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Blues all-stars Tarasenko, Shattenkirk share bond

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- From the moment St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko set foot onto American soil, the transition from an entirely different culture was made easier with the help of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

From restaurants, to a new dress code and general way of life, Shattenkirk instantly took Tarasenko under his wing and ultimately became, more or less, a big brother. They immediately became roommates in 2012.

And when big brother and little brother were roommates two seasons ago, candid conversations about competing in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game came to light.

Tarasenko, 23, who was selected to play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics for Russia, remembers the first serious chat he and Shattenkirk, 26, had about playing in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, it was probably in Edmonton," Tarasenko said. "... We talk about a lot of stuff with hockey, talked about the All-Star Game, Olympics, all of it. We were both in the Olympics; now we're both in the All-Star Game. It's kind of cool."

Shattenkirk and Tarasenko, the Blues' representatives at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, each got a phone call from general manager Doug Armstrong.

"He texted me right away and we kind of talked about it and saw each other the next morning and had to try to keep it under wraps, but we kind of went off to the side and smiled and congratulated each other," Shattenkirk said. "It's something that we kind of joked about in the room when [previous] All-Star Games would come around. I would kind of always tell him, 'You're going to make it, trust me; it's only a matter of time.' To be able to do it together and then to kind of think back to the talks, it's pretty fun. It was just kind of in passing, one of those 'wouldn't it be cool if ...,' but here we are now."

Tarasenko (47) and Shattenkirk (39) rank first and second on the Blues in points. Tarasenko leads the Blues with 24 goals, and Shattenkirk is first in assists with 31. Shattenkirk was tied with the Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano for most points among NHL defensemen (39) through Sunday.

"These are two young kids that are going to learn a lot by going there, and they're going to learn a lot on the professionalism and the pageantry that goes along with the National Hockey League," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They haven't really experienced that stuff yet, and I think it's really important for the betterment of their careers that they get to experience what a big deal the NHL is and what a big deal all-stars are."

For Tarasenko, who has set career highs in goals (24), assists (23) and points (47), it became a matter of who was going to help a shy kid open up. Coming from a completely different way of living to a country where he had no family or friends, Tarasenko had to rely on his teammates.

"I saw him open up early in the room, kind of 1-on-1 when he wasn't around people and wasn't as shy," Shattenkirk said of Tarasenko. "And he's a great guy. His English is good, better than he thinks. He's got a great personality and really just enjoys playing hockey every day, and I think you can kind of see that boyish smile a lot around here. It's refreshing."

In a short matter of time, New Rochelle, N.Y., and Yaroslavl, Russia (separated by 4,711 miles), would connect to help a shy kid with a promising career adapt to a new way of life.

"It was deep, but his English wasn't bad," Shattenkirk said. "I think he was more scared to use it thinking people were going to make fun of his accent. In the room, we would have great talks and then you'd see him ... as soon as he stepped out of the door, it was like his mouth zipped up. It took a while for him to open up. It was fun because I got to know him on a much more personal level. You hear about his family and everything back in Russia, it was cool to kind of relate to that and remember how I was when I was that young."

Tarasenko returned the favor. He taught Shattenkirk some Russian, although the Cyrillic alphabet involved a few censored words.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 47
SOG: 156 | +/-: 23
"Most of the words are not very appropriate," Shattenkirk joked. "'Spasibo' is thank you, and 'Bud'te zdorovy' is God bless you, so those are definitely the ones he taught me. Some of the other ones, I'll leave out."

This is just human nature for Tarasenko, who consistently deflects praise for his on-ice production.

"I saw that really from the first day we've had him," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "His grandfather [Vladimir] and his dad [Andrei] implemented that in him. That's the way he was raised, to have respect for his teammates and to have respect for the coaching staff, respect of the game.

"... I don't think it has anything to do with anything but an upbringing that's been sound and solid since day one. I think it's a perfect example that he's a humble guy, he wants to score, he's hungry to score. When you're dealing with scoring players, they think differently, but he's very respectful for authority and leadership and teammates. That's his upbringing, which is very impressive."

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, Tarasenko's teammate at the Sochi Olympics, agreed.

"He is just working hard every year and has improved every year," Datsyuk said. "He has lots of skill.

"In my opinion, he's still a little bit shy, but he seems more happy with what he is doing. He's a really nice person. He's a talented guy and a hard worker too, which is more important."

Instead of taking the 'me first' attitude, Tarasenko was naturally pleased for his friend.

"I'm really happy for him because he's playing really good," Tarasenko said of Shattenkirk. "I'm pretty sure he's one of the top 'D' in the League. I'm happy for him."

Kevin Shattenkirk
Defense - STL
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 39
SOG: 106 | +/-: 18
Tarasenko's praise didn't surprise Shattenkirk.

"With how close we are, that's the type of guy that he is," Shattenkirk said. "I think he really enjoys seeing his teammates succeed and do well. It's a great person to have around. He's someone who I know always looks out for me and supports me. He's one of my best friends on the team and that's a great example of it."

Shattenkirk is well on his way to establishing career-best numbers. His career-high in goals (10), assists (35) and points (45) were accomplished last season.

"At the end of last year, we really challenged him to become a complete player and he's answered the bell," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "... He's made a really big commitment on and off the ice to become a complete player."

And that complete player will return to where it all began. Shattenkirk was selected in the first round (No. 14) of the 2007 NHL Draft at Nationwide Arena by the Colorado Avalanche, site of this year's All-Star Game.

"It's going to be fun to go there and spend time with my family, and have them take it all in with me," Shattenkirk said. "It will be a close-knit group.

"This is where I was drafted, so it's kind of come around full circle."

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