Knights' odd couple

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

One of these days, London Knight Kris Belan is going to break down and take Sergei Kostitsyn for a Chinese-style buffet meal at the Mandarin.

"He keeps asking and asking if we can eat there, but we just haven't got around to it," Belan said. "He must really like it . . . because he really wants to go."

There are few odd couples in Knights history to match these two rookies, whose bond has developed because Belan drives Kostitsyn to the rink every day in his ancient 1991 Oldsmobile Regency.

Kostitsyn hates the wheels -- it's reputed he drives a classy Audi back home in Belarus -- but he clearly likes Belan, whose classically Canadian outlook and upbringing is the perfect foil for the foreigner still trying to find his feet in his new, still-strange land.

Through Belan, Kostitsyn has learned some stuff about Canadian life. Belan has learned a few things about his Belarussian buddy, too.

"I've been ordering his subs for a while now, so I pretty much know exactly what he wants on them," Belan said.

On the ice, the duo couldn't be more different.

The flashy 18-year-old Kostitsyn is the dictionary definition of finesse, a smooth-skating point producer and power-play performer who, like his older brother Andrei, is a draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens.

The 19-year-old Belan, on the other hand, is a gritty bang-and-crasher who grew up on a farm in tiny Florence, has never been on an airplane and cracked the Knights roster as a free agent after playing for the junior B Petrolia Jets last season.

Despite their different roles on the first-place Knights, they do talk some hockey at the billets and in the car, but it's never about tactics or game strategies.

"He wants to know if the team we're playing that night is any good," Belan said. "I've been following the OHL for a while, so I can answer that. He also asked me how far the bus trip was to Sault Ste. Marie. I told him it was . . . like 10 hours and he gave me one of those looks like, 'What the heck are you talking about? That's crazy.' "

It's the same kind of look Belan would give Kostitsyn when he'd ask if he had a Bon Jovi CD they could play during the ride to the rink.

"Nope, no Bon Jovi in this car," Belan would always say.

Kostitsyn's English is rapidly improving and Knights trainer Don Brankley said the impish Belarussian recently read him a perfectly-pronounced paragraph from a story.

Though he's getting more comfortable every day, Belan notices Kostitsyn still pines for his own culture and familiar customs.

"He found a Russian channel on the Rogers digital cable package so he was excited about that and had to show me it," Belan said.

"He spends a lot of time on the computer on websites in his own language. Every once in a while he'll call me over and show me this hockey website that carries stats from his leagues at home. He'll show me the stats of this guy who's his friend back home and tell me how he's doing in that league."

Naturally outgoing and often frustrated by the language barrier, Kostitsyn never misses an opportunity to engage in conversation.

"A while back, we're in the hallway at the John Labatt Centre with Disney On Ice in town and the gymnasts were out there stretching and getting ready," Belan said.

"Sergei sees a guy wearing a shirt with Russia on it and kind of looks at him funny. I keep walking because it's lunch time and I'm getting pretty hungry, but then I look back and he's standing there chatting away with the guy in Russian.

"He stood there for 20 minutes talking to this guy he just met."

Belan said Kostitsyn talks to his brother, who has been up and down between the Habs and their farm club in Hamilton, on a weekly basis. From what Belan has heard, the Kostitsyns have a comfortable life back in Novospolotsk.

"Sergei wears Gucci and all these name brands all the time, so they must be doing all right," Belan said.

The Belans invited Sergei to their home in Florence, northeast of Dresden, for Christmas, but he had to return to Belarus to play in the world junior pool B championship. Kostitsyn was the MVP and helped his country qualify for the A pool next year, where it will face teams like Canada, Russia and the U.S.

"We talked about Christmas and I kind of got the gist of it that they don't really celebrate when we do," Belan said. "They get presents and celebrate on what is our New Year's Eve. It's totally different."

Of course, some topics are universal. "We talk about the usual stuff -- girls, mostly," Belan said.

There was a lot of time to chat on that long trip to the Sault last week. As it turned out, Kostitsyn scored twice, including the winner with under a minute left, to beat the Greyhounds.

After that performance, Belan better warm up the Olds and crank up the Jon Bon Jovi. A hungry Belarussian really wants that meal at the Mandarin.


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