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What language barrier?

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
BROSSARD – When Alexander Avstin made the move from Moscow to Hamilton last season, he quickly discovered what a universal language hockey can be.

Coming over from Russia with just a few English words in his repertoire, Avstin was worried about the language barrier he was about to face in his first pro season in North America. One year later, the 20-year-old winger is feeling right at home in Canada.

“It was not so easy at first because everything was so new: a new country, a new city, a new language, a new apartment,” described Avstin, who had five goals and 20 points in his rookie AHL season. “The biggest difference was probably living on my own for the first time without my mom and my family there with me. I had to learn to cook for myself, too. I got pretty good – soups, salads, pasta – all those kinds of things.”

After perfecting a few staple dishes in the kitchen, the Moscow native faced an even bigger challenge: making the transition from KHL to AHL hockey,

“There’s a big difference between playing in Russia and playing in Hamilton,” explained Avstin, who previously played for the Moscow Dynamo in the KHL before joining the Bulldogs. “It’s a smaller rink and there’s more hitting over here than there is back home. There are more shots coming from everywhere here, too.

“In the summer, I made sure to work on my agility to get quicker this year to help on the smaller ice,” he added. “Last year was good but the first step for me is to get better in the AHL and score more goals and help more offensively.”

With his on-ice adaptation to North America well underway, Avstin made sure to put just as much effort into getting comfortable away from the rink.

“I just talk with the guys and learn by practicing with them. I was the only Russian on the team so it was hard at first but it forced me to practice English all the time,” he admitted. “All the guys are great so it was really easy to hang out and get along with everyone. Brendon Nash was great with me right from the start and we spend a lot of time together. He definitely helped me out a lot last year.”

Seeing his new teammate struggling to assimilate during camp last September, Nash didn’t hesitate to help Avstin fit in with the group. The best way to do that? Teach him some English the young Russian star wouldn’t learn from a textbook. 

“At the start you always want to make sure you learn the ‘bad’ words first so you can make sure you don’t say them,” joked Nash of his pupil’s quick learning curve. “We tried to teach him proper English, but hanging out in a hockey dressing room, he’s definitely picked up some of our slang.”

After spending eight months with Avstin in the Bulldogs dressing room, even Nash can’t believe how far his teammate has come.

“It was tough for him. Everyone knew he didn’t speak much English so we made an effort to really go up and talk to him and make sure he was included,” explained Nash. “Over the year he learned a lot and started hanging out with the guys more and more.

“This year, there’s been a huge change already – he’s a lot more vocal and he’s chatting and joking with everyone,” he shared. “He’s really just one of the guys.” 

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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