Canon-McMillan star is poised to make mark in Junior A hockey
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Alex Baskakov came to the United States three years ago to learn English, be exposed to a new culture, make friends, build relationships -- and to facilitate his burgeoning hockey career.
Each objective is being realized.
Baskakov, a recent Canon-McMillan High School graduate, will play Junior hockey next season. This 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman signed a tender to skate for the Springfield (Ill.) Blues of the North American Hockey League.
The NAHL is a 28-team league classified as Junior A Tier II league by USA Hockey.
"Simply, he's a stud," said Dave Kosick, coach of the Pittsburgh Viper Stars 18U AAA midget team, for which Baskakov has played over the past two seasons.
"Talking to scouts across the world of Junior hockey, he's certainly the premier midget-aged defenseman in the Northeast part of the U.S. He's the real deal, a legitimate player."
A native of Ufa, Russia, Baskakov helped lead the Viper Stars to a first-place finish in the 17-team North American Prospects Hockey League regular season with a 19-2-0-1 record.
He was the second-leading scorer among defensemen in league play with 27 points in 26 games. Overall during the 2011-12 season, Baskakov had 57 points (11 goals, 46 assists) in 64 games, helping the Viper Stars to an overall record of 52-19-5-1.
"He plays a little like Paul Coffey," Kosick said. "He's an offensive-minded defenseman coming from an Eastern European system who understands movement of the puck.
"The way he plays and handles the puck and moves players around, you don't see that very often. He's got an innate ability to decipher the game at a slow speed while playing at a much higher rate of speed."
Baskakov also had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 21 regular-season games for Canon-McMillan, which had the best record in PIHL Class AAA during the regular season (19-3). He has been a significant three-year contributor to the Big Macs, helping them win the PIHL Class AAA Penguins Cup as a sophomore.
"He's a big, skilled defenseman," Big Macs coach Yuri Krivokhija said. "There's no question about it, he's a No. 1 defenseman and has the potential to play at a higher level."
The desire to do so is part of what brought him to the United States. Baskakov is a workout warrior who keeps himself in stellar shape; Kosick marvels at his lack of body fat.
"I just look at this kid right now, and he's not a kid anymore," Krivokhija said. "His body is so strong."
Baskakov's ability began to show as he grew up in Russia. He and his family made the determination that relocating to the United States would be beneficial to the teenager for his development as a player and person.
Through some Internet research, the Baskakov family discovered Krivokhija, a former North American professional player who is now coaching and developing young players. Krivokhija also coaches the Viper Stars 16U travel team.
Baskakov was able to play for that Viper Stars team as a high school sophomore as well as for the Big Macs. He also was able to lean on Krivokhija and other Russians who have settled in the Canon-McMillan district.
"Yuri helped me a lot," Baskakov said. "That first year, I couldn't speak a lot of English, and he helped me establish stuff. And he taught me a lot about hockey, too, especially North American hockey."
Considering his native nation, the position he plays and his style of play, it should come as no surprise that Baskakov idolizes former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar. He also favors Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin and Penguins scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, whom he has met a few times.
Baskakov was to return to Russia this week to spend a month with his family. Signing a tender with the Springfield Blues means that team holds his NAHL rights for the coming season.
At the moment, it is Baskakov's plan to play for the Blues. But he also has received interest from clubs in the United States Hockey League and even the Canadian Hockey League, which is considered to represent the top Junior-age (under 20) hockey in the world.
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am