© Dave Mathieson - Cumberland News Now
Dmitrii Anikin played hockey for two years in Russia and took one year off from the game before stepping on the ice with the Blues two weeks ago.
SPRINGHILL – How did a Russian hockey player end up playing hockey in Springhill? Serendipity.
“I went to go watch a friend play at the ice rink in Sackville. She’s a goalie (with the Mount Allison Mounties),” said Dmitrii Anikin.
“I walked out of the arena and I saw a few guys standing next to a truck with the back open, and I saw a few hockey bags and I asked if they knew where I could play hockey,” he said. “They said, ‘yeah, we’re just about to go play.’ So that’s how it happened.”
That same night he went to the Richard Calder Arena in Springhill and had his first practice with the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey Leagues Cumberland County Blues.
He has practiced with them every Wednesday for most of the season and, after the Canadian Hockey Association gave him the clearance to play with the Blues, he played his first game two weeks ago.
He arrived late to his first Blues game, which was a home game against the St. Margarets Bay Ducks.
The 20-year-old attends Mount Allison University, where he’s taking his first year of commerce.
“My equipment was stuck in my residence storage and there’s about four people with key’s to storage and they were all gone,” said Anikin. “I finally reached someone by phone and I picked him up from downtown Sackville.
“We went back to residence, and they opened the storage room, and then we went straight to the game. I dressed in the car and I didn’t have time for a warm-up.”
Anikin arrived at the game mid-way through the first period, and the crowd clapped and cheered when he stepped on the ice for the first time.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “I didn’t play for a long time so it felt good to be playing again.”
When his skates hit the ice, it was the first time he played in a hockey game in about a year.
Asked how he ended up at Mount Allison University, Anikin said, “I was just looking for the best university in different countries and I found out that Mount A is the best in Canada for undergrad studies, so I decided to come here.”
Anikin moved to the U.S. when he was still a toddler, but still has a trace of his Russian accent.
He learned to skate when he was six-years-old while living just outside San Francisco, and he started playing hockey when he was eight.
“At first I had figure skating lessons because, at the time, there was one person who could really teach me to ice skate,” he said. “It was in San Francisco, and he was the best skater and he just happened to be a figure skater.”
He played hockey in the U.S in both California and Utah before moving back to Russian when he was 17-years-old to live with his grandparents, who live in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia, near the Arctic Circle.
“It’s about 100,000 people. It’s an oil town. It has a lot of oil money in it.
The biggest oil fields are nearby.”
His grandparents are retired and he says he misses them.
“They’ve been a big influence on me. They helped me change for the better.”
His parents live in California and he often talks to them by phone.
“My dad’s an inventor, businessman kind of a guy and my mom works at a hair salon,” he said.
He says he considers Russia his home.
“I was born in Russia and went to America and went back to Russia, and it just seems Russia is more my place to be,” he said. “I have friends there and the way people interact is different. It’s culturally different.”
Westerners often perceive Russians to be stoic and somewhat taciturn, and Anikin agrees there is some truth to that perception.
“On the other side of it, they’re not always smiling, but the look on their face is how they really feel, so when it’s worth smiling, you get the genuine emotion.”
During his two years in Russia, from the age of 17 to 19, he played Junior hockey in the MHL ((Molodezhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga), which he compares the Canadian Hockey League.
“It’s basically Russia’s answer to the CHL,” he said. ”I haven’t been to a CHL game yet but most people are pretty skilled in that league.”
Anikin says he likes the weather in the Maritimes, but he was coughing during his interview and said he’s still adapting to the Maritime climate – and still adapting to the Junior B game.
“I haven’t hit my full stride yet. My speed and reaction is still not there. I expect to improve. I know I can play a lot better than this,” he said. “I’m not back to my normal self yet and I haven’t been feeling well lately because I’m trying to get used to the climate, so hopefully after the first semester (of school) I’ll be used to it.”
In his first game with the Blues he had one point, scoring the first goal for the Blues.
In his second game he had two goals in a 6-5, overtime loss to the Miners in Cape Breton.
“I felt I played better in Cape Breton,” he said. “There were only 12 players, so I got a lot of ice time. I felt that really helped me get into the game faster.”
The Miners are the NSJHL’s top team.
“We pushed Glace Bay into overtime with 12 people, and once we get a few more players I don’t think any team will be able to stop us,” he said. “I know the playoffs are manageable. I think we could go far in the playoffs.”
He also says the Blues organization has treated him very well.
“They’re all great people,” he said. “Rob McLure, our old coach, helped people get jobs and helped guys get there foot in the door. Rob was a great influence on a lot of people here.
“I was sad to see him go, but everyone in the organization is very helpful and tries to accommodate the guys and help them meet their needs.”
What does the future hold for the 20-year-old?
“It’s hard to judge what I’m going to do because I’ve learned that anything can happen,” he said. “I’ll finish university and take it as I go along.”