Liberty hockey’s lone Russian native details his path from Moscow to Virginia

Of the 118 players who suit up for Liberty University Flames hockey across five separate teams, just one name hails from a different continent. Flames Division I men’s hockey player Alex Charin resides 5,006 miles away from his hometown of Moscow, Russia. But for the 22-year-old forward, the journey that’s brought him from Russia’s capital to the hills of Lynchburg is one that simply feels right.

In the Charin family, hockey is a way of life. Alex’s father, Vlad Charin, took the ice professionally for a good amount of time, suiting up for multiple pro teams around Europe before the Soviet Union’s collapse brought his career to a halt. But once Alex came along, there was no doubt in his father’s mind which path his child would pursue.

The life of a growing hockey player in Russia, however, looks drastically different from that of one in the States.

“Coaches are more tough (in Russia),” Alex said. “We would have crazy schedules back home in Russia. If we had a bad game, we would go up in the stands and run for hours. Some parents would bring their kids to practice with the team and then send them to practice extra on their own or with a coach for hours afterward.”

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Fortunately, Alex’s parents weren’t as rigorous as most were when it came to their child’s potential hockey career.

“I would say my parents are more European the way they live and raised me,” Alex said.

The knowledge that Vlad possessed of the hockey world helped him understand the best route for his son to take in the game. He knew of the opportunity America held for athletes looking to play at a high level while also gaining an education.

It became a dream for the family to send Alex to America, and when he reached the age of 12, the dreams started to become real conversations. 

“I played AAA in Russia, and then I got invited to this North American Hockey League camp,” Alex said. “I went there, and one of the advisors sent me to Utah, and that’s how I kind of started my career in America.”

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The then 17-year-old Russian joined the Utah Outliers, a U-20 Tier II junior hockey team in Salt Lake City. Having studied English in school and with a tutor from the age of 14, Alex he could adjust to the language barriers. The American lifestyle, however, was uncharted territory.

“It was kind of a shock for me to begin with,” Alex said. “But I feel like all foreign hockey players, they’re kind of lucky because they get on the team and they’re already part of a group and other players from the United States and Canada are helping them around. All three of my years (in Utah), guys would drive me around and just help me adapt to the culture.”

Three of the guys in particular who helped Alex adjust to American life would be instrumental in the path that led him to Lynchburg. Matt Bartel and Josh Harrell, current Liberty hockey players, along with Zak Albers, former men’s Division I team member, grew close to Alex in his time in Salt Lake.

His bond with Bartel was one that specifically stuck out, with Bartel now captaining the Division I Flames and remaining the same resource in Alex’s life. 

“(Bartel) always gives me advice,” Alex said. “You can go talk with him, kind of share personal stuff, and he’s always been helpful and a really wise guy.”

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

When Albers, Bartel and Harrell made the jump from Utah to Lynchburg, it only made sense for Alex to move right along with them. The young forward felt that attending Liberty opposed to a small NCAA D3 program would be more enjoyable, so he dove right into conversations with coaches and eventually made the commitment to become a Flame. 

“Having Matt, Zak (and) Josh was super helpful because the whole college atmosphere was new for me as well,” Alex said. “Starting classes the first couple of weeks, I was doing homework, and I’m like, ‘How am I going to do it?’ I was so stressed, but after a couple of months, it was pretty chill, and I’m glad.”

But while Alex was now acclimated to the routine and nuances of American life, there were still challenges in adapting to North American hockey. In Europe, he played on a vast sheet of ice where skill was valued above all. In America, however, the reduced rink size forced him to change his style of play.

“Back home in Russia, I was more of a skill guy,” Alex said. “I could take my time because the rink is bigger. You have less time to make a decision here. You’ve got to get it done — receive the puck, pass it right away, or make a move on people. … I used to be the guy that never went and battled for the puck. Now it’s completely different.”

Alex has tackled the differences in American hockey head on, morphing into a physical player who is a vital depth piece for the Division I Flames. And with the on-ice growth, he has seen off-ice development  as well. 

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Having been born and raised Russian Orthodox, Alex found that the move to Utah was a stark one. 

“When I came to Utah, I was facing Mormon culture. So it was like, wow, this is kind of different. And then I came here; it’s also completely different,” Alex said. “Personally, my faith changed a lot in my life in the past two, three years I’ve been here, and I start thinking differently about stuff. Liberty definitely is the place to be, and I’m glad I’m here. We do Bible studies and go to church together. Things have changed a lot compared to what was in juniors and what was in Russia back home.”

The group that Alex goes to work with every day is one he feels is tighter than ever. And with the Flames less than one week away from meeting their first opponent center ice at the ACHA National Championships in St. Louis, Missouri, the team’s undeniable bond paired with its on-ice prowess is something Alex can see driving Liberty men’s hockey to hoisting its first Murdoch Cup.

“The goal is just to get a championship this year and win nationals. I would say every single guy works hard. We have really skilled guys on the team; guys like Jacob Kalandyk, Jason Foltz, Ryan Finch, they all do their jobs,” Alex said. “Everyone on the team is on the same page, and so far the train is rolling, so it’s good to have those guys. I’m not trying to be the cliche guy, but there’s definitely something different about these guys and the freshman guys we’ve got and leaders in the team. I feel like this could be our year; that’s for sure.”

Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X.

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