Before his first practice as a National Hockey League player, forward Stanislav Galiev took a moment to himself. He sat on the bench at the Washington Capitals’ facility and cleaned the visor on his helmet, one of the several extras from the 2015 Winter Classic, with his number – 49 – decaled on the back. He wondered which ice sheet the team would use Tuesday afternoon, because this was all new. He looked onto the ice.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Some seven months ago, Galiev had packed his bags and left Arlington, cut from training camp at the start of a contract season. He felt pressure to perform in the minor leagues, understanding that, if he didn’t, the Capitals might not hand him another chance. He had been a third-round pick who hadn’t yet panned out, one of many forgotten prospects still scrapping to make it. He sensed time was running out.
This would explain Galiev’s wide eyes and bright smile Tuesday morning, when he formally joined the Capitals as an emergency recall, summoned here as a reward for the progress made in Hershey. With forward Tom Wilson recovering from a head injury suffered Sunday, Coach Barry Trotz asked his counterpart in Hershey, Troy Mann, for recommendations. Mann chose the team’s leading goal-scorer, the 23-year-old who developed into one of his club’s biggest surprises with 15 power-play goals, tops in the AHL.
“He earned the right to come up and play,” Trotz said. “That’s what you want, guys to earn the right to come up. He was a young guy who probably floundered last year trying to find his way in the American Hockey League then found his way in the American Hockey League, got his game to the next level and now we’re going to take a peek at him probably tomorrow night.”
Monday was a beautiful day in Hershey, so before Galiev received notice of Washington’s decision, he and several teammates went to an airfield. Defenseman Mike Moore recently received his pilot’s license and wanted to fly some friends around. Then Galiev’s phone rang.
“Should we fly to Washington right away?” he asked Moore.
He called his mother, and she cried. He packed his bags and drove to Arlington, arriving around 9 p.m. When he left this city last, Galiev felt unsure what the future held. Reaching the NHL was always the goal, but it seemed unrealistic. Injuries and inconsistencies meant he had logged just 33 games above the East Coast Hockey League before 2014-15 began. But as his car pulled into the garage beneath the Residence Inn, across the street from the team facility, reality began to sink in.
“I was excited,” he said, sitting in a locker stall with his brown medical kit from Hershey nearby. “Dream come true and couldn’t believe.”
Even one month into Hershey’s season, getting called up was far from Galiev’s focus. He bounced in and out of the lineup, scratched on several occasions, before exploding on a four-game, five-goal tear bridging the months of November and December. He scored six goals before the calendar turned, four more in January and six more in February. Soon, the Capitals began wondering if they could squeeze Galiev into their lineup, to see what they had in the blossoming prospect. Finally, with Wilson’s injury, the window opened.
“It starts scoring a couple goals, Coach believe in me and that give you confidence in your hockey,” Galiev said. “You don’t feel pressure on your shoulders. You can start making plays. I got scratched early, but I tried to stay positive, finally wait for my chance and get it.”
Galiev has played only once at Verizon Center, during the AHL showcase against Syracuse last season, and expects far more emotions when he arrives before facing the Bruins. It seems all but certain that he will play, practicing Tuesday on the fourth line with Andre Burakovsky and Michael Latta, He looked forward to seeing fans and “their reaction” to his presence.
After his visor had been properly polished and his gloves tightened, Galiev stepped onto the ice. He grabbed a puck and shot it. Trotz approached and offered a few words. Together they stood in the neutral zone. While Galiev listened, Trotz pointed with his stick, explaining drills. Then he left, and practice began.
“It’s been three years since my entry-level contract,” Galiev said. “Finally I’m here.”