Photo Credit: James Guillory – USA TODAY Sports
As the story goes in the Vancouver Canucks locker room, Nikita Tryamkin has a few stories to tell. Some need a few blanks filled in and others require some sign language to bridge the gaps, but make no mistake the big Russian defenseman is telling tales.
Fans and media won’t hear them – at least not right now – as Tryamkin’s limited English prevents him from doing interviews for public consumption. But it appears Tryamkin’s personality is emerging a little more every day and teammates say they’re doing all they can to make the 22-year-old feel as much a part of the group as possible.
“He’s come a long way from last year,” says Luca Sbisa, who spent much of November as Tryamkin’s defensive partner. “You can have a full conversation with him. Obviously, he doesn’t know all the words. But with sign language and all that – and all of us Europeans we’ve been there before – it’s not that hard. He’s a happy guy on the bench. He always cheers for the other guys. He knows all of the basics, so when you play with him, it’s not that hard.”
Injuries have pried Sbisa and Tryamkin apart on the ice these days, although they sit just a few stalls apart on the same wall of the Canucks locker room, so they still have regular interaction. And it’s evident they’ve forged a bond.
So, when Sbisa scored his first goal of the season earlier this month against Tampa Bay, Ben Hutton says it was Tryamkin who was leading the cheering section on the Canucks bench.
“What I really like about him this year is how much he’s cheering for his teammates.,” Hutton says. “It’s so funny because he’s not perfect at English, but on the bench, he’s saying stuff that’s improper English but he’s so happy like when Sbisa scored he was like: ‘SBISA. GOAL’. It’s funny and it brings a little energy to the bench.”
While Hutton and other Canucks have tried to ease Tryamkin’s transition to a new team, league and country, they’re finding out that learning can be a two-way street. Hutton says he’s picked up a few Russian words along the way and has even had a chance to try them in public – always at Tryamkin’s urging.
“We actually joke around a lot even with the different languages,” Hutton says. “We have some fun with him. He tells me to say some Russian stuff to people, and they have no idea what we’re saying. But we laugh about it. So it’s good. I think it was tough for him last year because he knew literally no English at all. That would be like us going over to Russia and not knowing a word. It’s tough. I feel like he’s learned a little more English now and he gets in on the jokes with the guys. And he’s teaching us a little Russian, too. I know how to say thank you – spasibo.’
Chris Tanev’s a big part of that defensive core that is trying to help Tryamkin find his comfort zone on and off the ice. He leaves the technical aspects of the game to the coaching staff, but Tanev knows Tryamkin’s bound to be a better player if he feels comfortable in his surroundings. So, as a veteran and a leader in the room, he’s taken it upon himself to ensure Tryamkin feels included in team functions and outings – particularly on the road.
“We have to stay on top of making sure somebody is always looking out for him and taking him to dinner or to a movie and making him feel like he’s part of the team,” Tanev says. “He’s gotten a lot better with communicating, so he’s starting to reach out to guys where before he was pretty shy and always sat back a little bit. Me and him talk all the time. He’s a pretty cool guy. He throws in the odd joke here and there. He’s got a little sarcastic side to him. So he’s pretty funny.”
Even Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins has picked up on the difference 38 games over two seasons has made in Tryamkin’s demeanour. Understandably, he was nervous and confused when he the Canucks airlifted him in at the end of his Kontinental Hockey League season. But with a summer to work on his language skills and an increased understanding of the way to play the game in North America and what his team expects of him, Tryamkin has looked more at home in his second National Hockey League season.
Desjardins says getting through to Tryamkin isn’t the challenge it was even six months ago.
“I think he understands a lot of English — probably 75 percent of it, now, anyways,” the coach explains. “Maybe he doesn’t come back at you, but he understands what you’re saying. I think he’s really found a spot on the team. When he came in last year, he was a little bit withdrawn. It wasn’t a perfect fit. He was on his own a little bit because he couldn’t speak the language and that was a problem. This year, the guys appreciate him. They like him. He’s got a good sense of humour. He cheers for his teammates, and he wants them to do well. He’s in their corner and he’s battling for them. He’s trying to get better. One thing players like is when guys try to get better. If you look at the commitment he’s made to his conditioning to get in a spot where he can help the team, the guys appreciate that.”
It’s clear to anyone who spends any time around the Vancouver Canucks that Tryamkin seems like he’s in a much better place now than he was when he joined the hockey club. And as his English continues to improve, it only stands to reason that his comfort level will rise, too.
One challenge remains though for Tryamkin’s teammates. Despite many invitations to join them, they’re still trying to find a movie he wants to see.
“I invite him to movies on the road, but he passes on that a lot because of the language,” says Hutton with a laugh. “But he comes to dinner all the time, and he always orders the biggest meal.”
That should hardly come as a surprise. Nor should the fact Tryamkin is finding a home with the Vancouver Canucks. For now, we must take his teammates’ word for it. Hopefully one day soon we’ll hear from the man himself.