The Hershey Bears begin defense of their two-time Calder Cup champions’ status this morning, and while I am always interested in the roster formation for this championship-or-bust organization, this fall I have a most personal interest in one particular training camper. Left wing Nikita Kashirsky, who skated with the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate in South Carolina as well as 25 games in the American League with Springfield and Manitoba last season, is perhaps best known for being best friends with Alexander Ovechkin. The Moscow native has known the GR8 since they were both 8 years old and skaters in the famed Dynamo hockey program. But I am more interested in Nikita’s story because like me he was frightened out of his wits as a high school freshman while seated in mandatory Latin class at Bethesda, Md.’s, Georgetown Prep.
I really want to travel up to Hershey on a few winter weekends this season and see my fellow Little Hoya play big-time pro hockey.
When I was at Prep, a few years ago, not only was there no hockey being played on campus, or off it, there wasn’t high school hockey being played by schools anywhere in the Metro region. Last week, at Capitals’ training camp, I watched Kashirsky toss the biscuit around with his best friend, the greatest hockey player on the planet, and not look a bit out of place. If you’re perusing this file expecting an objective profile of Nikita Kashirsky, stop now. I’m profiling my fellow alum, fellow survivor of the Jesuits, who just happens to excel at hockey and who just happens to call Alexander Ovechkin best friend, and no matter what happens with the remainder of his pro hockey career, what he’s already achieved as a partially Bethesda-bred rink rat is astounding.
Ovechkin, Kashirsky told me, actually centered their line in the Dynamo program. Kashirsky was the promising left wing at age eight! By the time they were both 14, they were best friends.
“We played on the same [Dynamo] line, all the time, we spent weekends together, living together during training camps, during summer training,” the greatest Little Hoya hockey player ever told me after a training camp skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week.
But how, I wondered, did a hockey player in Moscow make his way to my high school, and go on to be this type of hockey talent? Prep’s hockey program, like most others in the region, isn’t even 15 years old. Practice ice is hard to come by.
Turns out Nikita had an older brother who came to the U.S. to attend the University of Colorado. In exploring the American education system a bit, Nikita’s brother reported back to his family that the hockey star little brother could both play hockey and attend school full time. And Prep, which has long housed international students, was keenly interested in hosting a student from Russia — and willing to award financial aid for this student’s special athletic talents.
Like Jeff Halpern before him, Kashirsky skated with the Washington Little Capitals as well, so he got plenty of ice here during his four years at Prep. Still, his rising to the level of earning an American League contract, and an invite to an NHL camp, speaks volumes for the caliber of hockey competition the Washington region has cultivated in just the past decade. And there’s a terrific story about that Little Caps sweater that Kashirsky wore.
“When I played for Prep, I also played for the junior Caps, and they had the same uniforms as the old Capitals,” the less famous left wing from Moscow told me. “When I came back to Moscow in summer of 2004, before the [NHL] draft, I gave my jersey to Alex, just as a present, cause it was like a real Washington Capitals’ thing. And a month later he gets drafted by the Capitals.”
Kashirsky graduated from Prep in 2004 and went off to play a year of junior hockey up in New England. That 2004-05 season the NHL locked out its players, so Ovechkin was not yet in D.C. In 2005-06, Kashirsky enrolled in Norwich University, and as a freshman he scored 19 goals and 23 assists in 29 games with the Cadets. He would go on to earn All-ECAC East honors and be named an RBK All-American while skating for the Cadets. You know who else enjoyed a standout hockey career at Norwich? Keith Aucoin.
At the end of Norwich’s 2008-09 season, Kashirsky’s senior year, he signed with the South Carolina Stingrays. The Capitals’ organization knew of his ability from a few summers of Development Camps at Kettler, and Kashirsky was a member of the 2009 Kelly Cup-winning Stingrays. In fact, his Kelly Cup sweater today is lodged in a trophy case on Prep’s campus. Last season, in 39 games with the Rays, Kashirsky put up impressive numbers: 19 goals and 16 assists.
Kashirsky played a big role for his buddy in Ovechkin’s early days in D.C. They telephoned one another a lot. Nikita attended Alex’s NHL debut here, against Columbus, and he also saw his best friend in person when he scored his 100th NHL point that rookie season — an overtime tally against the Bs in Boston. He also made visits to D.C. when their respective hockey schedules allowed. They’ve been best friends since the age of 14, and they both would like nothing better than to be teammates again.
“My dream is to play with the Capitals, because I have so many family and friends in this area, who helped me a lot,” Kashirsky told me.
Half seriously I suggested to my schoolmate that he could perhaps one day return to our campus as a member of a Stanley Cup winning Capitals’ club, hoisting the Cup up in the air in front of the student body, and bring along his pal, what’s his name, his linemate from his days with Dynamo. That would cause a bit of buzz on campus. But as exciting as that would be, it’d be tough to top what my Prep classmate, Brian Cashman, New York Yankees’ General Manager, did back in June, I told him. Brian brought along the 2009 World Series trophy on his visit, and posed for a picture with the entire student body with it.
Kashirsky will visit Prep’s campus with or without any hockey prize. He holds special memories of it. He went back in the days immediately before July’s Capitals Development Camp, just to say hello to teachers who helped him transition from life in Russia to life in the American capital.
Then I suggested to Nikita that a big bus of Prep alums could make the drive up to Hershey one winter weekend night this season and attend a Bears’ game, and watch him play.
He smiled widely at that suggestion.
“I would like to arrange the tickets for that,” he said.
Training camps can be trivialized into a who’s in, who’s out end game. Capitals training camp this fall renewed a special friendship bred in 1994, out on ice in the Russian capital, a friendship that somewhat magically migrated overseas years later and, this summer, reconnected out on the ice together, in the American capital, at hockey’s highest level. Nikita Kashirsky needs a lot more hard work and a big break to one day skate with the Capitals, but if he does I hope it’s his pal Ovi who awards him his Capitals’ sweater.