November 19, 2010
Most of the fun of catching the London Knights these days is anticipating a flash of brilliance from rookie Andreas Athanasiou, who is making it harder to believe he was a fourth-round selection in May with each passing game.
The rookie left wing has the name and the game. How many 16-year-olds taken after Round 1 have already inspired people to chuck their shame to wind and use a hip-hop hit from 1990 in a tribute video?
The excitement is justifiable, since Athanasiou already has six goals — he is the only 16-year-old with with two short-handed goals, since rookies typically don't get a lot of penalty-killing duties — on an occasionally offensively-challenged Knights team.
He's already being likened to another speedster who played in the Ontario Hockey League's Western Conference for one of London's rivals. You might have heard of him:
"There has been talk in the Knights camp the 16-year-old's skating stride is better than former Spits star and Edmonton Oilers first overall pick Taylor Hall at the same age.
"Team Ontario GM Rob Kitamura was impressed enough by Athanasiou’s six-goal start to invite the fourth-round draft pick to the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg after Christmas.
That's heady stuff for a guy who London scout Dave Warren thought right away had special first-round talent, but kept flying under the radar for the major midget Toronto Titans.
" 'The (OHL) draft is done, it’s in the past,' Athanasiou said. 'You don’t worry about it anymore. It's one day. It doesn't matter now where you were picked.' " (London Free Press
However, the main reason for dedicating a post to Athanasiou is if not for him and Ryan Pyette, many of us sheltered North Americans (guilty as charged) would never heard of Sepak takraw. Anthanasiou grew up playing the soccer-volleyball hybrid — kick volleyball, some call it — and believes playing the sport helped him develop rare agility and coordination:
"The easiest taking-off point is formalized hacky sack, and if that’s still too vague, picture volleyball without using your hands. The easiest skill transfer set would be the solo soccer kids who can keep the ball in the air for hours on end.
"Keep the ball up, pass it around, then get it back over the net.
" 'It's not an easy game to learn but so much fun,' Athanasiou said. 'When I wasn't playing hockey, I was playing Sepak takraw.'
"Now, for a Canadian kid of Greek descent, there’s little money-making future in the pastime unless you move to Bangkok and bang around the feathered “shuttlecock” ball in front of the enthusiastic crowds over there.
" ...It's athletic and requires not only a nimble, elastic body, but also a vertical jump to challenge Michael Jordan in his take-off-from-the-free-throw-line slamdunk days. (London Free Press, Nov. 12)
Yeah, you can see how playing a game which requires dexterity would help in hockey:
After all, Athanasiou has displayed an ability for the spinaround shot in a more icebound sport:
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.