Kostitsyn favourite on and off ice

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:44 PM ET

Sergei Kostitsyn doesn't feel as if he's mastered the English language yet but he has a pretty good read already on life in the OHL.

Despite moving halfway across the globe to pursue his puck dreams, the 18-year-old forward from Novopolotsk, Belarus, has been among the London Knights' biggest surprises -- and offensive contributors -- so far this season.

Though he's a little older than the average first-year player, the six-foot, 190-pounder still leads the league in rookie scoring and has logged a lot of time on the Knights' effective five-forward power play unit.

What Kostitsyn can't communicate in words, the joyful teen makes up for in other ways. He's has quickly become a team favourite.

"His facial expressions say everything for him," London trainer Don Brankley said. "He's very animated and you can tell exactly what he's thinking by looking at his face.

"I don't know if it's a new breed of post-Communist Russian players, but Sergei is definitely a character. He's always got a big smile. I've got a lot of Russian friends and in the past, they always acted so stoic, like they were afraid to express emotion. But Sergei isn't like that and doesn't get frustrated when he can't get you to understand what he's trying to say.

"You think of what it would be like if one of us were in his shoes and went over there to play hockey. It would be tough."

Belarus, of course, is its own independent state these days but has stayed tight with Russia -- at least more so than a lot of similar countries. Kostitsyn's hometown, which is a two-hour drive north of the country's capital Minsk, has a similar climate to London. He played last year for Gomel, which is five hours south of his hometown.

He likely won't see his parents this year but he has already been to Hamilton to visit his 20-year-old brother Andrei, who plays for the American Hockey League's Bulldogs and was Montreal's first pick (10th overall) in the 2003 draft. Sergei is also property of the Canadiens.

"Sergei has fit in real well really quickly," Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry said. "He's an interesting guy."

Kostitsyn has an English tutor. He acknowledges the culture is a lot different than at home. He's not totally sold on the food here yet but enjoys the hockey and his teammates.

"The rest of the guys love him," Brankley said. "It feels like he's been around for a long time. He's going to be a special player in this league in a couple of years. He's already special."

Kostitsyn's comfort level is growing to the point where he's trying to be funny in various languages. "He keeps saying, 'I'm French. I'm French,' " Brankley said.

He may not be French, but if he keeps progressing, he may hear a lot more of that language while playing in Montreal some day.


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