"I think he was intimidated by the language," said John Chapin, whom the Capitals hired to interpret.
Khristich came with more English and a better attitude. Practical English workbooks lie near the couch in his apartment. A tutor comes, sometimes for 2½-hour sessions.
"I think it was Mikhail that had to have John," Khristich said. "If I came and Mikhail wasn't here, I wouldn't need interpreter. But when John was here, it was better and it helped me."
And the Capitals got a glimpse of what Khristich could do on the ice. He scored seven of his 13 goals in the last 15 games as the team made a late rush for a playoff spot. But he and his teammates faded in the postseason. By then, Khristich had been working on a 10-month season, and Poile guesses he was tired physically and mentally. Which is why this summer was important.
First came the tan. Khristich and his friend Godynyuk spent most of a month at a house in San Bruno, Calif., partly owned by his agent, Vitali Shevchenko, a Kiev native who is a Canadian citizen. There was a swimming pool and time to relax and learn about life in America without hockey. There was San Francisco to explore and a trip to Lake Tahoe.
"It's not important to win money. I went to have fun," Khristich said, already sounding like a veteran loser at the blackjack table.
"I got this phone call and heard all these excited voices, going on and on real quickly," Hartje said. "I finally found out what they were excited about. They had just gone swimming in the ocean. It's little things like that he loves about the U.S."
Khristich went home to Kiev to visit his family and was invited to try out for the Soviets' Canada Cup team. That team was training in Finland when the coup occurred.
"Crazy," Khristich said of Moscow during the coup. "I saw tanks in Moscow, and I saw barricades."
Khristich was dropped from the Soviets' Canada Cup team at the last minute. His agent thinks it was for both political and economic reasons. Khristich didn't care. He and the Capitals were glad he would be here for all of training camp. They figured it would help the assimilation.