MANATEE COUNTY — As 11-year-old Nick Pastujov made his way across the ice to join his teammates in celebration, he couldn’t help but look up into the stands in search of the one person he had never expected to see.
There seated in between his parents sat his grandmother — whom he hadn’t seen in at least eight years. A smile spread across Nick’s face as the realization finally began to sink in. Not only had his team won its first hockey championship on Russian soil, but his grandmother, a Russian native, also got to see him play for the first time.
“It was really fun, but my dad had to translate everything for me,” Nick said of seeing his grandmother. “It definitely made me want to play better.”
“She got to watch him play — that was something he never thought would happen,” said Nick’s mother, Janis.
Nick spent 10 days in Moscow last month competing in the Vladislav Tretyak World Class Challenge Tournament with the Nike Bauer ‘98 Selects. Tretyak, for whom the tournament is named, was a goalie for the Russian Olympic hockey team for more than a decade, including the 1980 Olympics during which the Miracle on Ice occurred.
Representing the United States, Nick’s team finished the tournament undefeated after beating some of the best hockey teams in Russia and the Czech Republic.
In his first game on the ice, Nick and his Nike Bauer ‘98 Selects teammates tied the Red Russian Army — much to their dismay.
“They thought it was a fluke, so they challenged us to another game because they didn’t expect us to play well,” Nikc said. “After the tournament was over, we played them again and won 9-3.”
After dismantling several of their Russian opponents, Nick’s team found itself in the championship game alongside three-time defending Russian champion Traktor. Traktor came out firing and scored the game’s first goal. But Nick and his teammates responded with two quick goals of their own to jump out to an early 2-1 lead. The team held on to defeat the defending champions 4-1 for the championship.
“It was fun just seeing how they play,” Nick said. “They definitely play more aggressive, and they are definitely better in front of the net because they use their sticks a lot more.”
After the tournament, the team attended a championship ceremony where Nick received a medal, hat and scarf for his participation.
“It was a really good experience because there were a lot of good kids there,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have played a good game every game then we would’ve lost the tournament.”
Nick learned how to skate when he was 3 years old at the urging of his father, George, and began playing hockey the following year. He gradually worked his way up through the club system; and for the past three years, Nick has been playing center and left forward for the Florida Everblades AAA Hockey Club, spending every weekend practicing at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.
“I just like being on the ice,” he said. “It just feels good.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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