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Yachmenev making all the right moves

Vitali Yachmenev was an OHL all-star back in 1994-95 and 1993-94 with the North Bay Centennials and 10 years later he’s probably felt like he was playing on an All-Star team once again.

Vitali Yachmenev was an OHL all-star back in 1994-95 and 1993-94 with the North Bay Centennials and 10 years later he’s probably felt like he was playing on an All-Star team once again.

The former Centennial who still calls North Bay his summer home, just wrapped up his second season with Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian Super League, arguably the most talented hockey team in the world.

Due to the lockout, the team owned by Russian oil barons went on a spending spree bringing in some of the best hockey players the world has to offer. Yachemenev’s Russian team included the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Alexei Kovalev, Brad Richards, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Morozov, and Nikolai Khabibulin; a virtual who’s who of NHL hockey.

However, the Ak Bars Kazan owners found out something the New York Rangers have learned the hard way; you can’t buy a championship. The club was ousted in the first round of the Russian Super League playoffs 3 games to 1 by Lokomotiv.

Yachmenev believes his club had loads of talent but not a lot of chemistry.

“We had high expectations but we had too many high profile players on the same team,” Yachmenev said during a phone interview with

While the early playoff exit was disappointing Yachmenev said it was a fun season, even though the influx of talent pushed him down to third and fourth line status for most of the year.

“They were a great bunch of guys to play with,” Yachmenev said.

For Yachmenev hockey has really come full circle. At 18 years of age, the Chelyabinsk, Russia native left home to pursue a hockey career in North America, where he scored 114 goals in 125 games with the North Bay Centennials before being drafted 59th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1994.

After eight seasons in the National hockey league, the former Centennial elected to head back to his homeland in the fall of 2003 after the Nashville Predators declined to offer him a contract.

It was a great move for Yachmenev, but he didn’t realize how smart it was until he saw many of his former teammates out of work this season because of the lockout.

“Everybody talked about it (summer of 2003), but I really didn’t expect it,” said Yachmenev about the looming lockout back then.

Another former Centennial and Predator teammate, Bill Houlder, retired after the 2003 season. The veteran defenseman was also not offered a contract by the cost cutting Predators.

“I remember when he went over the first time and we were talking I was saying you should try to get a two year deal because once your first year is over then this is going to be the lockout and guys are going to be pouring over there and he did and he signed a two-year deal,” Houlder said about the advice he gave his former teammate.

Now that the season is over, Yachmenev is heading to Florida for a month of vacation time with his wife and two children.

He plans to head back to Russia in July for the start of the Ak Bars Kazan training camp. While he doesn’t have a contract in place he’s confident that a deal will be reached.

“I enjoy playing there and I don’t really want re-locate and start all over again,” Yachmenev said.

But would an NHL contract offer lure him back to this continent?

“I’m just taking things one year at a time,” was his short response.

But for now he will keep his focus on professional hockey in Russia. At least over there the word “Lockout” doesn’t exist in the Russian Super League’s vocabulary.

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Chris Dawson

About the Author: Chris Dawson

Chris Dawson has been with since 2004. He has provided up-to-the-minute sports coverage and has become a key member of the BayToday news team.
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