CEDAR RAPIDS — He did try basketball.
“Just for fun in school with the boys, with my friends,” Shamil Shmakov said.
But even with hoops height, the first-year Cedar Rapids RoughRiders player stuck with his first sports love. And stuck with a position in that sport unusual for a kid who is 6-foot-8.
Shamkov is a goaltender. The tallest one in RoughRiders history, perhaps the tallest in United States Hockey League history.
“I started playing when I was 7 years old,” he said. “My parents asked me if I wanted to try. They go buy equipment for me, and I tried. Tried to skate for, like, four months. The coaches (then) asked me if I wanted to try goalie, and I said yes. I tried it, and I liked it.”
It was just that easy.
“My mom tells me I go into hockey because I was being too nice. I was a sweet boy,” Shmakov said. “Hockey would make me more of a man. Stronger and a stronger mentality. She think maybe I’d go one year, one-half of a year and be finished. But I was not.”
Shmakov, 20, is from Moskva, Russia. He played junior hockey in his home country, which is where the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche discovered him.
The Avalanche took him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft and coaxed him to come to North America for the first time this season.
“I talked with my agent,” Shmakov said. “I had a three-year contract (offer) with Novosibirsk, had a choice to stay in Russia, in the KHL. But I’d have been second or third choice, would have played less. So I talked to my agent, talked to Colorado, and they say I need to go here if I want to play (in the NHL).”
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The USHL’s Lincoln Stars drafted him this past spring and traded him to Cedar Rapids just before the start of the 2019-20 regular season.
Shmakov has a 3-2 record in five games for the Riders with a 2.87 goals against average and .900 save percentage. The RoughRiders play Friday night at Lincoln and Saturday night at Dubuque.
“A lot of differences,” Shmakov said. “The game is different, the style of practice, the people are different, the food is different. All of that is different. But I try to adapt.
“The size of the rink, the mentality of the hockey is different. More shots, faster. Those are the big things.”
Shmakov has shown quickness and athleticism, though he did admit it is sometimes difficult to coordinate himself and his movements because he is so tall. His size is a positive, though, he thinks.
So is being able to speak English. He is very good at it, which obviously helps communication with his coaches and teammates.
Shmakov does have the luxury of being able to speak his native language any time he wants, with teammates Nikolai Mayorov (from Russia) and Ignat Belov and Yegor Klavdiev (from Belarus).
“English is an international language,” Shmakov said. “We are in the 21st century, and you need to know this language. It’s not so hard of a language. The internet, YouTube and stuff has stuff to help you learn. Yeah, I took some classes in school, but I think (the internet) helped me a lot.”
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