After the final whistle had blown, with the family and friends of his Saint John Sea Dogs teammates mulling around on the ice congratulating the 2011 Memorial Cup champions, Stanislav Galiev was sitting alone in the corner of the ice typing on his phone.
“My mom has been with me all my way,” Galiev told me in an interview a few days earlier. ‘Stas’ grew up in a single-parent home in Russia with a mother who efforted to advance her son’s fledging hockey career. “Sometimes she couldn’t go to work because I had practice.”
So after one of the biggest games of his life, Stas was on the phone, frantically trying to reach his mother and share the moment. “She listened on the radio,” he said. “She’s crying right now.”
It’s the classic story of a player overcoming significant odds to forge a path to get a chance at the National Hockey League. Born in Moscow, Galiev left home a year ahead of most imported CHL players to join the Indiana Ice of the USHL after his agent found him a place on that team. “I really like the [North American] style of hockey,” he says. “It’s really physical. So much faster. You have to be quick with the puck and be ready to take a hit, like, every second.”
“My first two seasons I was more of a playmaker, I didn’t shoot a lot of pucks, and coach [Gerard Gallant] told me I had to shoot more. I started scoring more goals: 37 this season and 15 last.”
Galiev is yet another Russian player on the Washington Capitals, who not only boast the impressive contingent of Alexander Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov and Alexander Semin, but notable Russian prospects in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. “It was an unbelievable experience [at Washington's training camp] to skate with NHL guys. You learn from them, they speak in locker rooms and help you.”
For a guy who looks to shoot the puck more, training with Alexander Ovechkin has to help. “I have no idea how a goalie can stop those pucks,” Galiev says about Ovechkin’s shot. “For sure I need to grow some muscles.”
On draft day 2010, the day that Galiev was taken 86th overall by Washington, a rumour was circulated in the Russian press that Kuznetsov, who had been drafted with the Capitals with their first round pick, lobbied Capitals management to draft Galiev.
“After the first day in the draft, I was meeting him in the lobby,” Galiev said. He recalls Kuznetsov told him “Imagine if you got drafted by Washington” to which Galiev responded “Okay, this would be cool.”
The story goes that when Stas collected his Capitals jersey after being selected, he went downstairs for pictures and heard Kuznetsov mocking him in the background. “Take this jersey off!”
As a player, Galiev is a player with obvious offensive instincts. While he commits to wanting to be a stronger defensive player, there were moments when, even with a one-goal lead in the Memorial Cup Final he was anticipating stretch passes out of his own end rather than making the high percentage plays.
“Galiev always had the skill and the talent level, but the work ethic wasn’t always there,” said his coach Gallant at the Memorial Cup. “He really took off after Christmas of last year. He’s been one of our harder working players. He backchecks, he finishes checks, he does all the things that he has to get better at.”
“You see that kid in a pair of shorts and he’s got the NHL body. It’s a matter of getting a little bit more beef on him. You see his hands on the puck, he’s really strong.”