A year ago, Belarusian defenseman Vladimir Denisov signed a one-year AHL contract with the Lake Erie Monsters, the farm club of the Colorado Avalanche, with the hope of using the year to adjust to North American hockey and prove himself worthy of an NHL deal. A strong showing at the World Championships in May helped him build on a successful first season overseas, and the 24-year old Novopolotsk native figured an offer from Colorado would be forthcoming. As he told Belarusian website Pressball in mid-July “I’ll admit that I hoped that after the World Championships I would be in demand in Colorodo, who’s farm club I played for last season. But time went by, and the management of the Avalanche delayed in signing a contract. I think sum of the agreement put forth by me didn’t suit the Avalance.”
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, were quick to show interest, and made Denisov a serious offer not long after he met with Rangers general manager Glen Sather and head coach Tom Renney in New York in late June. Denisov recounted how his contract with the Rangers came about: “Events developed like this: after the World Championships, and a month after the birth of my daughter, I was in New York. And the management of the Rangers learned of my location and got in touch and invited me in for a talk. An offer came to join general manager Glen Sather and head coach Tom Renney for dinner. We met, talked, got to know one another a little better. And shortly after that my agent informed me that the Rangers agreed right away to sign a contract.” But Denisov didn’t accept the offer immediately, explaining “Just in case, I took some time: I expected the option of an extension of my agreement with Colorado. The Avs helped me last season when they agreed to take me on their farm club; they gave me the chance to play in America. I wanted show my gratitude for the opportunity to the Avalanche in the future. But nothing came together, although formerly in Denver they repeatedly assured me that I was wanted on the team.”
The Rangers weren’t the only team to show interest — Denisov’s agent also received calls from Toronto, Chicago and Pittsburgh. But Denisov was quick to point out that the Rangers were the only team that were really ever in the running. “The Rangers showed obvious interest, and therefore I hardly considered the other choices.” Asked if he knew what the Rangers plans were for him in the upcoming season Denisov explained “No, the first meeting was more of a fact-finding one. After dinner I took a walk around the training center together with the head coach; he acquainted me with the infrastructure and spoke about general topics.” He added that his visit took place at the same time as the Rangers prospect development camp, which was held the week of June 22nd.
Denisov understands that signing an NHL contract doesn’t guarantee him a role on the NHL team, and realizes that he could once again find himself in the AHL to start the season. “No one is safeguarded against that. But I try not to think that its possible that I’ll have to go to Hartford. I intend to fight my way into the main team of the Rangers.” He explained that the season he spent in North America last year will help him greatly towards his goal. “Last summer, leaving for overseas was like jumping into a whirlpool: I knew almost nothing about the specific character of [North American] hockey. Now it’s another matter.”
Denisov was questioned about whether he was tempted by offers from teams in Belarus, specifically Dinamo Minsk, which has joined the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for its inaugural season this year. “There were talks, but nothing more.” he admitted. “I told them right away that I would remain in America and do not plan to come back. Why hide it, I want to make my way to the NHL.” But the addition of a newborn daughter to his family complicates things, and it was pointed out that if he returned to Belarus, his parents could help with her care. Denisov explained: “In September I will go to New York alone. My wife and daughter Alexa will stay at home. Then, when I find a place to live, I will bring the family to America.” He admitted that having a baby does complicate life. “Of course, after the birth of the child what little free time I had has disappeared altogether, but this is a pleasant trouble. I am happy. My daughter is the most dear thing to me.” He continued by adding “Perhaps it will be possible to bring my parents to the States, even there they could help.” But he admitted that getting an American visa for them may not be so simple.
At the time of the interview, Denisov was unsure of when he would be asked to report to training camp, but planned on being in New York by early September regardless. “For the time being they haven’t mentioned a concrete date to me. But in the beginning of September I plan to already be in New York.” He added that he would begin preparing for the season in earnest in August, revealing “It is possible I will play in the Cup of Belarus. There have been offers from several teams. It would be nice, of course, to play for my home team Khimik-SKA [from Novopolotsk of the Belarusian Extraliga], but not everything is so simple.” Since the interview took place on July 17th, Denisov has arranged to work out with Keramin Minsk, along with brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens. The three are currently playing with the team as part of the Belarus Cup tournament, which runs through August 18th.
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