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Bringing in Iya Gavrilova as a translator has allowed Russian players to thrive at development camp

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Such an advantage to share not only their mother tongue, but a second language, as well.

Not everyone, you see, has been through the advanced Berlitz course for hockey.

"Not speaking the language, they could've maybe come here and gotten around, made do, but it wouldn't have been as enriching an experience,'' Iya Gavrilova is saying. "What if communication broke down and they couldn't get the sticks they wanted or didn't understand what was being asked of them?

"Just little things.

"And little things, when you're confused, can seem like big things.

"Measuring gear, for example. It took them five minutes instead of, say, 20. Or longer.

"My coming from Russia, it helps that I can explain why things work the way they do. I know both sides. Where they're coming from, and this side, too.

"Having played, when I tell them something from the coach, the boys know I'm not making stuff up. It's not like hearing it from someone who's never watched, or been involved in, hockey."

The 2019 Flames development camp wrapped up Sunday morning at WinSport with a controlled scrimmage. This marked the first time a translator has been brought aboard to assist in the early integration of foreign-speaking prospects.

Russian right winger Dmitry Zavgordniy, a 2018 draft, has spent the last seasons at Rimouski of the QMJHL and therefore has a better handle on things. The two KHL recruits - 23-year-old goaltender Artyom Zagidulin of Magnitogorsk and 23-year-old Alexander Yelesin of Yaroslavl - aren't quite so fluent in English. 

Meaning, virtually none at all.

Gavrilova has proven to be a perfect conduit, owning a rich extensive hockey background, participating as she has in three Winter Olympic Games for her homeland - 2006 in Turin, 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi - along with collecting two World Women's Championship bronze medals.

She's also played with distinction for the U of C Dinos while obtaining a second degree, a BA in Economics, and a season in the now-shuttered Canadian Women's Hockey League for the Calgary Inferno.



"I came to North America when I was 19,'' the 31-year-old Gavrilova recalls of leaving her home in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to enroll at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she earned a degree in accounting. "I could understand better than I could speak at the time. I'd taken lessons because I had to take a test to get into school so I'd been helped by a tutor.

"But it was still hard. Just little things like 'What's up?' You don't understand the context and it blows your mind. You're wondering: 'Why are people asking me how my day is going?' I remember walking through the university hoping I wouldn't bump into anyone on my team because I was worried they'd ask me: 'What's up?'

"It took me six months to pick it up a little better; before I began to feel comfortable."

The idea for Gavrilova, out of hockey the past year following surgery to repair a torn ACL, to help out at WinSport this week was hatched by Flames' assistant GM Brad Pascall, calling on better half Cassie Campbell and her strong ties to the women's game.

 "We discussed this option two months ago,'' explains Ray Edwards, the Flames' director of player development and, in a fashion, camp counsellor. "If we're going to have these players - who are under contract - come over, if we're going to invest him in them, we need to help them.

"We can't throw them into the fire, just say: 'Hey, you're here now. Succeed.' Obviously, there's a connection; with Alexander and Zag, right away. They speak the speak. Iya knows what's going on here in Calgary so she's been able to help them in terms of the lay of the land.

"We had her on the bench the other day and at one point I wanted to explain something to Alex. If I don't have her there … well, it's going to take awhile.

"Over time, we'll help these guys with English tutors and different kinds of things.

"But having her now is just, well, a no-brainer."

The experience has been a kick for Gavrilova, too. She now works in the energy sector as an analyst and has made Calgary her home.

"These guys have been really good this week,'' she emphasizes. "Really open-minded, which helps in meetings. They've been encouraged to ask questions, not be afraid. 'We're here to help you.' That's been the message and they've taken it to heart.

"They've really enjoyed themselves. The first thing they noticed, they talked about, is how much everyone has taken care of them. They weren't expecting this. One of them said the first day: 'People have done so much for us, it's crazy.'

"Just the kindness of Canadians and the organization. I think they've possibly been shocked by that, in a good way.

"It's been great for me, too. Just to be around the game again. I've missed it.

"This year, we're going to get a group of girls together and go around Canada, showcasing our game.

"So I'm hoping to be back on the ice in September."

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