Then “Vova” played in their fourth line. And the worst part? Dynamo won the title.
I wish him nothing but the best.
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This is Russia: Life in the KHL – Doctors, bazas, and millions of air miles is available on Amazon.