View Full Version : Tolpeko ready to open it up with Pats

10-06-2005, 03:22 AM
Greg Harder
The Leader-Post

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Denis Tolpeko was talking on the phone Tuesday night when he suddenly broke into laughter.

The Moscow native had just caught a glimpse of his image on the supper-hour sportscast. He shared a chuckle with his new billet family as they cranked up the volume and gathered around the TV.

It all added up to a surreal day for Tolpeko, who received almost as much media attention in his first few hours with the Regina Pats as he did in two seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Welcome to Canada.

"It's a big difference," said the shy 20-year-old. "I see (hockey) all over. In the newspaper. Today I give (a TV) interview. (The Leader-Post) call me. That's a surprise too. I was interviewed a couple times (in Seattle) but it's different here. I like it when everyone likes hockey. It's Canada."

You might say Regina offers a few comforts of home for Tolpeko, who was raised in a hockey-loving household. His brother Vitalik is a goaltender back in Russia, his dad Andrey coaches minor hockey in Moscow and his mother Evjeniy is a huge fan of the game.

"My dad likes so much Canadian hockey," Tolpeko said with a laugh. "He said one time, 'If I be born in Canada, I'd play same line with Gretzky.' He likes Team Canada. Every player is so good, good style. Every guy not thinks he's a superstar."

Tolpeko noted there are "lots of Canadian fans in Moscow," where players such as Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux are household names.

However, "Russian players are good too," noted Tolpeko, who's a fan of the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure.

"I like Bure's style," he said. "I like how he scores goals. But he never plays defence. That I don't like. I play defence."

Tolpeko received a crash course on the North American game during his time in the WHL's U.S. Division, which is known for its big, physical, defensive-minded teams.

The Russian is already looking forward to getting on the ice with the Pats, a swift-skating team that plays more of a pressure game.

"That's good," said Tolpeko, who had 13 goals, 18 assists and 31 points last season despite playing just 54 games due to a shoulder injury. "I like that kind of hockey. I like fast, 2-on-1, breakaways. The U.S. Division plays more tough, not offensive. Lots of D. That's why maybe I scored not that many."

The Pats believe Tolpeko can be an impact player in the East Division. He's expected to skate on one of the team's top two lines and see action on the power play, where head coach Curtis Hunt should be able to utilize the Russian's big shot.

Tolpeko took part in his first practice on Tuesday and is expected to make his debut in Friday's game against the visiting Kelowna Rockets.

"Good practice," Tolpeko said after his first workout, adding that it will take him some time to get acclimatized. "Guys helped me. Maybe a couple days (to adjust) because it's a big change. When I was in practice it was three o'clock at night in Moscow.

"Two more practice and I'll do all right I think."

Tolpeko, acquired for an eighth-round bantam pick, was available at a bargain price because Seattle didn't have room for a player who occupies a spot under two different player quotas.

The Pats were a perfect fit because they had an opening for a 20-year-old as well as an import. Those spots were available because Slovenian star Anze Kopitar decided to play in the Swedish Elite League and overage goalie Michael Wall signed with the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

The Pats dropped both players and added Tolpeko, who joins a roster that also includes Czech sensation Petr Kalus.

The addition of Tolpeko gives Regina three 20-year-old forwards, along with Jordan McGillivray and Matt Robinson.