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Common ground: Taratukhin gets an assist in Omaha

By Mike Patterson || AHL On The Beat Archive

It took a while, but Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights forward Andrei Taratukhin has warmed up to the idea of playing hockey far from his native Russia.

And he has a 12-year-old friend to thank for that.

Taratukhin has proved to be an important member of the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The first-year player leads the team in scoring with 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) while starting every game.

Still, it was a tough transition for someone who had never played in North America. But that move was made easier when he made friends with Alex Campbell, the adopted son of season-ticket holders John and Jodi Campbell.

Alex also was born in Russia, not far from Taratukhin’s hometown. So when the Campbells found out one of the Knights had something in common with their son, it didn’t take long to bring the two together.

"The team called to see if Alex could translate," Jodi Campbell said. "His English is pretty good and Andrei didn’t know the language very well."

But with Alex’s help, Taratukhin learned quickly. The forward understands most questions, though he occasionally struggles to find the exact words.

As one of the few Knights players who is married, Taratukhin didn’t come alone. He and his wife have 1-year-old twins.

Coach Ryan McGill said Taratukhin has been a key member of the Knights, who are challenging for first place in the American Hockey League’s West Division.

"Considering everything Andrei has had to overcome, he’s done a great job," the coach said. "The game here is far different than in the Russian leagues where he’d been."

The 24-year-old was a second-round selection of the Calgary Flames in the 2001 draft. But he continued to play in Russia – he played five games for the country in the 2006 Olympics – before making the move to North America.

Alex, who sits with his parents in the front row at Knights games, is glad Taratukhin made that decision.

"He’s really nice," Alex said. "And his English is really good, especially for someone who’s only been here a year."

Mike Patterson covers the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights and the AHL for the Omaha World-Herald