So Long, Sasha

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

The Carolina Hurricanes today announced the signing of winger Alexander Semin to a one-year deal for a total of $7 million. The contract officially ends Semin’s decade-long tenure in the Washington organization. Semin’s departure leaves Brooks Laich as the Capitals player with the longest standing tenure in the organization. Laich came to the Caps in a deal with Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2004. For me personally, I am happy for the closure provided by today’s news. It was getting tiresome fielding all of the breathless Twitter queries about whether there was any chance Semin would re-sign in Washington or where he would be going. It’s over. He’s gone. Good for him, and good for the Caps. It was time, on both sides. I’ll leave it to others to chronicle Semin’s days in the District. I’ll leave you with just two impressions of Semin, the first I had of him off the ice and the first I had of him on the ice. Suffice it to say, the guy is as talented a hockey player as I’ve ever covered in 17 years on the beat, and he’s almost as enigmatic as any I’ve covered in 17 years on the beat. And yes, it was Joe Murphy’s brief but memorable presence in the District that kept Semin from being the most enigmatic during that span. My first encounter with Semin was on the day the Caps drafted him in the summer of 2002. He did not speak to the media that day (no surprise), and his visit to the team’s suite at Air Canada Centre in Toronto was much more of a perfunctory, hit-and-run affair than it was for the other dozen players the Caps drafted that weekend. Each of the other Caps draftees who were there in Toronto that weekend were jubilant, and they lingered in the suite as long as they could, reveling in their big day and getting acquainted with their fellow draftees. Semin struck me as both different and indifferent, right from the start. He seemed like he had somewhere else to be that weekend, something else to do. He seemed distracted. I haven’t seen anyone like him at the draft before or since. He stopped into the suite, grabbed a Caps duffel bag filled with team gear, and left. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I’m betting if I was an 18-year-old in Moscow who didn’t speak Russian, I might felt and behaved similarly. The next time I saw Semin was in the fall of 2003, when he and a handful of other young Caps hopefuls boarded a plane to Traverse City, Mich. for the Centre Ice Tournament. That was also the first time I got to see the then-19-year-old play hockey. I never tired of watching Semin play the game. One way or the other, it was great theater. Man, can he shoot the puck. Back foot, front foot, doesn’t matter. And he can put it into a teacup. Wrist slot, slapshot, backhand. He can beat you with any of them. I once watched him record a hat trick using each of them. He can dangle, too. Semin can stickhandle in a phone booth, and his curl and drag is good as anyone’s. Semin also has the capability to frustrate on and off the ice. But that’s, a discussion for another time. He played 469 games here in Washington, totaling 197 goals and 208 assists for 408 points. Semin ranks fifth on the Caps’ all-time franchise ledger for goals, and he is tied with Kelly Miller for 14th in points. I’ve enjoyed watching Semin play and covering him all these years, and I wish him all the best in Carolina. Below is what I wrote the first night. I watched Semin play, Sept. 5, 2003. It’s a bit of time capsule, so I’m including it in its entirety, even the parts that don’t pertain to Semin:

Alexander Semin is a 19-year-old kid in a strange country with strange cuisine, strange currency, and a strange culture. He is in this country only to play hockey but even when he does that, he is doing so on a much smaller ice surface than which he is accustomed. It's like Minnesota Fats shooting stick on a six-foot table in Siberia. Friday afternoon, Semin overcame all that. He netted a highlight reel goal in the third period to lift the Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues in the first game of the annual Centre Ice Prospects Tournament in picturesque Traverse City, Mich. Semin's power play tally extended the Capitals' tournament unbeaten streak to five games; the Caps won last season's tourney with a 3-0-1 mark. Facing an older and more experienced St. Louis only hours after arriving in Northern Michigan, the Caps had some trouble finding their legs early. Washington netminder Robert Gherson made some big stops early and left nary a rebound until his mates could collect themselves and turn the tides against the Blues. At one point in the opening frame, St. Louis held an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal. Washington scored first however, lighting the lamp midway through the first on an even strength point blast off the stick of defenseman Danny Syvret. A clearing attempt by St. Louis landed instead on Syvret's tape and he wound up and fired a low, hard drive netward, beating St. Louis' Chris Beckford-Tseu. The Caps came back to fire nine unanswered shots on Beckford-Tseu and led in both goals (1-0) and shots on goal (12-11) after one period of play. A sloppy line change did the Caps in early in the second. The Blues came up ice on a two-on-one; Washington's Louis Robitaille was the only man back. Robitaille managed to get a piece of the pass from Zack Fitzgerald to Alexander Bolduc, but instead of the pass going to Bolduc's tape, it banked off his skate and beat Gherson. Washington argued that the puck had been kicked but the right call was made and the game was tied. St. Louis was the lesser disciplined of the two teams on Friday and penalty problems eventually did the Blues in. At 11:49, Caps captain Steve Eminger and Blues forward Simon Ferguson were both sent off for roughing, but Ferguson's sins were deemed more egregious and he drew a double minor. With less than a minute remaining on the Washington man advantage, Eminger gained the zone along the right side and skated toward the middle of the ice, attracting a crowd in the process. He flipped a perfectly nonchalant backhand pass to Jevon Desautels, who was all alone to Beckford-Tseu's left. Desautels then launched a searing wrist rocket from the top of the circle, cleanly beating the St. Louis goaltender. Half a minute after the Caps took the lead, they were forced to kill a St. Louis man advantage in order to preserve it. With Miroslav Durak off for holding, Washington proved up to the task. It killed the penalty and took a 2-1 lead into the locker room after two. The Caps outshot the Blues 6-5 in the second. The Blues drew even again in the third when an unattended Chaz Johnson squeezed a wrister in between Gherson's right pad and the post. But the Blues could not stay out of the box and they could not shut down the Caps' power play that was gaining effectiveness with every chance. With Washington again enjoying the man advantage halfway through the frame, St. Louis was desperately trying to clear the puck and get fresh troops on the ice. Fitzgerald lost his stick and was trying to regain it or borrow some lumber from a teammate. When a Washington shot deflected in the air near the St. Louis net, Fitzgerald punched at it with his glove, attempting to loft it over the glass and gain a whistle. But the disc bounced off the glass. While Johnson gave his stick to Fitzgerald, Owen Fussey and Boyd Gordon worked the puck to Semin in the slot. With the two St. Louis players occupied with the stick exchange, Semin had all the time and space he needed. He curled off and stickhandled down low before lifting a wicked backhander over Beckford-Tseu's right shoulder. With just under a minute remaining and Beckford-Tseu on the bench for an extra attacker, Semin put and end to whatever hopes St. Louis had for getting the equalizer. He gained control of the puck near the Washington blueline and made a single stride toward the yawning net at the other end. He was pulled down from behind before he could gain speed and the Blues were again penalized for the trip. St. Louis never managed to threaten again. The Caps outshot the Blues 8-6 in the third period and 26-22 on the game. NOTES -- Maxime Daigneault will start in goal for Washington on Saturday night against Minnesota ... The Wild took its tournament opener with a 4-2 decison over the Atlanta Thrashers. Barry Brust backstopped the Wild to that win, meaning that Josh Harding is likely to get the call of the Wild (sorry) on Saturday against the Caps ... Washington made a late addition to its tournament roster, bringing along defenseman Randy Dagenais, a 24-year-old defenseman who just completed his collegiate career at Union College where he led the team with a plus-eight defensive rating in 2002-03 ... Washington's top line featured three first round draft choices. Gordon (17th overall in 2002) centered Semin (13th overall in 2002) and Eric Fehr (18th overall in 2003). That unit also served as the Capitals' top power play unit ... Gordon and defenseman Jason Maleyko -- both of whom played for the Caps' tournament champion team last season -- wore the alternate captains' "A" on their sweaters ... Other line combos included Derek Krestanovich between Joni Lindlof and Owen Fussey, Tyler Dyck centering Desautels and Shawn Collymore and Dylan Hunter pivoting for Adam Huxley and Mark Olafson ... Eminger was paired with Durak on defense. Syvret -- whose father, Dave, was a ninth round (155th overall) draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1974 -- skated alongside Stuart Kerr and Maleyko worked in tandem with Robitaille.

next up:

Coming to America

January 14, 2013

It’s a long way from Novokuznetsk to Washington, D.C. And it’s arguably an even longer way from playing for a KHL farm team in Russia to playing in the National Hockey League. But the pursuit of a dream knows no boundaries, and in the last several weeks, goaltender Sergey Kostenko has taken some


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