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Climbing The Ladder

by Frank Seravalli / Dallas Stars

OTTAWA – For Stars prospect Sergei Korostin, much of his young career has been about being so close, yet so far.

Never was that more apparent than Saturday’s semifinal matchup against hometown Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.

In a back-and-forth game in which Russia had an instant answer for every Canadian goal, Korostin’s squad took a 5-4 lead with just two minutes and 20 seconds left to play.

The Russian goal quieted the packed to the gills with Canadian red ScotiaBank Place quicker than a bad joke. For the hockey-crazed host nation – who had just broken the tournament attendance record – it was a bad joke. All Russia needed to do was clear the puck safely and efficiently for 140 seconds.

But an ill-advised icing of the puck changed everything.

Canada’s Jordan Eberle scored with 4.5 seconds remaining to knot the game. It was no surprise that Canada used the momentum from that goal to spark a 6-5 come-from-behind shootout victory.

Korostin and Russia were this close to perhaps the most shocking upset in international hockey since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980. And a spot in the gold medal game.

Canada, a dynasty that had won the previous four titles, wasn’t supposed to lose. Especially not on home ice.

More than three days after the loss, Korostin still couldn’t exactly formulate his thoughts on the loss. It was still fresh. Still painful.

“It was such a good game,” Korostin recalled in his broken English. “The two teams were so good.

“I didn’t sleep after the game. It was very hard. I just couldn’t get those last five seconds out of my head. We were so close.”

Still, Korostin and his Russian comrades regrouped to beat Slovakia in the bronze medal game on Monday night. It was the end of a disappointing yet fulfilling experience for the Prokopievsk, Russia native.

“We were still excited to get the bronze medal,” Korostin said. “We weren’t able to go to the gold medal game because of those last five seconds, but it was still good to get a medal. It was important to us, that was one of our goals coming into this tournament.

On Tuesday, it was time for Korostin and most of his teammates to depart. Most were heading back to the Motherland, far away from where Korostin was destined: Peterborough, Ontario.

Still in just his rookie season in the OHL, Korostin – a 3rd round pick in 2007 – has come a long way from where he was just a year ago.

After battling through the non-existent IIHF-Russia transfer agreement that kept him from coming to North America, Korostin finished his contract with Moscow Dynamo and packed his bags for Texas.

But the smallish 5-foot-11 Korostin wasn’t heading for the Stars. He was targeted for the Tier II Texas Tornado of the NAHL. The league that is a step below the USHL and two notches down from the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL.

He was so close to Dallas, but so far from the NHL.

Korostin has made excellent progress since his stay with the Tornado. He was drafted by London of the OHL but didn’t fit into their gameplan. After reportedly not working out with London, he was traded to Peterborough, where he has taken off.

In 16 games with the Petes, Korostin has notched 13 points. That is seven more than his accumulation in London, where he was for virtually the same amount of games.

While his adjustment may have occurred at a slower rate than he would have hoped, he is still moving closer to his goal of playing in the NHL.

“It is a very different game,” Korostin said. “There is a different style and different coaching. I think that I have played better with the change. There is more speed and that helps me.

“I can skate with speed, I can score, and I can backcheck,” Korostin explained why he has fit in with Peterborough. “I just wasn’t so used to the small arenas [in Canada]. I was used to playing in big stadiums in Russia. It has been different, but I can’t say it has been bad.”

Off the ice, Korostin had to move 200 miles from London to Peterborough, but he is fitting in nicely. Even though the culture in North America is wildly different than Russia, Korostin is learning the language and making friends.

“The guys have helped adjust to living here,” Korostin explained. “Sometimes it is hard, but I am glad I am here.

“It is different because in Russia, I live in hotels and apartments when I am playing. Here, I live with a [host] family. So it has been different, but it is good. They are a nice family.”

In Ottawa – across the province of Ontario, not across the pond from Russia – Korostin was back on the scout’s radar. He made it on The Hockey News’ “Who to Watch” list for the tournament, same for the TSN.

But Korostin’s one goal and one assist showing in the tournament didn’t exactly come as a ringing endorsement for the next top prospect.

It isn’t something that worried Korostin. He knows that he will have good days and bad days.

“Sometimes after games in Peterborough, I talk to a [Dallas] scout or a coach,” Korostin said. “They have all just told me to keep going, whether I score or I play bad.”

Ottawa was proof that Korostin has gotten so much closer to his dream, but still has a way to travel yet.

“I just hope to be with Dallas soon,” Korostin said. “It is the whole reason why I am here.”
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