Headline Hockey

Rookie Duties: He’s Back!

It’s amazing how time seems to fly by these days. It feels like just yesterday I was taking Kuchin to O’Hare International Airport to head back to Moscow for the rest of Spring. Now, all of a sudden this past Saturday I was back at Terminal 5 waiting to pick him up –and nothing screams fun like standing around in the international terminal of an airport for two and a half hours while your client clears (thankfully) U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you haven’t noticed by now, whether it’s outside a locker room, inside a training facility, or around an airport, with my work I do a lot of waiting around. But my week didn’t start on Saturday, so let me back track a bit.

With the NHL Draft less than two weeks away, most of my time this past week was spent on the phone. I’ve got a fairly respectable digital rolodex built up, and so it was pretty much as simple as going through it and calling any and every NHL scout I’d met this past season. For the most part, my goal in making a call is to just give them some information about Kuchin’s plans for next season and answer any questions they might have about him. I’m completely used to the fact that scouts don’t give agents any real information, but you can definitely get some sort of indication based on how interested they seem in the conversation. If a scout shows you that he wants to hear more, usually that means that I’m keeping that particular team in my “interested” column.

Besides just dealing with the NHL guys though, I’ve also been speaking with Alex Zhamnov quite often lately. So far he’s shown me that he’s nothing but a great guy, and I’ve expressed my appreciation for his help numerous times. It looks as though he and the owner would like to see Kuchin skate with the KHL club at their camp in July, and Zhamnov was kind enough to invite me out to attend the camp and discuss business with him in person. If all goes according to plan (which it won’t), I should be heading to Moscow sometime after my July 15th birthday.

Now to get back to this past weekend – while I was expecting my schedule to return to the hectic, unpredictable state it was while Kuchin was in Chicago this past Winter, the weekend of his return started out fairly uneventful.

Saturday began with me running to get Kuchin a cell phone for him to use during his stay. Since Kuch doesn’t have a car, for the most part I was going to have to be on call as his driver while he’s in Chicago, so we needed some way for him to get a hold of me. Fortunately, now-a-days it’s just as simple as picking up a pay-as-you-go phone from any carrier you choose. This option is especially helpful when you have younger foreign clients who might be inclined to make longer than expected phone calls to girlfriends and family back home. Personally, I’d much rather have to reload the phone’s minutes a few times than get hit with the old $300 phone bill.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, it was off to the airport to get Kuch. His flight was set to land at 3:15pm CST, so I got there around 4:00 thinking it’d take a bit for him to get through customs. After about an hour into my wait though, I started to get a little nervous – what if he was being detained by Border Protection? Or worse – what if he missed his flight? Finally at around 6:30, Kuch strolled out through “Exit B” of the Terminal. But naturally, I’d already have something to make things interesting.

Apparently on his flight, Kuchin had made a new “friend” who was also flying from Moscow but needed to take a train or bus from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska. He asked for my help, and of course I wasn’t going to leave the kid alone in the middle of the fourth busiest airport in the world (citing only the most reliable source for information – Wikipedia). While I was searching for some information on my phone, he asked me if I’d ever been to Nebraska. When I told him I had, he then asked whether Lincoln was an exciting city. I couldn’t help but smile, pat him on the back, and explain “absolutely not.” Nothing against Lincoln, but outside of football season, I’ve never heard of it being a tourist hot spot. Luckily I was able to find him a decent fare on an Amtrak train leaving a few hours later, so crisis averted.

After we left O’Hare, I dropped Kuch off at the Dushkin’s house (his old host family in case you forgot) where he’d be staying (or I should say was planning on staying, but I’ll get back to that) while the Steel’s main camp was open. Kuch and Yakubov (who’s also staying with the Dushkins) said that they wanted to go bowling (big surprise) that night, but since I already had dinner plans with some friends, I told them I’d have to meet them up after I was done. For those of you who aren’t up-to-speed on my Facebook profile (which I hope includes at least someone), a couple weeks ago I started dating a girl who’s also from the Chicago suburbs. Her name is Lindsey and I’m not going to go into all the details, but basically we met through my long-lost roommate from my freshman year at OU, who just recently moved to Chicago and is dating her best friend. Let me tell you, it’s been a lot of fun explaining how all my “waiting” for other people and making phone calls all day is actually a real job – thank God I had that law degree to fall back on for some credibility.

Anyway, after dinner I was able to convince our little group to head over to the bowling alley and meet up with my Russian posse. Naturally, when I called to deliver the good news to Kuch and Yak that everyone was on board, they were both too tired and decided we’d do it another time. At least Lindsey was getting some early exposure to how unstable my schedule can get with my stable of young Russian clients.

So instead of bowling we decided to head out to our favorite karaoke watering hole, Ball Park. Let’s just say a couple weeks ago I stole the spotlight (although I’m probably alone in making that assessment) with my personal rendition of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry.” And yes, I’m being serious. Unfortunately for the crowd of somewhere between ten and fifteen townies, I left my microphone at home this time. After a few drinks with our friends, Lindsey and I decided to head back to her place to kick it (sorry, inside joke) for a while with a little Lost Season 1 before we called it a night.

So while Saturday gave me a slight reminder of how plans can quickly change when a client’s in town, Sunday’s when it really began to kick in. Teddy (you remember Teddy, right?) wasn’t going to be skating with the Steel in their main camp, so the Dushkin’s wanted to know if Kuchin could come stay at my place beginning Sunday instead of Wednesday, as originally planned. I’d cleaned out the guest room for him over the weekend, so naturally that wouldn’t be a problem at all – just another change of plans to deal with.

I drove over to the rink around 5pm Sunday as Kuchin was finishing up with his on-ice stuff for the day. We met up with another Russian kid who’s in town for the Steel camp (and also happened to have played with Kuchin back in Russia growing up) and we decided to catch one of the Steel’s Rookie Camp’s games. The boys wanted to go see a movie afterwards, so I invited the new Russian along (let’s call him Sergei), as he was staying in a hotel on his own and didn’t have any friends in Chicago. And when I brought Sergei back to his hotel after the movie, guess what? Another change of plans! Kuch asked if I minded if he stayed at the hotel for the night. It wouldn’t really change my schedule around for tomorrow so he grabbed a few things out of his suitcase and I told him I’d see him in the morning. It’s funny when you work a lot with people from different cultures how you pick up subtle differences between them and Americans. Trust me when I say that having a structured itinerary is not a common feature of the Russian lifestyle.

With the Steel’s main camp officially opening this morning and a workout of Yakubov’s that I have to attend this afternoon, it’s going to be a crazy couple of days. At least at this point I know to expect the unexpected. Since I’ve got a lot to get done today, this is where I’m going to have to leave you. I’ll try to post some pictures and maybe some video from the Steel camp on the Rookie Duties Facebook Page and please keep the questions and comments coming. With that being said, have a great week and until next week…it’s time to hit the showers.