|Emily Pritt |
When athletes are given moments to shine, their actions can often define their career. Sergey Tolchinsky
is not one to squander those opportunities. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect has already proven that much on more than one occasion in his young career.
The 19-year-old Moscow native shone bright enough this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to earn a chance to begin his professional career this spring. After signing as an undrafted free agent with the Hurricanes in August, Tolchinsky finished 10th in Ontario Hockey League (OHL) scoring, with 31 goals and 91 points over 66 games in 2013-14. Following the Greyhounds’ elimination from the OHL playoffs, Tolchinsky was today assigned to the Hurricanes’ top minor-league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers.
A player’s skill and potential can hardly be captured in a single highlight. But Tolchinsky came close to doing just that in March, with a stunningly spectacular goal against the Sarnia Sting. Given a clear breakaway opportunity, he raced towards the net, turned-sideways, put the stick behind his leg and fired the puck up on the short side of the goaltender. Video of the goal quickly went viral, thrilling hockey fans around the world. Many are calling it the best goal this year at any level.
“I knew as soon as I had a breakaway I was going to do the move,” said Tolchinsky. “It was the last game within the [Western] Division, and we were just enjoying the game. I thought, ‘Why not try something fancy?’”
To onlookers, the move might have seemed as a spur-of-the-moment decision by Tolchinsky. However, it was not the first time the young Russian had tried it.
“I have always practiced that [move],” said Tolchinsky. “I have always wanted to score like that. I tried the move in the U-18 for Russia but it didn’t work there.”
While he didn’t pull it off for Russia, Tolchinsky has scored with his signature move before. Vice President of Hockey Operations Ron Francis witnessed Tolchinsky successfully execute it with the Hurricanes at the NHL Prospects Tournament.
“I had seen it before. He actually did it in Traverse City in the Rookie Tournament,” said Francis. “When something like that happens you get sort of an ‘oh’ from the crowd but what was interesting on the goal he scored in Traverse City was he got a lot of ‘ohs’ from the scouts in the stands. It was pretty impressive. He’s obviously a very skilled guy. He’s got some different moves in his repertoire and that was one of them.”
Before Tolchinsky could make waves with the Hurricanes at the Rookie Tournament, he had to find a team and city to call home. After going undrafted in the 2013 NHL Draft, Tolchinsky felt slightly discouraged but hardly defeated.
“After the draft I was in such a bad mood for a couple of weeks, but I just kept working hard,” said Tolchinsky. “I just thought that good things would happen.”
Tolchinsky’s hard work and optimism were rewarded. The Hurricanes gave him a shot by inviting him to their development camp last July, where he would share the ice with the team’s top prospects, as well as staff members including Kirk Muller, Rod Brind’Amour and Glen Wesley.
“The [development] camp was great. It was such a good experience for me,” Tolchinsky said. “I got some good practices in. Obviously these are good NHL players and I was just trying to learn something from them.”
Given the chance to shine in front of the team’s brass, Tolchinsky impressed at the development camp, earning a contract with team. He signed his entry-level deal with the Hurricanes in August before joining Carolina for the Rookie Tournament in September.
“His personality was great and he fit with us,” Francis said. “He’s a skilled guy. Granted, he’s not your typical six-foot hockey player, but he battles and competes. He’s not afraid to go into the high traffic areas and those are the things that impressed me. Fortunately, we worked a deal with him and he’s continued to progress.”
After the disappointment of the draft, the contract gave Tolchinsky renewed confidence.
“I was probably the happiest guy in the world,” Tolchinsky said. “It was my dream to sign an NHL contract. I was in such a good mood, and I am pretty excited about it.”
While Tolchinsky saw it as the realization of a dream, Francis credits the young player’s success to his determination to work hard and take advantage of his opportunities.
“I just think he’s the kind of guy that’s willing to work and do whatever it takes to be successful,” Francis said. “As long as he is doing that, he will continue to improve and he certainly has a lot of talent.”
As he boards a flight to join the Checkers today, Tolchinsky’s first moment to shine as a professional could come any day.
“They are a good team,” said Tolchinsky. “I’m just going to show up ready to play and we will see what happens.”