Russian forward Charin brings finesse to Flames’ front lines
Aleksandr Charin was only 16 when he arrived in the United States from Moscow, Russia, in 2018, when he joined the Utah Outliers and met Matt Bartel and Zak Albers, now junior and sophomore teammates on Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team.
“Nathan Cox was on the Outliers for a little bit during last year as well and I used to play with all of them,” said Charin, a freshman forward who plans to major in international business.
“We are excited to have him on our team,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “We see him as a guy who can play in a few different positions for us and he is going to be another guy who we feel can make our team better.”
Charin made a smooth transition from playing U16-18 AAA hockey in Russia to the American game, scoring 24 goals and distributing 40 assists in 96 games over the past two years with the Outliers, who switched leagues from the WSHL to the USPHL Premier last season and won the Mountain Division finals.
“My dad used to play professionally for Russia and Estonia and he and my granddad helped me a lot with my hockey career,” he said. “In the United States, it’s more physical with everybody body checking everyone. I can’t say it’s more skilled (in Russia), but we have bigger ice, so it makes a difference. You have more time to make decisions.”
At Utah, the Outliers also played on Olympic-sized ice.
“I used to play in small rinks as well, so I don’t think it will be a big challenge for me,” Charin said. “I’m a pretty quick player, a quick decision-maker. I feel like I’m a playmaker and coaches say I’m smart. I make smart moves, good passes, or take a shot. Whatever it takes to move the puck and score goals and give out assists, I will do it.”
Charin is also willing to utilize his versatility to play any role the Flames’ coaches ask of him.
“During (last week’s) tryout camp, I was center, but it’s up to the coaches,” he said. “I could play center, wing, I can play defenseman as well. If they want me to, I will.”
A big reason for that is out of a heart of gratitude after being promoted to the DI squad and welcomed with open arms. At the end of last season, Charin had a conversation with Handy and Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger.
“They recruited me and they told me I could fit here,” he said. “It was a big challenge for me to get to the United States because I didn’t have a student visa and the United States Embassy in Russia is closed.”
He had to travel to a different country to get his visa, and when he finally did, he decided to come to Liberty, even if he was to play at the DII level.
“I knew it would be good for me,” Charin said. “I would grow as a hockey player and as a student here. I came here as a DII player and went for tryouts and I had a pretty good camp and the coaches made a decision to bring me to DI, so I’m really thankful and I appreciate what they did for me and I will do everything that’s possible to make this team better and win nationals this year. We will move on and we’ll have an amazing season, that’s for sure.”
Charin, who stands 6-feet, 1-inch tall and weighs 181-pounds, is impressed with the talent pool Handy and Boettger and the rest of the Flames’ coaches have to work with this season.
“We have a lot of players from high junior leagues, Junior ‘A,’ so we’ll definitely be one of the best teams in this league, as it was last year and the years before,” he said. “We’re really skilled. We’re physical. All of our boys are pretty good sized and we’re fast, too. For a lot of teams that we’ll play against, it will be a really big challenge to keep up with us.”
He said the Flames’ burning passion will be to return to the Frozen Four in St. Louis in mid-March and this time take home the Murdoch Cup.
“We have only one goal this year, and that’s to win nationals,” Charin said. “I think it’s more than possible with this group of people, these hockey players. We’ve had a couple practices together and coaches will make final lines soon, so I think as soon as possible, we’ll start practicing with our lines.”
After completing tryouts and holding a power skating clinic last week at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC), the Flames will be traveling to Stone Ridge for a team retreat with workouts conducted by the FCA Warrior Fellowship on Friday before returning in time for Saturday’s season-opening Flames Football game against Campbell University at Williams Stadium.
“We’ll do team stuff, go to football games and Campus Community together,” said Charin, who is looking forward to joining the Flames on a potential return trip to Finland, which is only a 10-hour’s drive from his family in Moscow.
Mostly, he and his teammates are focused on the 2021-22 season and the Sept. 17 season opener against Indiana University of Pennsylvania at the LIC.
“We’re excited for that,” Charin said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a full house here and we’ll play our best game.”
Raised in the Russian Orthodox church, Charin has grown spiritually in the short time he has been on campus.
“I really like it here,” he said. “It’s a pleasure for me to be here and I have Bible classes with other teammates. It’s amazing here. The spirit inside the locker room and outside, on the campus, it’s something new to me. I love it.”
He hopes to stay in the United States after graduating from Liberty, possibly even while helping to run his father’s furniture business in Moscow remotely.
“This is a great country with great people, especially here at Liberty,” Charin said. “Relationships are not that great (between the United States and Russia). Hopefully, they will get better. We have to be friends. The two greatest countries can’t be enemies.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer