The Summer Of Kirill:
The Story Of How I Got To Know The Real Kirill Kabanov
Two years ago, I was led to believe Kirill Kabanov was a heartless, selfish person and player. Every single day another hockey columnist would put out another negative article portraying Kabanov as a troubled soul with no chance of becoming anyone in this world. That negative connotation continued up to the 2010 NHL draft where one of the biggest story lines was Kirill's drop from a potential first overall selection to a 3rd round pick. People blamed the drop on an irreparable attitude and some of the "worst pre-draft interviews they've ever seen". The Isles took a chance and immediately following the selection Kirill promised everyone that he would prove the others wrong and reward the Islanders for picking him. I'll be honest with you right now, I did not believe him. Throughout the summer months Islanders fans argued amongst themselves what Kirill Kabanov really had in him and if he would ever become someone of value. I was on the fence as I truly had no clue what to expect, but my views drastically changed around September.
My house had some problems and I was forced to live in the Marriott (next to the Nassau Coliseum) for a week. It just so happened that it was smack dab in the middle of training camp so I really wasn't too upset. Everyday after school I went to the bar at the hotel to get some food, and one day I saw the young Kirill Kabanov. He was sitting by himself, so I thought "what the heck, I might as well" and joined him. I talked to him a bit, informed him of my situation, and the thing I noticed was he was not ANYTHING like the media was portraying him to be. He seemed like a really nice person and more than once he wanted to make sure me and my family didn't go back to the house until it was safe. It was a nice little encounter, but time went on, he went to Moncton (and then quickly to Lewiston) and I went back to my house.
Once he arrived in Lewiston, people began to realize that this kid is not bad. On the ice, his regular season play was average, but he carried his club during the playoffs and proved to people he is a real NHL prospect, but what caught people off guard was what he was doing off the ice. His coach, J.F. Houle, openly stated that he had become a real leader in the locker room, and he was nominated for the QMJHL Humanitarian Award for his great work in the community. So much for that heartless and selfish person that the media made him out to be. I have to say, I was proud of the kid..he promised he would prove people wrong and he did and thats what I told him the next time I saw him. That was at the Islanders Draft Party, where he decided to come, not because the Isles asked him to, but because he thought it was his obligation. He and his mother arrived and he signed autographs and took pictures for hours. I was able to stop and talk with him a bit and catch up from almost a year prior, and eventually I decided to invite him to hang out with me and my friends. He said he would love to, but I didn't actually think he would follow through with it.
A few weeks went by and I hadn't heard from him, but almost immediately following his controversial tweet about being bored on Long Island he took me up on the offer. During rookie camp, he and Andrey Pedan (whom I have also become friendly with) decided to hang out with me and some of my buddies a bit. For a life long Islanders fan, I think at that time I wasn't hanging out with them because of their personalities, as much as I was because of who they were, little did I know that would change. Here and there, we would hang out, but it was still that same reason driving me. Then in one night that stopped as I really learned who K was as a person. He called me up to play roller hockey, I had no clue what he was talking about, but I decided to go anyway. He arrived at my house with his parents in the backseat, and when I say they were excited its probably an understatement. Even though they couldn't speak a lick of English, Kirill translated. After a long 30 minutes trying to figure out where this roller hockey rink was, we finally were there. This was the first time I really was able to observe K in this situation with so many fans, and I was beyond impressed. He was friendly with everyone and took time to converse with whoever was interested. It was a lot of fun, and everyone, including him, played a hard fought game.
Even though playing pick-up hockey was great, it was what happened afterwords that made it so memorable for me. He skated towards the bench, and we discussed who we thought was the best player as Kirill promised that the person that plays the best will get to take home his stick that he used in the game. We both decided the girl who was playing goalie...Kirill handed her the stick and she was ecstatic. On our way back to the car, Kirill gave his dad a big hug and said "this was great". Once we got in and began to leave, he turned to me and said "did you see how happy that girl was?", I nodded my head, and he said back "Thats what made the night sick for me. I love seeing happy people". For me that was all you need to know about Kirill "the person". He has a great heart and in everything he does he means well.
In the weeks following that, he and I became very good friends, and I was able to learn a lot of things about his past regarding the incidents that caused his draft stock to plummet. I won't go into them in detail with anyone, but I will say this, 99% of the things that happened were not his fault. There were many people that held control over his fate and in my opinion did not want to see him succeed. Anyway through the last weeks of summer and early weeks of September, Kirill and I, along with many of my friends went on many fun adventures. Whether it be getting lost in Manhattan with us and my friend Sal and not having any American money on us...we did have Canadian money, but apparently asking people on the street if they will trade American money for Canadian money doesn't seem to work. That was only ONE part of that ONE fun adventure, and there were dozens more fun times that me, K, and my friends were able to enjoy during his time here.
As expected once training camp came close, Kirill could no longer hang out with us as frequently. Just like the columnists said he wouldn't do, he was doing. He knew that fun time was over, and now he must focus on THE most important thing for him; hockey. Despite the fact he could no longer go out really, on every Monday & Thursday after my internships at the Nassau Coliseum with the Islanders, I would head over to the Marriott, grab some food with K, and discuss what was going on with his potential destinations, etc. Believe it or not, those discussions and updates helped me learn a lot about the more in depth aspects of what goes on off the ice between agents, GM's, and players. As someone hoping to get into that field that information will be invaluable for me heading forward. As I was told about a week ago, Friday night was going to be his last night on Long Island before heading to Shawinigan. He stopped by my house to say goodbye to me and my family...for the third time this summer he thought it was necessary to give me one of his sticks, despite my protests, I will admit they're really cool. It was not an easy goodbye, as Kirill has developed into one of my better friends, but as I have learned from Andrey Pedan's sudden departure early in training camp, its part of the business.
Now sure, this story was very much about recapping a fun summer with a friend that I didn't actually expect to become a friend, but its also about showing who the real Kirill Kabanov is, during a time where it seems chirping him is the common thing to do. He is a young kid who works hard, and has a great heart...when these so called "hockey people" say things like "he doesn't have his head on straight", I always ask the question when did being somewhat indecisive become "not having your head on straight". For the important things in life, he has his priorities lined up perfectly. Not only is he a terrific person, and a sure-fire NHL'er, but he is one of my best friends.