Minor League Sports

Nikolai Mayorov eases into life, hockey in America, leads Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in goals

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders' Nikolai Mayorov (29) and the Chicago Steel's Erik Middendorf (15) struggle for control of
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders' Nikolai Mayorov (29) and the Chicago Steel's Erik Middendorf (15) struggle for control of the puck during a USHL game at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There is a phone app that helps him.

You say something in English into it, and it translates it to Russian. Or vice versa.

But the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders’ leading goal scorer seems to be needing it less and less as time goes here.

“Good questions,” Nikolai Mayorov said, when he was asked what it has been like for him to leave his family and friends and come to North America for the first time to play hockey. “Not easy, hard.”

You wouldn’t know it by his production. Mayorov had 17 goals and 26 points in just 27 games for the Riders going into Saturday night’s home tilt against Chicago

The 19-year-old was drafted by Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League over the summer and played one game there before leaving. His agent, Mark Gandler, also is the agent for fellow Russian, former RoughRiders defenseman and current Philadelphia Flyer Ivan Provorov, and gave RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson a call about bringing Mayorov to town.

It has been a match.

“I couldn’t even imagine moving across the world to play junior hockey,” said Max Sasson, a forward linemate of Mayorov, along with Ryan Taylor. “Just trying to be as nice and friendly as possible and trying to make him feel at home as a kid. I think at first both Klava and Nikki were shy, didn’t talk, but now you see Nikki dancing around the locker room. Even though there is a language barrier, everyone knows the tone and knows what’s expected. He’s just one of the guys.”

Klava is Yegor Klavdiev, who is from Belarus and the youngest member of the RoughRiders at 16. Mayorov and Klavdiev live with the same local billet family, an arrangement Mayorov said has worked out great.

“He’s my little brother,” Mayorov said of Klavdiev. “We help each other. Help each other speak better English.”

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On the ice, Mayorov can skate with the best of them, is a terrific stickhandler and has a shot release and overall shot that appears to be professional quality. He said that’s why he’s over here, trying to be more visible to pro teams in North America.

His prior teams were either in Russia or Kazakhstan, which is a short distance from his hometown of Tyumen, Russia, located in the Siberian region of the country.

“He moves. I’d say that’s his best asset,” Sasson said. “His speed in general. He’s always around the puck, and he’s really good with his hands at fishing the puck around. Even with the little English he speaks, I always hear him ‘Here, here, here!’ It’s been nice, pretty easy for both of us to play together.”

Mayorov doesn’t know his plans for next season. He is eligible to play one more year in the United States Hockey League but said he could play “in Canada, pro, maybe Finland” in 2020-21.

“My sister cries ‘Oh, my God. Let’s go to the NHL. Go and stay in America. Don’t play (in Russia),’” Mayorov said with a laugh. “I’m like ‘OK.’”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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