While Samsonov's dazzling skill was obvious from the first day of the Bruins' rookie camp—"He makes moves the rest of us dream about," says Donato—he scored just 11 points in his first 37 games. "He didn't want to shoot at first," says Boston's star defenseman Ray Bourque, who is playing in his 20th NHL season. "He wanted to bring it toward the net and make his moves. He had to adjust and shoot more."
He also had to learn a new language and settle his family in a new land. Last season much of Sergei's free time was spent helping his mother, father and brother adjust to the U.S. With Yuri now boarding at a nearby private school, Sergei is proud and a little envious of his brother. "He's having a great time," he says. Sergei's next order of business: Get Mom and Dad out of the house.
Without friends or jobs, Viktor and Tatiana spend most of their time waiting for Sergei's next game. When he was sick and unable to practice one day last season, he didn't have to get out of bed to call the Bruins' trainer—Viktor drove to the rink and delivered the message. Sergei is hesitant about getting a satellite dish that would pull in Russian-language stations because he worries that his parents would never leave the couch. "It's tough because they don't have work visas, and they don't really know the language," Sergei says.
For years, life in the Samsonovs' home revolved around Sergei's sport. You think hockey parents are nuts in North America? Viktor, an electrician, quit his job in Moscow so he could dedicate himself to his son's promising hockey career. He drove Sergei to the rink each day and drove a cab at night to pay the bills. "He pushed me, and he's a big reason I am here today," Sergei says of Viktor. "My parents did a lot for me. I just wish they would get out and enjoy things in this country."
When asked what he likes best about living and playing in the States, Sergei, a former Red Army team star, says, "The freedom. In Russia, we had to stay on the army bases." His least favorite thing? "I have no complaints," he says. "Why should I complain? I'm playing in the best league in the world."
Samsonov is already one of the best players in the world. After his slow start last season, he was placed on a line with Dmitri Khristich and Jason Allison, and he responded with 38 points in the Bruins' last 50 games. At week's end Samsonov had five goals and eight assists this season. Says Allison, who was ninth in the NHL in scoring in 1997-98, "Sammy can skate and handle the puck better than anyone." Anyone on the team? "Anyone in the league," says Allison.
Samsonov was voted the NHL's top rookie, and he led the Bruins back into the playoffs. After having had the worst record (26-47-9) in the league in 1996-97, Boston finished second in the Northeast Division last season with 91 points before falling to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. "I was working in TV in Canada a couple of years ago when I saw Samsonov in an IHL playoff game," says Bums. "He scored four goals and stood out. I knew he could adapt to the NHL because of his speed, but I didn't realize he had this kind of maturity."
Does he remind you of anyone?
"Ray," says Burns.
Shortly after Samsonov moved to Boston, Bourque asked him if he wanted a lift to the FleetCenter. Samsonov accepted, and he began riding with Bourque on game nights. He also began to watch every move Bourque made. "I see him working hard as hell in practice after 20 years in this league, and I know I have to do the same," says Samsonov.