LIGHTNING'S `MEAN GUY' SHOWS HIS SOFT SIDE
Sergachev rewards junior hockey hosts with `chance of a lifetime' playoff tickets
Mikhail Sergachev was 17 and couldn't speak any English when he arrived at Brian and Michelle Reid's home in Windsor, Ont.
The junior Windsor Spitfires had selected the Russian defenceman sixth overall at the 2015 CHL import draft and the Reids would be his billet family.
Michelle worked hard to teach Sergachev to speak English and he was a quick learner.
She also made his meals and helped him adjust to life in North America.
“He just was very focused on it and wanted to learn,” Michelle recalled over the phone on Thursday from Windsor. “I used to tell him, `Make your mistakes here with me, because that way we'll fix them and work through them.' He would always ask me: `How do you say that? What does this mean?' I would break it down and explain it to him.”
Sergachev posted 57 points in 67 games during his first year with the Spitfires in 2015-16. When he was named the OHL'S outstanding defenceman as a rookie, he made his acceptance speech in English.
The Canadiens selected Sergachev in the first round (ninth overall) at the 2016 NHL draft, but he would only play four games with Montreal before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15, 2017, in exchange for Jonathan Drouin.
Now Sergachev is playing against the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final and has become public enemy No. 1 in Montreal after slamming Brendan Gallagher's helmetless head into the ice during a skirmish in Game 1, then checking Artturi Lehkonen hard from behind into the boards in Game 2.
The Reids have kept close contact with Sergachev since he made the jump from their home to the NHL, visiting him three or four times each season in Tampa before COVID-19. They'll be at the Bell Centre to watch him play in Game 3 on Friday.
Brian said Sergachev called them shortly after the Lightning eliminated the New York Islanders in the semifinals.
“He called us up about five or 10 minutes after the game,” Brian said Thursday afternoon as he and Michelle were getting ready to go to the airport.
“He had just got in the dressing room and he said, `Get ready ... you're coming to Montreal. I'm getting you tickets for Games 3 and 4.' And we were like, `Whoa! What?' Then we just started planning to get a hotel and flight.
“Super-pumped,” Brian added. “My God, this is the chance of a lifetime.”
Sergachev has become like an adopted son to the Reids, who have two grown children. So have all the other Spitfires players who have stayed at their home in the 11 years they have been a billet family.
They will have another Russian player, Daniil Sobolev, living with them next season.
“He works so hard,” Michelle said about Sergachev. “He's so dedicated. I could set my watch by him. Every morning breakfast was at the same time ... everything is routine with him. When he wants something, he works until he gets it. It's just amazing to see this little boy who came to us and couldn't speak English and now you see him doing interviews on TV and his English is so amazing, he's so fluent. He has an infectious laugh and he's just a lot of fun.”
Brian recalls Sergachev being “bummed out” when the Canadiens traded him.
“He was like, `What the hell?'” Brian said. “He was only 18 and he felt like somehow he had done something wrong. He was upset. I told him, `Listen, you're going to a team that Stevie Yzerman's at
(as general manager at the time). Beaches, bikinis, sun, 90-plus degrees (Fahrenheit). He said,
`Oh, OK. I see.' Now he's living the dream. He's got beautiful weather, he's got all the beaches. He loves it and he just moved into a new house a little while ago.”
Sergachev has been averaging 22:03 of ice time during the playoffs and has three assists in 20 games. He also has 14 penalty minutes.
“I would never mess with him,” Brian said with a chuckle. “Forwards in junior hated playing against him. Off the ice, you would never know he was a mean guy, but when he's out on the ice, he's there for one thing. He wants to win.”
When asked what he's most proud of about the player and man Sergachev has become, Brian said, “He's just great with the fans. We go to Tampa and he's always the last guy off the ice, looking around for the little kids to toss them pucks and wave to them. He's the perfect kind of hockey player you want to have that loves what he does and he loves his fans, too, and people who help him out. He's just a good soul. He's an all-around well-liked person — unless you're a forward in front of his net.
“He's like our kid and we're like his parents, as well.”
He's the perfect kind of hockey player you want to have that loves what he does and he loves his fans, too, and people who help him out.