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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Emigre Hockey Star, Success Tastes Bitter

BOSTON - Everyone keeps telling him he should be thrilled to be here, but Alexei Yashin is not so sure. Though the former Moscow Dinamo star has been a sensation as a rookie center for the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators, he has not yet found a way to be happy in North America.


"Happy? No, I wouldn't say I'm happy", said Yashin after a humiliating 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins last week. "I'd be much happier playing in Russia. Circumstances dictated that I had to come here, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it".


Most hockey players dream of playing in the NHL, but Yashin suffers both from homesickness and from playing with the Senators, the league's worst team. Unaccustomed both to the new lifestyle and to losing, Yashin has maintained an allegiance to Moscow Dinamo, which was a championship team in his time. That, in turn, makes him seem dissatisfied and apologetic about his success with Ottawa.


"Befieve we, I would much prefer it if the best players had come to us in Russia, and not the other way around", he said. "I still consider myself a Dinamo player, and I still remember the Dinamo crowds cheering us. The Senators play to a full house every night, in much bigger arenas, but the Dinamo crowds are the ones I remember".


Homesickness notwithstanding, Yashin, 20, has been an obvious success in his first month as a North American professional. He has 10 points in his first nine games, and has been held scoreless only once. Still, his introduction to the NHL has been a painful one, and he is not enjoying the game as much as he once did.


"It is hard", he says. "The games here, they are violent sometimes".


Like many Russian-born players, Yashin is a graceful skater and stick-handler, but has little appetite for the rougher aspects of the game - a weakness that can translate into serious problems for a highly touted rookie whom opponents often single out for abuse on the ice.


"He's a good player, but yon get the sense he can be pushed around", said Daniel Marois of the Bruins. "He'll have to change that reputation or the points will stop coming".


Against the Bruins, Yashin played what was for him a characteristic game. He managed early on in the first period to score a goal and dominate the Senator's first power play, getting five shots on net. But as the game dragged on and the Bruin's checking game kicked in, Yashin slowed.


Three savage hits in the second period by the Bruin's monster winger Cam Neely effectively ended Yashin's night; he didn't get another shot and ended up sitting out much of the third period.


"He's got to get used to NHL play, or that kind of thing is going to continue", said Senators Coach Rick Bowness, referring to Neely's treatment of his star rookie.


Yashin is joined on the Senators by former Dinamo teammate Dmitry Filionov, also a rookie. The two arc close: In pre-game drills, they go about their own warm-up routines apart from the rest of the Senators, and Yashin says it is less fan for him to play when Filionov, who has had a tougher fight for playing time in Ottawa, is not in the game. Both of the players say that they are grateful for the other's presence on the team.


"It's been much easier for me, having Dima here", said Yashin.


"We're thankful to be on the same team", added Filionov. "We player on a great team with Dinamo, and we're hoping we can have that again someday here".


The two players may not have long to wait. Buoyed by the arrival of both Yashin and Alexandre Daigle, the NHL's first draft choice last year, the Senators appear to have a bright future.


For Yashin, that time cannot come too soon; winning is the only thing that would satisfy his ambitions here and make it possible for him to return to the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, which is his hometown.


"I didn't come here for the money, or any of that", he said. "I came here to test myself against the best. Hopefully, Dima and Alexandre and I will adjust quickly, and we can become a winning team. That way, when I go home, I won't feel like I've left something undone".