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A Year In, a Year Out

Discharge papers in hand, the Ducks' top pick in 2001 draft is finally free to sign

July 14, 2002|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanislav Chistov caught sight of the Statue of Liberty during his first days in New York. He was making the standard tourist rounds last month after a year of turmoil that began when the Mighty Ducks made him the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft.

His Russian team reacted by announcing he was in the army, which would prevent Chistov from signing an NHL contract. The army reacted by taking him from a Moscow hotel room, stealing him so he could play for its team. The Ducks reacted with concern, not knowing if the multi-talented forward would ever play for them.

Chistov didn't react. He waited.

Now, after living through that tug of cold war, he was looking at that give-me-your-tired symbol. It might have been a moment to ponder--free at last. Except he merely glimpsed at the figure from the shore, then it was off to the wax museum to see Charlie Chaplin.

"I only saw the Statue of Liberty from afar," Chistov said through a translator in a telephone interview. "I am very aware of what it means to people in this country, especially with what happened in September."

But ...

"I like the Hollywood stars at the museum the best, especially Charlie Chaplin," Chistov said. "His movies are great, because you don't have to speak English to enjoy them. I can understand them pretty well."

Maybe it was more fitting. Chistov understands the comedy he has been through as well.

He meandered like the little tramp through the pratfalls of Russian hockey politics and the pitfalls of those shenanigans. Now, with discharge papers in hand, he hopes to embark on his American dream. The Ducks have until Monday to sign him under the NHL agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation. They can extend the negotiation period to Aug. 15 by paying a fee to the IIHF.

"It has been a very difficult year," Chistov said. "I always knew I did nothing wrong. I did everything by the book. But there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of mental stress, the past year. I just wanted to play.

"The whole army thing, the only thing I want to say is it's behind me. The only thing I am confident about is I have completed my service to my country. I am free and clear to play in America at last."

*

It is how Chistov plays the game that made him a pawn on skates.

He was a child prodigy who scored a goal in his first game as a 7-year-old. He helped Avangard Omsk reach the league championship series in 2000-01 for the first time in the team's 50-year history.

In the 2001 NHL draft, four Omsk players were taken in the first 41 picks, including Alexander Svitov by Tampa Bay at No. 3 and Chistov at No. 5.

Chistov flew to Anaheim to have an injured knee examined and rehabilitate. Svitov flew to Tampa Bay and signed a three-year contract. And Anatoly Bardin, president of Omsk, flew into a rage.

He sent word that both players should return to Russia or they would be considered AWOL from the army. It was the first time that Anaheim and Tampa Bay officials were told the two were in the army and they were a little suspicious. Compulsory military service is the only thing that prevents a player from signing with an NHL team under the agreement with the IIHF.

Bardin bragged to Russian reporters: "Bardin 1, NHL 0."

This, NHL officials said, was about rubles. Club teams from other countries receive a $100,000 fee when a player signs with an NHL team. The speculation was that Bardin wanted more.

Bardin claimed he was battling for the future of Russian hockey.

All Chistov knew was he was being called a deserter by Omsk officials

"I was disappointed I had to leave," Chistov said. "My only reason to come Anaheim was rehab the knee, to get it 100% healthy. The medical help in the U.S. could get me healthier a lot faster. I was going back to Omsk and play at least one more year."

Chistov, who declined to say whether he was really in the army when he was drafted, was sent to boot camp for 11 days on his return.

"The future seemed uncertain," he said.

*

Things went from uncertain to bleak with a knock on his hotel room door in early November.

Chistov had rejoined Omsk for three games and the team was in Moscow. Members of the Moscow militia showed up at his hotel and took away him, Svitov and defenseman Kiril Kostov, who also had been inducted into the army.

The three were taken to a nearby base.

"Someone came to my door and told me there were army officers downstairs and they wanted me to go with them," Chistov said. "It wasn't a request.

"I wasn't really sure what was going on. I had a feeling. From the day I got back with Omsk, things were never the same. I was treated very differently. I knew things weren't going to be the same until I left."

Bardin complained that "we are witnessing the old Soviet hockey system."

It was nothing so sinister. The army decided that if the players were indeed in the army, they would play for the army's team in the Russian Super League.

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