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50 Forgotten Stories: Khristich States His Case

Dmitri Khristich explains his complex history during his time with the LA Kings

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

It's fair to say Dmitri Khristich's legacy with the Kings is complicated.

"A ton of talent," acknowledges Larry Robinson, who coached Khristich in both of his seasons in Los Angeles, "but I got the feeling that he didn't enjoy the game."

Khristich objects. "Maybe I didn't show my enjoyment. Maybe I'm not the kind of guy who shows emotion.

"Back then, I was that kind of guy, not showing much.

"But I loved the game of hockey."

***

In 1990, the 21-year-old Khristich, trained under the Soviet system, went to Washington. The Ukrainian was an early Iron Curtain import during a time when a Soviet star playing in the NHL was still a curiosity.

After a solid scoring term with the Capitals, Los Angeles acquired the 6'2" forward in the summer of 1995, along with goaltender Byron Dafoe, for their 1996 first and fourth-round draft picks.

However, despite being named Team MVP in back-to-back campaigns, Khristich might be best-remembered by Kings fans for an infamous incident with teammate Barry Potomski in February 1997.

During practice, Potomski struck Khristich in the eye with his stick. Khristich's right retina was partially torn and required laser surgery.

"No way did [Potomski] mean to hurt him," team captain Rob Blake told Lonnie White of the Los Angeles Times then. "There are always fights on a team with the players."

"Are you kidding me?" asks Robinson. "If you took that as something...

"That happens. It's a physical game. It's emotional. Guys are fighting for their job. Once in a while, you're going to lose your temper."

Khristich counters, "Fights do happen in practices. But that wasn't a fight at all.

"I don't think everybody saw how it started. Maybe they assumed something happened to start a fight.

"But it wasn't a fight at all."

To this day, he has no idea why his teammate struck him. They never saw each other again. Potomski passed away from a heart attack in 2011. Khristich's injured eye is still weaker than the other.

"Before drills started, [Barry and I] just went into the corner, getting ready.

"I think he thought maybe I threw the puck at him [earlier]. But I was just throwing the puck at the boards.

"He didn't like it and he turned around and just hit me with the stick on the head.

"It came out of nowhere."

If there was any enmity between Khristich and Potomski before the clash, it went unnoticed by Khristich.

"Before that, we didn't talk much."

Khristich missed seven games. Potomski was banished to the minors. But the story didn't end there.

Helene Elliott of the LA Times reported that none of the other Kings "stepped in because they considered Khristich selfish and a loner."

"I didn't read those papers back then," says a stunned Khristich. "Oh boy. Why a loner? We had another two Russian speakers [Vitali Yachmenev and Vladimir Tsyplakov]. I hung out with them.

"Back then, it didn't seem to me like there was anything [negative] between me and the group."

Ray Ferraro, TSN hockey analyst and Khristich's teammate in Los Angeles, disagrees, "I don't know him. I played with him for a year, but I don't know him.

"Like I didn't understand...we'd go for dinner, he didn't want to go for dinner. He wanted to stay with a small group of guys. That's up to him.

"I don't know what it was."

Tim Trepany of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote then that while the Ukrainian wouldn't discuss the Potomski situation "with English-speaking reporters, he made it clear in an interview with a Russian radio station that he [was] angry at his former Kings teammate.

"Khristich said he didn't believe Potomski's punishment -- a demotion to Phoenix of the International Hockey League -- was severe enough."

Today, Khristich doesn't remember this radio interview and denies any dissatisfaction with how Potomski was disciplined.

"I'm not sure what the organization is supposed to do. They took him away from the club and sent him to the minors," he notes. "I'm not sure if anything more could be done."

As for not talking about the incident with English-speaking reporters, Khristich believes his agent at the time, the infamous Vitali Shevchenko, gave him some bad advice.

"My agent told me not to talk to anybody about that.

"He told me, 'We have to do something about this team because they didn't treat you right.'

"At the end, we didn't do anything."

***

Just a month before he was attacked, Khristich was seeing stars. All-Stars, that is, as he was asked to replace an injured Blake on the Western Conference side.

"I was really happy in those two or three days in San Jose," recalls the two-way forward of his first All-Star appearance. "My wife, she said she had never seen me so happy. The smile wouldn't go away from my face."

It was the highlight of his Kings career.

"I tried to participate in every [activity]. On ice, outside ice.

"I tried playing defensive hockey," laughs Khristich, "and the guys were looking at me like what are you doing?"

***

That summer, Khristich was shipped to Boston, again with Dafoe, for Jozef Stumpel, Sandy Moger, and a 1998 fourth-round pick. He was named to the All-Star Game again in 1999, before retiring in 2002.

"I don't have any bad feelings about [my time] in LA at all," declares Khristich.

"But maybe people wanted more [engagement from me]. Maybe I didn't show that."

***

"Before I came to the NHL, we [played hockey ten months a year], away from home, in dormitories," recounts the Ukrainian star. "As a team, we were away from family, away from friends. Just team.

"It was more like work, work, work. Not much enjoyment [back then]."

But for somebody who supposedly didn't enjoy the game, Khristich has a funny way of showing it these days.

"I'm working with kids' hockey [in Kiev]. A year ago, I was in the KHL, working as a video coach for two teams. "

Recently, Khristich was hired to coach the Elite Ice Hockey League's Edinburgh Capitals.

"I still enjoy hockey."

***

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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