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Siberian star Vladimir Tarasenko was named NHL Rookie of the Month after scoring five goals

By Kate Baklitskaya
11 March 2013

His career with the St Louis Blues was earlier delayed because of the NHL lockout but the impact of the 21 year old has been dramatic.

'We are a family of captains'. Vladimir Tarasenko pictured with mother Yulia, father Andrei and younger brother Valentin. Picture: Tarasenko's family 

His first two shots on his debut on 19 January 2013 brought him his first and second goals, before his progress was then halted temporarily by a head injury leaving him with concussion and 'a pretty severe facial laceration'.

If there is one man who is not surprised about his early success in America, it is his namesake on the other side of the world, Vladimir Tarasenko, his 67 year old grandfather and the patriarch of a hockey dynasty, who nurtured 'Vladi' - as coach Ken Hitchcock calls him - since childhood. 

'We are a family of captains. I was captain of our amateur Novosibirsk hockey team. My son Andrei was captain of the Torpedo hockey team in Yaroslavl and my grandson was the captain of HC Sibir team', he said.

'He played 10 matches as a captain, though he was just 20 years old. If we do something we have to do it the best way we can otherwise it doesn't count.

'Of course there was no question what sport my son would play. 

'It was not soccer for many reasons. First of all I was playing hockey and the other thing is that the summer is too short here, no good football pitches. And with time Novosibirsk started getting more qualified hockey coaches, good local players. The number of teams was growing. I brought Andrei into sports when he was nine years old.

'I think it's something about our Siberian soul, the need for some speedy activity, some fast changes, the activity where you can use your flexibility, agility. Hockey gives it all and if you succeed in what you are doing you get a great pleasure which is the best reward'.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'I think it's something about our Siberian soul, the need for some speedy activity, some fast changes, the activity where you can use your flexibility, agility. Hockey gives it all and if you succeed in what you are doing you get a great pleasure which is the best reward'. Vladimir Tarasenko, on his own, with father Andrei and brother Valentin and with the whole family. Pictures: Tarasenko's family archive 

Andrei, now 44, would go on to coach the new NHL star at Sibir, but that was much later. The sporting milieu into which young Vladimir ('Volodya' to his devoted grandfather) was raised meant that perhaps becoming anything other than a sporting star was unlikely. 

'I personally graduated from the Omsk Institute of Physical Culture and was the director of the children sport school for 16 years.

'As for my wife Valentina, sports has always been the part of life as well - she used to be into light athletics, running short distances very well and marathons too. So for us sport was a part of life and we tried to bring up our son in the same way and later our grandson Volodya.

'Volodya was three years old when he came to live permanently with us'.

'Andrei was often travelling for his hockey career, and Vladimir's mother Yulia, now 44, was by his side. So we brought up Volodya ever since then.

'It was easier that Volodya lived with us. Of course Yulia visited us and Volodya, but she had to be with her husband, to support Andrei and later she gave birth to Valentin, who is eight years younger.

'We had enough time to look after him take him to training. It's a big responsibility when your husband is a professional hockey player.

'It was very important for Andrei to feel Yulia's support'.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir and brother Valentin. Pictures: Tarasenko's family archive

Such arrangements - children being raised by grandparents more than their parents - are not necessarily uncommon in Russia, but in his case there was little chance Vladimir could avoid ice hockey.

'We tried to bring him up in the best way we could, emphasising on family studies and sports', said Vladimir senior. 

'My wife Valentina (now 66) even had to quit her job and I personally would never miss any of his practices or games.

'I knew that he had a good coach but there were 30 boys at the practice so the coach couldn't pay attention to everyone. But I was watching Volodya play, and putting down some mistakes in my notebook and after that we would discuss them.

'Volodya didn't go to kindergarten, he got his first stage of education at home with us'.

Initially when he moved to live with his grandparents from further west in Russia, 'he was sick all the time, lots of colds. Maybe it was because of the climate change. But it turned to better eventually as we had a lot of time to spend together and we practiced cold hardening with him. 

'When Volodya had a fever my wife would still dress him warmly and take him for a walk outside in winter. This was how we hardened him.

'For example, his father Andrei could run around in the knee-high snow, and we would always practice his hockey skills at the outdoor skating rinks when the temperature was over -20C.

'We did the same thing, and eventually Volodya grew up into a strong and healthy boy. He was a smart kid as well. My wife used to pay a lot of attention to his school life and even though he had a lot of sport training, he always had good marks at school. 

'Our task was not to make him get A+ only but to make him understand the subject he was studying, to get the core of it. So even though he was the youngest in his class, he jumped from the 2nd to the 5th grade and though it took him half a year, he became the best student in his class.

'The truth is that he had a perfect discipline and could concentrate very well. These are the qualities he got from sport and they helped him in studies a lot.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'He has a perfect discipline and can concentrate very well; these are the qualities he got from sport and they helped him in studies a lot'. Pictures: Tarasenko's family archive 

'We would always read books with him before going to bed and it were not just some fairy tales but  stories with a lesson to learn. But no matter how interesting they were, he would always go to bed at 9.30 pm and wake up at 7 am ready to go for his sport training.

'As my son Andrei was playing hockey at national level it was not a question for us which sport Volodya would play.

'I was the one who took him to the skating rink when he was five years old for the first time. We went there once and I was holding Volodya's hand, and the second time I was holding his hand, but the third time he just skated by himself.'

Proudly, he says: 'We live a two room apartment here in Novosibirsk and now it's also kind of a museum for my son and my grandson. 

'But when Volodya was little there were his father's medals and cups. So he grew up looking at all this. His dad set a high standard for him and Volodya didn't want to let us down.

'No matter how hard it was for him he never wanted to give up. For me as a coach, he was a real find. He would do everything I would say, everything necessary for success. Sure there were some disagreements, but in such cases we always talked.

'I never forced Volodya into anything but tried to persuade him.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'When Volodya was little there were his father's medals and cups. He grew up looking at all this. His dad set a high standard for him and Volodya didn't want to let us down'. Vladimir Tarasenko Senior with grandsons Vladimir and Valentin. Picture: Tarasenko's family archive

'As for Moscow some agent found us three years back, and was talking me into letting Volodya go to Yaroslavl, to play there.

'He was saying that everyone knows Volodya's dad there because of his career, and we should let him go as later no-one would be interested in him. I answered that even if this was so, that was our problem.

'I do think that being closer to Moscow might have helped to be spotted earlier, but at the same time I know how much it means for a sportsman who's just starting his career to feel this love and care and support around him.

'As a family we always supported him, trusted in him, and he could feel it. And when you feel this, it's like you suddenly get the wings - you can turn the mountains upside down.

'He had a good coach here in Andrei Khomutov, who saw Volodya's potential and started working with him. In 2010 Volodya became the captain of the team. Also great thanks to his agent Aleksey Dementiev. I think it's true that this region is underestimated a bit, but it all depends on the coaches and the agents. The good ones can spot a good player and make him even better.'

Vladimir did eventually make the move away from Siberia - to SKA St Petersburg. 

'Going to St Peterburg was a big change for Volodya, but it gave him a great chance to improve his skills. Though he was not given much time during the game to show his best, but the team itself was very strong and he improved a lot.

'But the first season was hard for Volodya mostly because of the mixed feelings. He left the club in Novosibirsk as a captain and it felt like loosing positions for him. And then later when he had to play against his former team here in Novosibirsk it was hard for him as well.

'I'm glad that he won back the hearts of his fans. They loved his style and at the game here, even though Volodya was playing for the St Petersburg team he tried to show his personal style, what his fans loved him for.

'When Volodya was leaving, 3,000 fans came to say good-bye to him.

'It were not only young people but elderly people as well. He was so touched, as we all were'.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'When Volodya was leaving, 3,000 fans came to say good-bye to him'. Picture: Tarasenko's family archive

He wasn't surprised a big NHL team came after his grandson. 

'At the age of 18 he already was a team captain. And he represented Russia at the 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, finishing third in the team scoring with five points in six games. And that's why Volodya was drafted 16th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis. 

'They wouldn't take just anyone. You can see that they were watching him closely. So he was just waiting for his contract with SKA ST Petersburg.

'Sadly none of us came to see his NHL debut on 19 January. Health problems didn't allow me and my wife to fly there, and his father was tied up with preparation for his own games. But we all watched the game online.  That was a great game and Volodya showed his best, scoring two goals. I hope the team gets into the play-offs.'

'I think I would repeat the words of Volodya's father: 'We were not surprised with two goals Volodya scored. If not two, he would have scored at least one, for sure. Volodya has this amazing ability to concentrate on the most difficult things, like the first game.

'I always talk to him. Before the games started, we used to talk more on Skype but now more on the phone. We talk about everything - his life, his mood, his partners, how was the game. After each game, he calls me or his dad. If he doesn't call on the night of the game, he calls the next morning. 

'For us it's not just the routine - we spend some time discussing the game, he sometimes says 'Yes, grandpa, I remember you telling me this before'. 

'We want him to feel our support and help even though he's far away. Because the game and his performance on the ice is the single most important thing for us. So we do everything to help him adapt there in America.

'I think he is coping well. As he told me: 'In general everything is great'.

'He knows English quite well. And his teammates are very supportive, slowing down while talking to him. It's very important to have this mutual understanding when you play in the same team. But his English is good for conversation, he spoke it at the press conference there. And when he was still here he was very interested in foreigners, not just because he felt like he needed to improve his language, but also he was curious about the lifestyle abroad.

'Of course it's different. Here he was a star but there he's just one of many and has to prove himself first. And of course it's a good schooling for him, to play on such a high level is an honour. Sometimes he's down, not everything is perfect, they have a lot of games and a lot of flights in between. 

'Just imagine 16 games in 33 days. You need at least to find time to recover.

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'I always talk to him. Before the games started, we used to talk more on Skype but now more on the phone. We talk about everything - his life, his mood, his partners, how was the game. After each game, he calls me or his dad'. Vladimir Tarasenko pictured with mother Yulia, father Andrei and younger brother Valentin. Pictures: Tarasenko's family archive

'I think the recession in St Louis is connected with this. It's always ups and downs. It's temporary. OK, San Jose won over St Louis but that was the first victory after 7 loses in a row!'Vladimir senior is happy that his grandson is in good hands with coach Ken Hitchcock. 

'He is a smart and very experienced coach. He made some changes in the players' positions during the game. And it's good for Volodya. He is used to playing in front and attacking more, but it's good for him to try different combinations. I wouldn't put myself on the same level as Ken but if I were the coach, I would have used the same tactics. I totally agree with his decision, he knows what he's doing.

'I've heard some of the good feedback that Volodya got after the games and, of course, I was very glad to hear that. 

'I was his coach and his grandfather and sometimes his father. But I know that Andrei gave Volodya way more then I did. Volodya is a professional player and he was able to give the advice and see the things I couldn't.

'I think for Volodya, it's just the start of his career, he first has to understand how the things are done in NHL, to get used to the new environment.

'And I know that there everything is done for them to play well and not to think about anything. They have good living conditions. They live in a kind of a hotel but with apartments in St Louis. Volodya has a two room apartment there. When he just left at the end of August before the games started he showed us his new home on Skype. It's nice and comfortable and that's the most important thing.'

From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko


From Siberia with goals - Vladimir Tarasenko

'As a family we always supported him, trusted in him, and he could feel it. And when you feel this, it's like you suddenly get the wings - you can turn the mountains upside down'. Vladimir Tarasenko pictured with mother Yulia, father Andrei and younger brother Valentin. Pictures: Tarasenko's family archive

It's all a far cry from Vladimir senior's beginnings in sport in Novosibirsk. With better back-up, he too might have become a big star. Whatever the case, his grandson's success shows how the love of hockey has been passed down though this strong family. 

'I was born here in Novosibirsk in 1945, the year of the great victory in the Second World War, so we were raised with this attitude that we have to do our best not to let down our parents who won this victory for us,' he said.

'The victory spirit was in the air. Everyone was working so hard that you couldn't do anything but your best.

'The 1950s were the years of building our city. If you come to Novosibirsk now and see all the beauty of it, and compare it to the way it was back then, you'll see how much effort was put into creating it. 

'That's why at that time it wasn't even the question of professional sport here. First of all there were not enough sport centres.  Secondly, parents were all at work and no-one would take me to some sport school that was at the other side of the city. 

'There were no professional hockey skates. So all sport was in the yards. The kids would get together to play football in summer and hockey in winter. 

'And as winter is almost 9 months long here, hockey somehow became more popular. I got into the hockey sport section when I was 15 or 16 but then at the age of 18 left for my military service, where we also played hockey.

'But even though it started as a hobby I always felt like I want to do my best in it'.

This drive has helped to make Vladimir junior the player he is, and his grandfather here in Siberia is convinced things can only get better for him.

Comments (3)

Thank you for the insightful article, as it helps us fans know such a talented and smart player. To be able to play so well in such a hard competitive sport, travel to such a foreign land to live away from all that he knows, that all shows a great dedication, intelligence, stamina, and willpower. Thank you to his family & friends, I am so glad he is a St. Louis Blue!
Tayloe, Indiana, USA
30/01/2014 08:50
3
0
very beautiful family - and so level headed. Like them
Tim, Norway
11/03/2013 21:05
6
0
What a wonderful and beautiful story. Such dedication by Vladimir's grandparents. This is what our people are and I am proud I also had dedicated parents and grandparents, even though my paternal family were in Chernihiv. Reminds me so much of my paternal grandparents. My parents were very much dedicated in the same way. We had no tv or material distractions.

Congratulations to the Tarasenko family, I feel as though I know you all!
Valentyna, Perth, Scotland
11/03/2013 12:27
6
1
1

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