Monday, 8 July 2019

She's Multi-Talented

She was a standout on the international stage with Team Russia before jumping across to North America where she tore up the Canada West Conference in U SPORTS. She found her way into pro hockey with Calgary Inferno of the CWHL, and she's been an outstanding citizen for the city of Calgary since settling there. Iya Gavrilova has been a fixture in the women's hockey community in and around Calgary for a long time, and she certainly has a wealth of knowledge about the game both on and off the ice from which any player can learn.

It's one thing for Gavrilova to be a hockey resource, but we may take for granted that she's been in the game at a high level for a long time AND can speak Russian. Those traits can be vitally important, and the Calgary Flames brought her aboard during their development camp to help their Russian rookies get acclimatised and assist in making those players feel a little more comfortable with their new team. She told George Johnson of,
"Not speaking the language, they could've maybe come here and gotten around, made do, but it wouldn't have been as enriching an experience. What if communication broke down and they couldn't get the sticks they wanted or didn't understand what was being asked of them? Just little things. And little things, when you're confused, can seem like big things. Measuring gear, for example. It took them five minutes instead of, say, 20. Or longer. My coming from Russia, it helps that I can explain why things work the way they do. I know both sides. Where they're coming from, and this side, too."
Social media was active once the CWHL folded about the NHL teams hiring the women who played in the CWHL as coaches, but that limited view on the positions that these women can hold does an injustice to them. Perhaps Miss Gavrilova doesn't want to coach with the Flames. That's clearly ok as she's found another way to join the franchise and put her skills to good use. She doesn't have to be a coach if she's happy being a translator and mentor for the Russian players in camp.

The two players who Gavrilova has been helping most are 23-year-old goaltender Artyom Zagidulin of Magnitogorsk and 23-year-old Alexander Yelesin of Yaroslavl. Neither have a solid grasp on the English language having grown up in Russia, so Gavrilova is helping them navigate the waters in their first trip to North America. As she stated before, though, it's the little things that she had trouble with when she arrived as a 19 year-old in Duluth, Minnesota where she earned an accounting degree.
Just little things like 'What's up?' You don't understand the context and it blows your mind. You're wondering: 'Why are people asking me how my day is going?' I remember walking through the university hoping I wouldn't bump into anyone on my team because I was worried they'd ask me: 'What's up?' It took me six months to pick it up a little better; before I began to feel comfortable."
It's those little colloquialisms and catchphrases that we often take for granted here with which foreigners often struggle. Some of the things we ask for - where the washroom is, how far away am I, can I get fries with that - are also difficult if one doesn't know the language. It's these little things where Gavrilova will help these young men immensely in feeling more at home which is something the Calgary Flames identified as part of their development camp. Ray Edwards, the Flames' director of player development and, in a fashion, camp counsellor, explained to Johnson,
"We discussed this option two months ago. If we're going to have these players - who are under contract - come over, if we're going to invest him in them, we need to help them. We can't throw them into the fire, just say: 'Hey, you're here now. Succeed.' Obviously, there's a connection; with Alexander and Zag, right away. They speak the speak. Iya knows what's going on here in Calgary so she's been able to help them in terms of the lay of the land. We had her on the bench the other day and at one point I wanted to explain something to Alex. If I don't have her there... well, it's going to take awhile."
For those that don't know, Gavrilova missed all of last season while recovering from ACL surgery. With the CWHL folding, her options for playing professional became limited, and she's moved into the private sector as an analyst with an energy company, settling permanently in Calgary as her new home. Getting a chance for her to work with the Flames has re-ignited the flame - no pun intended - in her for the game, and she's looking forward to getting back on the ice. She told Johnson, "This year, we're going to get a group of girls together and go around Canada, showcasing our game. So I'm hoping to be back on the ice in September."

It will be great to see that #8 flying around on the ice like she did for so many years in Canada West where she was a dominant force. She was one of my favorite players to watch during her time with the Calgary Dinos, and her creativity and offensive awareness dazzled crowds throughout western Canada as she piled up the points. Having her back in the game is good for hockey as a whole, but it seems to be paying off for the Flames in big ways.

And as for Artyom and Alexander, how did their week in Calgary go? According to Gavrilova,
"They've really enjoyed themselves. The first thing they noticed, they talked about, is how much everyone has taken care of them. They weren't expecting this. One of them said the first day: 'People have done so much for us, it's crazy.' Just the kindness of Canadians and the organization. I think they've possibly been shocked by that, in a good way."
You're a big part of that too, Iya. Well done on this job, and kudos to the Flames for bringing Iya Gavrilova into the fold.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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