REGINA — Bandy’s loss is hockey’s gain.
Regina Pats forward Alexander Suzdalev recalls he was seven when his family moved from Russia to Sweden after his father signed with a bandy team there. The now 18-year-old tried the ball sport, which is played on a large ice surface and utilizes sticks and skates, but said he fell in love with hockey. However, Suzdalev said playing such sports as bandy, floorball and soccer when he was younger have helped him in hockey.
“I think it helps the thinking of the game,” he said. “How you think in soccer and hockey kind of helps with the give-and-go passes and everything.”
The Pats are certainly pleased he chose their sport and opted to come to the Western Hockey League. In his first WHL campaign, Suzdalev is second on the team in points and goals, as of Jan. 25. Through 42 games played, the 6-foot-3, 171-pounder had 24 goals, 33 assists and 57 points. Some of his goals have come in highlight reel fashion. Against Portland, he scored a between-his-legs goal.
Suzdalev was the WHL Rookie of the Month for December. In 10 games, he racked up 17 points, including six goals. There was only one contest where he did not register a point, while also recording six multi-point games. What has Suzdalev enjoyed about playing for the Pats?
“Everything so far,” Suzdalev said. “I fit in pretty good in the group and everyone is really nice. I love the city. The fans were really good the last couple games here and it was sure fun to play. Of course, when you have as good a player on your team as Connor Bedard [who is projected to be the first pick in the 2023 National Hockey League Draft], it sure makes it a lot more fun to play with him and go at it every practice.”
Before Bedard made his Pats’ debut at 15 during the 2020-2021 season, he was teammates with Suzdalev in Sweden. They both played for the HV71 J18 and J20 teams.
“You could see already how good a shot he had,” Suzdalev said of Bedard. “It’s awesome to see how much he’s improved. We want to get better every day in practice and in games.”
While Bedard’s draft moment is coming up, Suzdalev’s was last summer. He was chosen in the third round, 70th overall, by the Washington Capitals. That, it just so happens, was the team he grew up rooting for.
“I was a huge Caps fan,” Suzdalev said. “I was loving Ovi [Alexander Ovechkin] and I was from a place in Siberia where Alexander Semin was from so that was my favourite player when I was little. … Really happy to be drafted by them. It couldn’t be any better almost.”
He attended the Capitals’ rookie camp last year. Suzdalev got a taste of the size and speed of the NHL and American Hockey League (top minor league) games as well as got to see some of the Washington team’s stars.
“It didn’t feel real almost at the time,” he said. “In your first rookie camp, you learn a lot – taking from the good players.”
While the NHL is Suzdalev’s dream, he is pleased to have the opportunity to play for the Pats in the WHL. The team had chosen him in the second round of the league’s 2021 import draft.
Of playing in the WHL, Suzdalev said, “It has helped me a lot in the small details. I needed to adjust to North American hockey. The coaches help a lot. Just take it game by game.”