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A RED-LETTER DAY
Crosbie Cotton
April 10, 1989
The Soviet Union's Sergei Priakin made his NHL debut with the Flames
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April 10, 1989

A Red-letter Day

The Soviet Union's Sergei Priakin made his NHL debut with the Flames

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Fifteen seconds after Sergei Priakin stepped onto the ice and made hockey history in Calgary last Friday night, Winnipeg Jet center Dale Hawerchuk had the newest Flame player exactly where he wanted him: deep in the Calgary zone, head down and ready for the slaughter. Welcome to the NHL, you job stealer. Hawerchuk launched himself at full bore and slammed Priakin to the Saddledome ice with a clean but oh-so-vicious bodycheck.

Twenty seconds later Priakin was at the other end of the ice, perfectly setting up rugged linemate Tim Hunter, who was alone 50 feet in front of the Winnipeg net. Although Hunter flubbed the pass, the point had been made: Priakin, the first Soviet allowed by his country to play in the NHL, can handle the pain.

"It was a case where I was in a good place to hit him, and that's our game," Hawerchuk said. "I know it is a touchy thing to say, but I don't think it's a good idea to have the Soviets play over here.

"He's taking a job from North Americans. If this leads to league expansion, then I'm for it. If not, I don't like it."

Priakin, 25, the former captain of the Soviet Wings of the U.S.S.R.'s Elite League, shrugged off the Hawerchuk remarks, much as he did that first hit. "I thought the game would be more physical than it was," he said. "I expected the game would be somewhat faster, but perhaps that can be explained because Winnipeg won't be in the playoffs."

Take that one, Hawerchuk. How about another?

"This is like a great holiday for me," said Priakin. "The rink is packed with people [a sellout crowd of 20,002 watched his debut]. It is great to play under conditions like that." Priakin is used to performing before fewer than 2,000 spectators in Moscow.

As for the accusation that he's putting North American hockey players on the breadlines, Priakin said, "I don't want to talk politics. I am here to play hockey. I think it is hockey that will benefit from having Soviets in the NHL."

For the record, Priakin played 14 minutes and four seconds on Friday; he had no goals, no assists and no penalties, and had one shot on goal in the Flames' 4-1 win. On Sunday against the Oilers, he had one penalty in a 4-2 Calgary victory. The Flames do not plan to use him extensively in the playoffs.

Priakin, who plays right wing, is no superstar back home in Moscow, where he plans to marry a Russian-language teacher named Larissa in June (she will be allowed to join him in Calgary next fall). In 43 international appearances with the Wings, dating back to the 1983 world championships, he has scored four goals and 11 assists.

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