Suddenly, Brandon, Manitoba has become a recruiting hot spot for the Kontinental Hockey League.
Defenceman Brett Skinner signed a one-year deal with Amur Khabarovsk on Wednesday, making him the second product of the Wheat City to land in the Russian super league in the last two weeks.
Skinner's friend Brock Trotter left last week to join Dinamo Riga and after playing each other often in the American Hockey League last season, they'll renew their friendly rivalry on the other side of the globe.
"The thing is, I think I'm flying into Riga too, because my team is there right now," said Skinner, 27, who had three goals and 28 points for the Lake Erie Monsters last season while Trotter was a scoring star for the Hamilton Bulldogs. "Him and I are actually really good buddies so it will be kinda nice to travel halfway around the world to hang out with my buddy."
Interestingly enough, Skinner and Trotter are both alumni of the University of Denver, although they didn't play there at the same time. Once the season starts, however, they won't see each other too often.
Trotter's Latvia-based team is the second-most westerly club in the KHL, while Khabarovsk is just about as far east as you can get in Russia, just 30 kilometres from the Chinese border and about 3,000 km from the nearest league rival.
Skinner knows he's in for an adjustment, admitting he'll have to learn to pronounce the name of his new city, but he figures life at the rink should translate pretty well.
"Especially during the season, hockey's hockey," said Skinner, who expects to leave on Sunday. "When you're around the rink, I figure it'll be fine and actually, the goalie on the team is Yann Danis and I played with him when I was with the (New York) Islanders, so it's actually pretty rare I imagine to go over there and have (a teammate) that not only I played with but I got along with so that'll be nice. But it's an adventure and you go over there and just try to enjoy it and keep an open mind for sure."
Skinner is sure to get some travel tips from his father Tom, a former Brandon University hockey coach and athletic director who is the head coach of Romania's national hockey team.
"Having my dad with that experience over in Europe definitely helps in many ways," Skinner said. "Even just preparing to go over there, the little things to look out for and ways to make the transition easier."
For Skinner, playing hockey in Russia is a sudden left turn after being fixated on the National Hockey League since leaving DU and turning pro with the Manitoba Moose in 2005-06. The 2002 third-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks got into 11 NHL games as a member of the Islanders in2008-09
"I think your main goal is to make the NHL and I don't think that me going over there by any means says that that dream's over," he said, adding that the challenge of the KHL, which has lured a number of NHL-calibre Russian players back home, should help his game.
"That's one of the nice things about going over there is it will definitely be a different challenge for me. I think the style of play will be a nice change of pace. I think that the skill level over there will definitely be a little different than what I'm used to but also at the same time, hopefully it suits my game as well."
ONE-TIMERS: Former Brandon Wheat Kings RW Juraj Simek Signed a one-year deal with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday after being cut recently by Dinamo Riga.