Stanislav Galiev and Tomas Jurco after the QMJHL Finals this season (photo via Russian Machine Never Breaks)SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Sergei Barbashev may have recognized Tomas Jurco when he lined up opposite him prior to the opening faceoff of Russia and Slovakia's game at the world junior championship in Calgary. Even if he had, he was still taken by surprise when Jurco muttered in a quiet deadpan "Hey Barbash, what's up?" in spot-on Russian.
A self-described funny guy, the Detroit Red Wings prospect Jurco is able to inject his own special brand of humour into any situation. Playing his third season with Saint John and in his second Memorial Cup, he's taken on a friendship with fellow import Stanislav Galiev, the Moscow-born Washington prospect, also in his third year with the Sea Dogs. Jurco is comfortable enough around Galiev after being road roommates for the better part of three seasons that he even takes the time to joke with Galiev's friends in front of a packed arena on the world stage.
Both Jurco and Galiev are 19 and drafted prospects, the games at the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup the swan song for two excellent junior careers that saw two young Eastern European men imported to a small town in Canada, leaving as NHL prospects.
"It's pretty cool playing together. We speak the same language and it's helped us," said Galiev, older by a few months and drafted a year ahead. Before coming to Saint John, Galiev played a season with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, coming home after leaving his single-parent home in Moscow, supported by his mother. With friends and family back home, the first overall selection in the 2009 CHL import draft turned to a friendly face, the No.4 overall selection from Košice, Slovakia.
They won the Memorial Cup last season, key players on a strong, young roster that has mostly pieced its way back together to the 2012 event. Galiev sat out much of the QMJHL season with an injury, coming back for the postseason and leading his team in scoring, and Jurco had 30 goals in 48 games this year. Slovakia and Russia are distinct cultures, but the two aren't totally separate. Jurco speaks Galiev's native tongue well, helping the two come together early on when they were plunked down in southeast New Brunswick in the fall of 2009.
"We can help each other," said Jurco. "We can talk after the game and stuff. We're on the same line so we just talk about what we have to do better on the ice and it's pretty good when there's two Euros who speak almost the same language."
When speaking together, the pair tend to joke around a lot, offering deadpan, sarcastic responses. Separately, they'd discuss the importance of playing alongside a teammate they can trust, but together, they can take the time to mock each other without fear.
About their on-ice play together, Jurco could swear that: "I got to do all the dirty work and then he just shoots from everywhere".
Galiev, on the other hand, responded by saying "he's a YouTube sensation, so it's pretty hard to play with him. He'll just take the puck and try to beat everyone, so it's kind of boring to play without the puck."
"Then I find him and I pass it to the open net, and he's the superstar because he scored, but no one sees that I went all over the ice with the puck," said Jurco.
The expectation next season is for the two to make their way in the American Hockey League, Jurco with Detroit's affiliate in Grand Rapids and Galiev with Washington's in Hershey. "He doesn't want to tell anyone, but he's going to KHL next season," Jurco said for a few post-practice yuks.
Galiev himself responded simply by bringing up that Jurco himself had been drafted by Avtomobilist of Yekaterinburg, the Russian league's second-worst club last season. He also suggested that Jurco won't play for the Red Wings if he's in Detroit next season, "he'll play for the Tigers, maybe. Baseball."
"It's going to be probably Grand Rapids, the Red Wings like to keep their players in the AHL so it's probably going to be there," Jurco said. "But maybe if I won't be playing with Galiev any more I'll be scoring more goals."
It's not like Jurco has anything to complain about: he scored 87 goals in 172 regular season games during the dynastic run Saint John have been on since the two showed up at the start of the 2009 season. The team has been to the QMJHL finals three times and have won at least one Memorial Cup in two appearances, the second up in the air this week in Shawinigan, Que. As for Galiev, he's scored 65 in 141. Both players were drafted, 35th in 2011 and 86th in 2010, respectively.
Much of this time they've spent together as linemates, sometimes being centred on the power play by Florida's top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau, but they've spent much of their time playing with Minnesota's Zack Phillips. As road roommates, too, the pair played a lot of FIFA Street together on Playstation, with Jurco winning most of the games. Jurco is the more dedicated gamer, spending a lot of time up late at night playing games on his computer. "He's up swearing, I couldn't go to sleep," said Galiev. Luckily, he has an excuse for if he has a bad game. "This is why I have bad games."
They will catch up with one another on Skype next season periodically, even if they can't play together.