Coming to America

WILMINGTON, MA — This won’t be a story about September 11, not entirely. There’s no shortage of fantastic reflections around the web by writers superior to myself –– this piece by The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont and this one by WEEI’s Paul Flannery are good examples. There’s no need for me to jot down 800 words rehashing things they’ve said.

But considering today does mark the 10th anniversary, there are worse places to start. As Americans, we understandably think of September 11 as our day for remembrance. It’s our day to mourn the ones we knew, and the ones we didn’t. It’s our day to reflect on what’s important in our lives, and for many, a day to think of how lucky we are to enjoy America’s freedoms.

It’s also a day to reflect on how, in the end, we are all not so different from one another. And the pain and the fear that touched us here on that Tuesday morning were also felt around the world. Victims of the terror attacks came from 93 different nations. The fear of, “What if my city is next?” crept into the minds of many around the world.

It’s common for Americans to reflect on that day and say things like, “I remember exactly what I was doing when I found out.” In Moscow, September 11, 2001 came two days after Alexander Khokhlachev’s eighth birthday. He, too, remembers that day vividly.

“It doesn’t matter if it was American guys or Russian guys,” the Bruins 2011 second-round pick said. “It was a lot of people dying. I felt bad.”

This week, as Americans mourned and reflected in anticipation of the 10th anniversary, Khokhlachev was dealing with his own set of grief.

One of Khokhlachev’s former teammates, Gennadi Churilov, and a former CHL opponent, Sergei Ostapchuk, were aboard Yak-Service Flight 9634 that crashed in Russia last Wednesday while carrying the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.

“It’s just terrible news,” Khokhlachev said. “Everyone was just shocked, first thing, then you just feel really bad for those guys. It’s really bad times.”

The times, luckily, aren’t all bad for Khokhlachev. Like America in the wake of 9/11, life in the hockey world will go on, albeit with heavy hearts. For Khokhlachev, that moving on means continuing to chase his dreams of playing in the NHL.

Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning thinks Khokhlachev will get there. He also thinks it could take some time. The Russian is the youngest player at Bruins rookie camp this week, and physically, it’s clear that he is not yet in the same class as many of his older teammates.

But he is making strides. Khokhlachev disappointed the Bruins with his conditioning during July’s development camp. Management challenged him to hit the gym during the months between that camp and the start of rookie camp last week. Khokhlachev appears to have taken that challenge to heart.

“From the summer development camp to now, he’s put in a lot of hard work,” Benning said. “He lowered his body fat, and I think his skating has improved.”

The Moscow native’s road to a roster spot in Boston will be a long one, though. He’ll likely head back to Canada and spend another season with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. Last year, he turned in 76 points (34 goals, 42 assists) in 67 games with Windsor, and his playmaking abilities figure to make him one of the league’s best if he does return.

For now, though, Khokhlachev is doing everything he can to impress the franchise that made him the 40th overall selection in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft. So far, so good.

“He’s the type of guy that, in the game tomorrow [against the New York Islanders], you’ll see his skill set come through,” Benning said. “He’s so nifty with the puck, it’s like he has eyes in the back of his head when he plays. He’ll be a guy I’ll be watching for tomorrow.”

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