It's a rare occasion these days for Dimitri Khristich to see or hear news from his native Ukraine. He doesn't hear from former teammates, doesn't get messages asking for advice or tips, and rarely receives letters from relatives. Occasionally, he'll see a Russian newspaper, paging through the sports section for news about Sokol Kiev, his home town hockey club. He still shows loyalty and interest in his former team, a club once part of the powerful Soviet Elite League. It was there that Khristich spent his first three seasons, scoring 41 goals in 117 games between 1988 and 1990.
"Hockey in my home town is dying," said Khristich. "It's been dying for a long time now. When I played there, the government supported the sport. We had the money to play."
Yet Khristich knows of the problems Kiev is having - as are other teams' cities throughout Ukraine, Russia and the remaining former Soviet states. Financial troubles, poor sponsor ship, ravaged economies and the loss of many quality players to Europe and North America have devastated much of the country's hockey base.
So it was no surprise when Khristich found no mention of Sokol in newspapers, prompting questions of it's continued existence.
And while Khristich hasn't completely cut the ties to Kiev, he knows that his life - both professionally and personally - no longer exists in the Ukraine. For Khristich, or "Dima"" as he is known to teammates, life is here in Washington as a member of the Washington Capitals.
Nowadays, Khristich calls the Washington area "home" and with good reason. Unlike the Ukraine, there is money to play in the National Hockey League and Khristich is making his fair share.
Yet home is more than just where you play hockey. For Khristich, it's been the gradual change from the hard life in the Ukraine to life in North America.
Although the initial changes started when he came to Washington at age 20, he was not a stranger to the United States. He had toured the U.S. with the Soviet National teams in the late 1980's and competed in the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. Khristich liked the travel, the opportunities and the recreation found on the beaches.
Khristich has also found stability. While house hunting, he met his future wife Erin. They were married two years ago and are very happy living in Maryland. So happy, in fact, that he's applying for U.S. citizenship when he becomes eligible.
Around the same time, Khristich was facing problems communicating with his parents, who were still living in Kiev.
"When I first got here, I always tried to contact my folks in Kiev after games," Khristich said. "I liked discussing my games with my father and liked to tell them how I did. Back then, I would have a terrible time trying to get through to the Ukraine. The phones lines were down or out of order. Sometimes it would take two weeks to get a hold of my parents."
That prompted Khristich to bring his family to America. Knowing of family friends in the Philadelphia area, Khristich bought a townhouse in the Philadelphia suburbs. His mother Valentina was first to arrive, but father Anatoly and brother lgor soon followed. All now have jobs in the Philadelphia area and all occasionally venture to Maryland to see Khristich in action at the USAir Arena.
"Just having my parents here in the U.S. has helped me play better hockey," said Khristich, who treasures the family support and the confidence they show in his abilities. "To have them in the stands cheering for me and talking to me when they 're here helps. My father supported me through hockey when I was young and he supports me now. I know he can see games, catch the scores and knows how I'm doing and how the team's doing every night."
That family support is not a one-sided affair, however.
"Erin's family is from the Northeast (New Hampshire) and they all know and appreciate hockey," he said. "So I've got total family support going on the ice and it's nice when you have that kind of support cheering for you."
Khristich added it's good knowing his parents are only a couple of hours away.
"My father works hard during the week and doesn't have a lot of time," he said. "But they often spend time with Erin and me on weekends and it's time we all enjoy. They're happy here in America and I'm happy they are so close. My family means a lot to me."