Young hockey players from different European countries dream of one day traveling to North America to play in the NHL. A major factor they often overlook is that the English language is spoken in North America. Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward Evgeny Tunik has realized that learning the language is important to be able to survive.
Tunik took the time to answer questions to the best of his ability, trying to comprehend the questions to come up with a relative answer. It was easier for him to read the question off a piece of paper instead of hearing it.
“I have learned a lot from the guys. I don’t have a teacher but the guys help me,” Tunik said. “Going to malls or grocery stores has helped me to get out into life and learn English.”
Tunik was born in Elektrostal, Russia, in 1984 and lived there his whole life before coming to the United States to play for the Sound Tigers this year. Tunik played for St. Petersburg SKA and for Crystall Elektrostal in Russia’s Vysshaya Liga.
The New York Islanders selected Tunik 53rd overall in the second round in the 2003 NHL Draft.
Growing up in Russia, Tunik studied English as a part of the standard curriculum.
“Taking classes in Russia, they teach English but it’s very bad,” Tunik said.
Russia is not the only European country requiring their students to learn the English language in the school system.
“We are required to take English classes in Finland to learn the language in third grade,” Bridgeport teammate Masi Marjamaki, born in Pori, Finland, said. “Then I was in Canada for about six months playing junior hockey and I was able to catch on, and it’s been going great ever since.”
Sound Tigers left wing David Masse was born in Montreal, one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world, and relates well to Tunik since he did not speak English when he started playing in the U.S. a few years ago. Masse is Tunik’s roommate and has tried to help him adjust to the American customs that he has acquired.
“Living with him, I try to do everything I can to help him out with the language and in society,” Masse said. “He’s taught me a little Russian, so we have a good time.”
On the ice, Tunik is able to relax and let his hockey skills do all the talking for him. Matt Koalska has been Tunik’s linemate throughout most of the season and says he has enjoyed every second playing with his highly skilled Russian center.
“I am able to understand hockey words out on the ice,” Tunik said. “In the locker room I am able to listen to coach and see what he writes on the board which helps me to understand.”
Koalska said that when Tunik steps onto the ice, his talents explode from his quick hands to his exceptional ability to read the play.
However, Tunik does not credit his improved play this year to gradually starting to understand English, saying that they are two completely different things to him.
Joel Bouchard, like Masse, grew up in Montreal, speaking only French. Bouchard agrees with Tunik that a player’s skill level does not improve when he is able to speak the common language.
“Speaking the language just makes for an easier transition to normal life in society. Having that can boost anyone’s self-confidence,” Bouchard said. “Once you’re happy off the ice it usually transfers onto the ice and can make you feel more comfortable. Hockey is a fun game and to be able to speak the language makes it that much more fun and enjoyable.”
Tunik has enjoyed every minute of his experience playing in the AHL. He has a goal and nine assists in 27 games this season. Tunik looks at learning the English language as just another skill to master and perfect like his hockey skills.
If Tunik continues to improve at the English language and on the ice with his skills, he hopes he’ll soon be skating along side another Russian countryman on Long Island, Alexei Yashin.