Antti Saarela took an elbowing penalty to give the Americans a power play, and that’s when Arthur Kaliyev went to work for all of about one-hundredth of a second.
He circled and drifted in the Finland end as his teammates moved the puck, occasionally smacking his stick on the ice looking for a pass. And then he found a little spot between the faceoff circles, in the high slot.
Teammate Zac Jones put the puck on Kaliyev’s stick, and before you could say, “goal” the puck was rolling back towards the blue line after hitting the twine behind goalie Jasper Patrikainen.
Patrikainen need not have felt bad. Most NHL goalies wouldn’t have stopped that rocket either.
“Ever since I was a little kid I’d stay longer after practices and shoot on the goalies, and at home I always practised my shot a lot,” Kaliyev related after the game. “I think that’s how I developed my shot. If I’m in the middle of the ice or on the right, I’ll take a one-timer, but if I’m on the left it’s probably going to be a wrist shot. It doesn’t matter to me. I haven’t played that middle spot often, but I was just getting ready for the shot and the pass came to me and I shot right away.”
Kaliyev was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan became one of the newest countries where ice hockey is being played (after a long break following the collapse of the Soviet Union) and a new member of the IIHF in September. But his family moved to New York when he was still a baby, so he feels 100 per cent all-American and didn’t follow the recent development with a new pro team Humo Tashkent that joined Russia’s second league VHL a few months ago.
“I’ve been here since I was eight months old,” he explained. “I’ve never been to Uzbekistan since. I grew up pretty much in New York. I was seven or so when I started to skate.”
He later moved to Michigan, and it was in this very rink where he played for a sport at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship last August, now called USA Hockey Arena, that he played as a teen. “I’ve missed it here. I played for Compuware, so it’s nice to see the arena again.”
Soon after his Compuware days, Kaliyev decided to play junior hockey in Canada, with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Ontario Hockey League. “I wanted to play a lot of hockey, and I felt I had a better chance of going pro from playing junior in Canada and trying to prove myself as a good hockey player in the OHL,” he said.
So far, it has been a good decision for him. In his first year, 2017/18, he had 31 goals as a 16-year-old, and this past season he vaulted to 51, one of the few 17-year-olds in OHL history to hit the 50 mark. Many of those 51 came via his nasty one-timer, a shot that makes one easily think of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Stamkos, Hull. Heady company, but wicked shot.
Four days before his 18th birthday, the Los Angeles Kings took him 33rd overall at the draft this year. He wasn’t too pleased with this low selection, but despite his shot scouts do see flaws. He appears to drift rather than skate with power. His play without the puck has been criticized, as has his defensive play.
Be that as it may, Kaliyev is delighted to be where he is. “They’re a great organization,” he enthused about the Kings. “I’m really happy I was picked by them. I can’t wait to be with them.” He went to train with them and joined the training camp in September. “I went there to try my best, of course, give it my best shot, and see what they say to me.”
For now he hasn’t been signed and returned to Hamilton. He again increased his goal and point production and is en route to another 100-point season. In 26 games so far he had 27 goals and 24 points. Including a very special one:
“It’s a big honour being here and playing with the best in my age group in the world,” he said. “It’s nice to compete against them. Every game is getting better and better. I just wanted to come here and play the best hockey I can.”
The U.S. roster will be announced in the upcoming weeks. At the World Juniors in the Czech Republic the Americans will play in Group B in Ostrava against Russia, Canada, host Czech Republic and Germany.