It’s been this way for years for Andrei Loktionov and Evgeny Grachev. Passing the puck together on the ice. Passing the time together off the ice. Halfway around the world, battling for the right to play for the Memorial Cup, things have only changed slightly. They still turn heads with their unbelievable skills, but now, they do it at opposite ends of the ice. Each is a key element for their respective teams in the Ontario Hockey League final – Loktionov, at centre for the Windsor Spitfires and Grachev, on left winger for the Brampton Battalion.
In Wednesday’s series opener, Loktionov stole the show, dancing through the Brampton defence and around netminder Thomas McCollum to launch Windsor’s 10-1 rout, steering home Windsor’s first two goals. “He played an amazing game,” Grachev acknowledged. Used to be that Grachev would revel in such a performance by Loktionov. They were teammates in their native Russia on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s junior team. Fast friends who moved in even faster company when carrying the puck toward the opposition goal. “We played the last two years on the same line,” Loktionov said. “We talk to each other all of the time.”
With eight goals and 27 points, Loktionov is among Windsor’s playoff scoring leaders. Ditto for Grachev, who’s contributed 11-13-24 totals to Brampton’s cause. “He’s been huge for us this year,” Battalion captain Cody Hodgson said of Grachev, voted the OHL’s rookie of the year after his 40-40-80 totals shattered the mark for a first-year Brampton player previously established by ex-Spitfire Jason Spezza. About as huge as Loktionov’s been for Windsor. When fans flock to the WFCU Centre, many are attracted by the chance to see such future stars as defenceman Ryan Ellis, certain to be a first-round NHL draft pick this spring and left-winger Taylor Hall, likely to be the 2010 No. 1 overall choice. By the time they’ve exited the building, many depart talking about the magic the young man wearing No. 90 for Windsor can work with the puck. Some fans have taken this love affair to a point where it’s landed Loktionov a North American handle.
Around the Windsor dressing room, Loktionov is simply known as Jimmy by his Spitfire teammates. As in Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, a popular cartoon character. “The fans started that because he’s such a smart player on the ice,” said Spitfires right-winger Dale Mitchell, often Loktionov’s linemate and always his road roommate. “They put the comparison together with the cartoon.” With his deft moves, lightning speed and precision puckhandling, like the animated Jimmy, Windsor’s Jimmy often appears to be light years ahead of the rest. “He’s a great player,” Grachev said. “He can find you with the puck.”
At first, almost completely bereft of English, Loktionov’s ever-present smile was his main form of communication. “He’d have to point things out and try to explain things to you,” Mitchell recalled. “His English is really good now. He makes sense of a lot of things now. It’s a lot easier than it was at first. “He’s come a long way.” Among all of Loktionov’s achievements, this may be the one that wows his teammates the most. “If I could learn Russian in a year, I’d be pretty impressed by an accomplishment like that,” Mitchell said. Among all the friends they’ve made this season, Grachev and Loktionov still treasure their shared bond, but at this most important time of year, there’s no side bets about who will contribute most to the outcome.
“I want to win,” Loktionov said. “Not to be better.”
So far, his wish is coming true.