Imagine if you will, a time when there was no Internet and your television only had five channels from which to choose what you were going to watch. Many of us born prior to 1980, which happens to be the last time the United States men’s hockey team won the gold medal, remember a time like this.
To kids born in the late 1980s, this is almost unfathomable. What? No Internet? You only had five television channels? That’s just crazy talk.
But there are three guys in the Columbus dressing room born in the 1980s that do indeed know what it was like. The fact that they were born in Russia explains why this is so.
Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov (born 1988, Yaroslavl), goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (born 1988, Novokuznetsk) and defenseman Fedor Tyutin (born 1983, Izhevsk) are three of the more than 200 Russian-born skaters to play hockey in the National Hockey League.
The influx of Russian hockey players to the NHL is barely 25 years old. There were a few that played here and there throughout the league prior to that time, but 1989 marked the first true wave of Russian-born players making inroads into the NHL.
Players like Viacheslav Fetisisov, Igor Larionov and Alexander Mogilny are a few that first played in the 1989-90 season in North America. It was a period of change within the soon-to-be-renamed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev brought glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) to the U.S.S.R.
"When we got older," said Bobrovsky, "we realized that those guys were the first to go to North America and play here."
It was a time in Russia that the CCCP team (national team) was the be-all, end-all of hockey in the country, although its "glory days" were soon to be behind them. That team was the pride of the U.S.S.R./Russia, dominating hockey on the world stage for decades.
"My young days when I started playing hockey was the early nineties," Tyutin said, "at the end of the CCCP team when they were beating everybody. Hockey was pretty huge in Russia. I started watching them on television, looking at the national team. I think they were everybody’s heroes back then.
"The NHL wasn’t that popular in (Russia) yet, because we didn’t have Internet or get to watch too many games back then. For me, I was looking up to those national teams."
For many Russians now in the NHL, those early pioneers that were coming to North America to play in the NHL are somewhat of a distant memory. Unlike today, sports were not plastered all over the television in Russia back then.
Consequently, for many Russian kids that went on to play in the NHL, their only exposure to those pioneers was what they occasionally saw on television or learned from their coaches. Did any of them have players that they tried to emulate as they grew up?
"It’s a hard question," said Anisimov. "Growing up we had a television, but it was only five to ten channels. Hockey was not on television very much. I didn’t have an ‘idol,’ or say ‘I want to be like that.’ If I did have a chance to watch hockey, I just watched the NHL, maybe a couple of games.
"If I find a hockey game that I can watch, I watch and learn from all players. But, I didn’t watch much television. After practice, I go to school. After school, I go home and do homework, then go play outside. If it’s the winter, I play hockey outside. If it’s summer, I play soccer."
You might think that Sergei Bobrovsky would maybe look up to or try to emulate goaltenders. But for him, it was about looking up to Russian players that were very good, no matter what position they played.
"I looked up to (Pavel) Bure, (Nikolai) Khabibulin, (Vladimir) Malakhov, (Sergei) Samsonov," Bobrovsky said. "There’s lots of guys I was watching as I grew up."
For Artem Anisimov, having a professional hockey team in his hometown made it a bit easier to discover the career path that he would choose to embark upon.
"My hometown team now is KHL (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl)," he said. "Back then it was different name (Torpedo Yaroslavl), I go to every game to watch. I would just sit and watch how they play. This is how you learn what the next stage is.
"When I start playing on a team, it was the next step. When I made the first team, I started to look up to the NHL and wanted to play in the NHL."
Today in Russia, they still don’t have the plethora of sports exposure via television that North America has enjoyed for many decades. But the Internet has greatly helped to truly shrink the world and open the wonders of hockey in the NHL to many Russian kids.
Anisimov, Bobrovsky and Tyutin are part of the second wave of Russian-born players that ply their trade in the NHL. They are just three of the players that kids in Russia are looking up to today. Maybe there is a kid in Yaroslavl that sees Anisimov and emulates his dangles and dekes. Or perhaps there is a 10-year-old goalie in Novokuznetsk that wants to be the next "number one cop on the force," as Bobrovsky is known.
Whatever the case may be, these three players are a part of the fabric that makes up the Blue Jackets. Their play transcends borders, with kids from many countries citing them as their favorite NHL player. And as role models, these players are as good as they come.
The Blue Jackets return to action Friday night as they take on the Devils in New Jersey at 7 p.m., with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. with the FOX Sports Ohio pregame show "Blue Jackets LIVE".