Monday, 12 September 2016

Redefining Greatness

Most North American hockey fans know little about Sergei Mozyakin. He's played on the international stage for the Russians at the Olympics and World Championships, but the man on the left in the photo has now accomplished a feat that few can say they have done. He was a star in the Russian SuperLeague and he's continued to shine brightly since the formation of the KHL, and HBIC wishes to bestow some accolades upon Mozyakin for his accomplishment because he should be considered for the Hockey Hall of Fame once his playing are done. However, he appears to be enjoying the game rather than slowing down!

Mozyakin's goal with 4:45 to play on Saturday against Jokerit Helsinki was the 428th of his Russian professional hockey career, equaling a 35 year-old record set by Boris Mikhailov! The goal was a sniper's dream and very reminiscent of another hockey great tandem as Jan Kovar fed Mozyakin in the slot from behind the net, and the Russian sniper buried the puck off a one-timer behind netminder Ryan Zapolski for the 3-1 lead. While it may not carry the "Gretzky-to-Kurri" fame, Kovar-to-Mozyakin is an oft-heard tandem in the KHL!

Here is the video of the historic goal.
Mozyakin's been waiting some time for this goal as he was held goalless in his previous four games. As usual, Mozyakin was a man of little words following the game just as he has been throughout his career, refusing to speak about his accomplishment. He prefers to attribute his successes with team play and overall team success as opposed to celebrating individual accomplishments. As the video above shows, he was even reluctant to be recognized for tying the historic mark, showing his sheepish grin and shyness when he finally stood as the fans praised his accomplishment.

He's a very old-school type of player in that Mozyakin works hard every summer in an effort to continually prove to his coaches and GM that he will earn a spot rather than being given one. If that seems odd, the 35 year-old is fiercely protective of his personal life, focusing on his wife and two daughters at home rather than making headlines and drawing attention to himself. He is the epitome of the reluctant superstar in Russia.

What should be noted is that Mozyakin might be one of the greatest players in hockey who has never set foot in an NHL arena. He was the 263rd pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets who tried several times to lure him away from Russia, and other teams have certainly asked about Mozyakin's availability when it comes to his abilities. However, Mozyakin's commitments to his family have trumped any need for a jump to the NHL, and he should be respected for being a throwback to a time when family took precedence over everything else including one's career.

Some of the men who have signed him and worked with him have said some great things about the reserved Mozyakin, and this should be noted because Mozyakin would most likely downplay all of these comments.
  • Salavat GM Leonid Vaisfeld: "Mozyakin doesn't say all that much, his actions speak louder than words. He was always easy to work with, with never had a cross word. He never regarded himself as a star and he still doesn't. He's an approachable, companionable guy who sets a great example."
  • Former CSKA head coach Vyacheslav Bykov: "On the ice he's a natural leader, but in the rest of his life he's a model of decency, civility and good manners. I've never heard him be rude to anyone. God gave Sergei a great talent, but also a great capacity for hard work. So every year Sergei polished that talent like a jeweller working on a precious gem."
  • Former Atlant teammate Vadim Yepanchintsev: "He never acts like the big star, he's a real family man who has a really close relationship with his kids. He treats everyone as an equal and you can see his leadership qualities. He was our captain at Atlant. The players themselves asked for him to do the job, and that speaks volumes about the man."
Those compliments should be the make-up of every athlete and captain of a team across the sports spectrum. The fact that Mozyakin pushes himself to be better than everyone else yet has the ability to make his teammates around him better as well shows that he is a natural leader and effective captain. Add in that he's personable, approachable, and humble, and he's made up of the stuff that every team wants and for which every GM searches. Sergei Mozyakin, despite his best efforts, is a model superstar in today's world.

Mozyakin has a chance to surpass another Russian hockey legend in Boris Mikhailov when Metallurg Magnitogorsk visits Dinamo Minsk on Tuesday. Regardless of whether he notches goal #429 in this game, he stands alone in his actions and abilities. He might be a reluctant superstar, but he certainly should be considered among the best Russian hockey players ever and possibly among the best players of all-time.

He'll deny all of this, but that's what makes him a special player.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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