BREMERTON — Ruslan Abyanov’s entrance into the United States may have hit a snag when the 16-year-old Russian hockey player for the West Sound Warriors was detained at customs in Chicago.
But his entrance into the Western States Hockey League wasn’t as stressful. Abyanov’s progress steadily improved since the beginning of the season and he was rewarded by moving up to the team’s top line.
Half a season into his junior career and Abyanov’s recent surge isn’t entirely shocking.
“I think after the break he got refreshed and was able to refocus and know what he had to do coming in,” Warriors coach Tyler Smith said.
Abyanov is still learning to comprehend the English language in his first foray into American culture but speaks it well. He has help from teammate Dennis Berdinks, who is from Latvia, who acts as a translator at times.
Abyanov said he knew it would be hard to adjust to the level of play in the WSHL.
“But every day I work hard and try to get better every day,” he said.
Abyanov talks with his family in Moscow almost every day and it was difficult to ask them to leave and play overseas.
“My family say yes, yes, of course, you need to go ‘cause it’s like a big chance,” he said.
Was he nervous to ask his parents?
“Yes, little bit,” he said.
Abyanov is one of the youngest players in the league and is enrolled in an online school in Russia.
Abyanov spent time at training camp in Colorado before coming to Bremerton late last summer to start the Warriors season.
Abyanov likes Bremerton and feels comfortable here. It helps that the Warriors have such an international flavor on the team including players from the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, and Sweden.
Abyanov’s improvement showed brightly last week when he had a career-high four goals and two assists in the team’s 6-2 win over Bellingham.
Abyanov said playing in last months WSHL Showcase in Las Vegas was a big boost for him.
“Yes of course,” he said. “In Las Vegas, I saw a lot of good players. Yes, I liked playing in Las Vegas. It helped me.”
Berdinks said he could see how well Abyanov improved.
“He saw a lot of ice time in those games,” Berdinks said, adding Abyanov has figured out how to be in the right spot at the right time. “He showed that he can play better.”
Smith learned about Abyanov through Joe Glithero, a former player and current scout for West Sound. Glithero got a call from an agent about Abyanov, and the connection was made.
“Then we get a call from customs saying he’s stuck in Chicago at the border,” Smith said. “But, it worked out.”
Smith said he didn’t have any film on Abyanov and didn’t know what kind of player he would get.
He put his trust in his scouts that they had found an up-and-coming rock star. Abyanov was the best player on his team last season, Belye Medvedi Moskva U16 (comparable to high school hockey), which won just a single game.
“But he was the only one with about 20 points, so we knew we were getting something,” Smith said.
After Abyanov’s first couple of days on the ice, the coaches knew they had a good player.
“He was a little raw, and we knew he’d struggle at first, but he’s really come into his own,” Smith added.
Abyanov’s upside is tremendous. He can see the ice well and doesn’t shy away from bigger players.
“When he’s shooting in stride, he’s lethal,” Smith said. “He’s a really good athlete all the way around.”