Russian Line Staying Hungry in Springfield

by Steve Casson

Nikita Sokov thought he would be the only Russian speaking player in the Springfield Express lineup this season. But the second-year WSHL forward had no idea a pair of Russian speaking players were joining the team until the day of training camp.

That’s also when Coach John Ambrefe formed the “Russian Line” consisting of Sokov along with brothers Arkhip and Filimon Ledenkov. Both are from Belarus.

“It’s so exciting because we can speak Russian and no one can understand it,” Sokov said. “This is like playing Russian hockey.”

Sokov has 14 goals and 20 assists. Arkhip’s totals include 14 goals and 17 assists, while Filimon has 10 goals and is second on the team with 23 assists as of November 19. 

While it’s easy for the trio to connect in their native language on the ice, it’s learning English off the ice that’s moved at a faster pace than the points they’ve been racking up as Springfield’s top line. 

Sokov said learning English is not a requirement in Russia before starting high school, but most students choose to study it. For Arkhip, the transition to playing in the United States was much smoother with Sokov as a translator. 

“I felt better because I spent a lot of time with Russian hockey players,” Arkhip said. “Now we can talk together.”

Filimon’s English is getting better.  “I understand more now than in the first weeks when I came here,” he said. 

Outside of the ice rink, Sokov and the Ledenkov brothers are enjoying their time in Springfield.

“There is good hockey here in Springfield.  It’s a good town. Good coaches and a good community here,” Sokov said. “I love it here.”

Filimon said he likes the friendliness of Americans, while Arkhip jokes he likes the blue sky that’s dominated the Southwest Missouri area a few weeks ago.  That’s because days in Russia and Belarus are mostly cloudy.

Eating well is a must for hockey players and its Russians who have the upper hand when it comes to food, said Sokov. Most families in the Russian Federation eat meals as a family.

“In Russia we don’t usually go out and eat,” Sokov said. “We eat at home all the time.”

Asked their favorite food in the United States, the trio agree Burritos take the top spot.

But there’s one Russian dish Sokov persuades his Billet family to cook — Blini, or Russian pancakes. They are thin, usually folded in fourths and dipped by hand into a sweet cream sauce.

“My grandma makes such good Blini,” Sokov said. “It’s good stuff.”