Edinburgh Capitals’ Kazakh sniper Sergei Banashkov has quickly become a fans’ favourite at Murrayfield – thanks in part to his stunning “Michigan goal” scored last month against Fife Flyers.
The lacrosse-style behind-the-goal move – first made famous by Michigan Wolverines’ Mike Legg in 1996 – where the player balances the puck on the blade of the stick before lifting it to just below shoulder-height and hurling it into the roof of the net, was pulled off by Banashkov in an otherwise forgettable defeat to Fife last month. The goal, though, has since received thousands of views online, and was described by Capitals captain Michael D’Orazio in his column for the match programme the following week as ‘the best live goal I’ve ever seen’.
Banashkov, who signed for Caps from the second tier of Russian ice hockey last summer, spoke to the Evening News with countryman and team-mate Pavel Vorobyev acting as interpretor. He said: “I’d never scored a goal like that before. I’d tried a few times last season playing in the VHL in Russia. In fact, the last time I tried, I hit the goalie’s helmet with my stick and gave away a penalty.”
Banashkov is much more than a one-trick-pony, scoring in each of his last five games, and looks a player full of confidence as Edinburgh prepare to face-off at Braehead Clan on Saturday evening.
Caps enjoyed wins home and away against Dundee Stars last week, and will look for a better performance than the 3-1 home loss to Braehead, when the sides last met three weeks ago.
Banashkov continued: “The two wins last weekend have given us a lot of confidence, and we’re all in a very positive frame of mind going into Saturday’s game. I think we are a better team than the last time we played Braehead. We have all been working hard in practice and have a better understanding on the ice. We’ll see how it goes – I’m sure Braehead have been practising too, maybe they’ve got better also.”
No doubt Edinburgh are a team improving, and they appear to be in the process of ironing out defensive problems that have cost them in the opening weeks of the season. Banashkov, who admitted to knowing nothing about the British game prior to his move, is impressed by what he has seen so far, and looks at home playing on a line with Vorobyev and long-time friend Igor Valeyev.
Banashkov said: “A player agent in Moscow was in contact with Edinburgh, and through him they made me an offer. Before I came, I knew nothing about Edinburgh or ice hockey in the UK.
“It’s a pretty good level here, probably a bit higher than the second level in Russia (where Banashkov played with Saryarka Karaganda last season).
“It’s a much tougher league, with a lot more hits thrown during the game – you get hit almost every shift – and that’s probably down to the number of North American players who play here.
“Playing in the VHL and Kazakhstan you have more time to think on the ice, and on the puck. It’s not like that here, but I’m enjoying it.”
Both Vorobyev, who played 57 games with NHL cracks Chicago Blackhawks, and Valeyev, who, as well as 200 professional games across the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League, played in North America as a junior, have extensive experience of the style of hockey traditionally favoured by British teams – all of which looks to be helping Banashkov settle into his new role with Edinburgh.
Banashkov continued: “We’re playing pretty well. I’m very comfortable playing with Pavel and Igor. We’re only going to get better as the season goes on.
“We have a good team in the locker room. If I need to chat to the British or Canadian guys or (team co-owner) Scott Neil, Pav and Igor help me with translating everything.
“I’m trying to learn as much English as I can. I’m always listening to the guys and picking things up.
“Edinburgh is a very enjoyable place to stay and play. I’m very comfortable here.”
Capitals complete their weekend on Sunday, entertaining early league pacesetters Manchester Storm at Murrayfield (face-off 6pm).