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Author: J.S. Trzcienski (http://www.canadiens.com/)Date: 07/12/2004
Andrei Kostitsyn loving taste of Montreal

MONTREAL – It is remarkable how, at times, a smile can transcend language. Take, for an example, the case of Andrei Kostitsyn.

Unable to speak barely a word of English, the Canadiens’ 2003 first-round draft choice has been reliant on his good-natured interpreter, Vadim Azrilyant, to help him feel his way through his maiden trip to Montreal. Azrilyant has been at his side on the bus, in meetings, and at the rink to help explain the varied nuances of the directives issued by those heading the team’s development camp. He was there again as Kostitsyn met members of the media for the first time, bridging the communication gap between player and reporter.

For a brief moment, however, Azrilyant’s services were rendered superfluous.

Asked how he has enjoyed his first visit to his prospective future NHL home, Kostitsyn broke into a near-embarrassed grin, turning his gaze to the ground while murmuring something in Russian.

Though a translation was provided, the prospect’s answer was already evident.

“It’s excellent,” he mumbled, bearing very much the look of a kid whose hand was caught in the cookie jar.

“He likes it,” Azrilyant expanded, detailing the obvious. “These guys have a [10:30] curfew so it’s not like they go out late or anything, but we’ve gone out to dinner a few times on Crescent Street and then walked up and down the area. He loves the city and thinks it’s great. It has a European flair to it, which is nice for him. He really enjoys being here.”

It would be a safe bet that Montreal and the Canadiens will be happy to host Kostitsyn for as long as likes. Having already impressed observers in the early stages of camp, the native of Novopolosk, Belarus, has the look of an understated star off the ice, traveling from bus to rink and back again in such fashionable ensembles as a pair leather sandals, torn jeans, and a Dolce & Gabbana long-sleeved shirt. The look would be right at home on the Crescent or St. Laurent strip, and while Kostitsyn may, for now, appear shy about admitting how quickly he has taken to the city, it would hardly be a stretch to suggest he would be happy to make himself at home in the area in the near future.

What remains up in the air, of course, is the timetable that would witness that happen.

At 19, Kostitsyn is eligible as a European to play in the AHL in 2004-05. Whether or not that comes to pass, at this stage, remains to be seen, due in no small part to the fact that he remains under contract to his Russian team, CSKA Moscow. In order to assign him to Hamilton, Montreal would first need to negotiate with the latter organization, and then sign him to a deal of its own.

“The team hasn’t really given me any indication of where I’ll be, yet,” Kostitsyn admitted. “I’m going to do my best to prove I belong here, but whatever decision the club makes will be fine. I’m happy to play wherever they want me to play.”

Andre Savard, the Canadiens’ assistant GM and the GM of the Bulldogs, saw the forward’s very appearance in camp as a key step in the right direction.

“He’s a skilled player, and to get him here was important,” Savard explained. “For him to get to know us and for us to get to know him was a positive. He’s learning about the demands of the game, and this is a good program for him.”

The experience of the development camp, Savard conceded, would likely be put to use by Kotsitsyn in Europe at the start the upcoming campaign.

“He’ll probably go back [to Russia],” he said. “That was the understanding when he first came over, but there’s no [NHL league-wide] agreement with the European leagues, now, so we’d have to negotiate with his team before signing him. There are a few hurdles in place, but we’ll see.”

Kostitsyn, meanwhile, is leaving contract details up to his agent and the clubs involved, focusing on the task at hand.

“I just want to play hockey,” he said simply. “I came over here at an opportune time. It’s my job to show the team what I can do, and it will be up to them as to whether or not I stick around and play hockey in North America this coming year.”

After working off the rust that had settled onto his game during some downtime, Kostitsyn is flying high once again. At camp on Monday, observers couldn’t help but feel as though they were peering into the future as they watched him and 2004 top draft pick Kyle Chipchura fly down the ice alongside one another, working a give-and-go around a defender before Kostitsyn snapped a laser shot past a helpless Jaroslav Halak into the top corner of the net.

“It was a little tough for me at first because I hadn’t skated in close to two months,” Kostitsyn said of his first pro camp. “After a couple days of work here, though, I’m feeling better. Off the ice it’s been fun because I’ve gone out to dinner a few times with the guys and everyone’s been great – they’ve made me feel like part of the family.”

With players like Kotsitsyn, it’s a family to be reckoned with for years to come.

J.S. Trzcienski is the Site Manager for canadiens.com.

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