There was a time last spring, when the seemingly interminable NHL regular season was giving way to the playoffs, that Dimitri Khristich said he was lonely. He was 21, far from his Kiev home.
Although one never got the feeling the Ukrainian wanted to pitch the whole enterprise and rush to Dulles for the next Aeroflot flight home, many in the Washington Capitals organization had come to the conclusion his pursuit of the great hockey dream would take time.
"Right now, I don't feel lonely, but I am looking forward to my mother coming here," Khristich said the other day in an interview at his apartment. The interview was in English, without an interpreter, and when Valentina Khristich gets off the plane on Thanksgiving day, her son's markedly improved command of the language will be but one example of how his life has changed.
His parents have never visited him here, although he speaks with them on the phone several times a month. "They know how I am. I am good. I feel good. But I think it's different, how I am here. If Mom comes and looks at how I am doing here, she can explain it to Father."
The Capitals are feeling good as an organization and Khristich is part of the reason why. Washington (15-4-0) is first in the Patrick Division and among the league leaders overall as it goes into tonight's 7:35 game against New Jersey in East Rutherford. Although others on the team have more points, Khristich is leading the Capitals in goals with 13, which happens to be what he had in the 40 games he played last season after joining the team on Dec.11.
The adjustment was much harder for Khristich than it was for his Soviet former teammate on the Capitals, Mikhail Tatarinov. Khristich began to be Americanized before he joined the Capitals. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound left wing-center had been good enough to play for Sokol Kiev of the Soviet Elite League at 16, and for junior national and national teams that toured the world. So, when Khristich made his Capitals debut at Chicago Stadium, it wasn't his first game at that wonderfully creaky old barn on West Madison.