Many of the Russians were hard to figure out. Usually not too talkative, a little off-putting, with a proud demeanor—kind of a Slavic cool. It could come off as either cocky, or shy. Max was on the shy side.
I had Max Afinogenov in almost head-to-toe Easton, but our new helmet was a non-starter. This was prior to the Olympics in Italy, and my boss really wanted some guys in the Easton helmet on the world stage.
“Why can’t you get Maxxy in?” he asked. “Don’t know, “He won’t even try it on. Won’t even discuss it with me. He’s Russian so….” “Yeah, I know,” said my boss in frustration. A few days later, though, he had a plan: “Go to the nearest American Express office. Use the company credit card and get $3,000 worth of gift certificates. Give them to Maxxy in exchange for the helmet.” “If he wears it all season?” “No, just for the Olympics!” my boss offered.
I didn’t know what $3,000 worth of American Express gift certificates would look like really, so I brought a small Easton duffle bag for transport. I figured I’d just give him the bag as a little thank you. I wouldn’t even have to take the money out– maybe open the bag a little to show him I was serious, but not show the entire locker room.
The lady at the American Express office was very professional and not a bit surprised at any of the questions I was asking. “So, can I just get one check for $3,000?” “No, they only come in hundreds.” “Glad I brought the bag,” I said, more to myself. “And if the recipient wants to cash these in… say Italy, or Russia, it won’t be a problem?” “Not a problem,” said the lady. “And if the recipient gifts these to someone else?” I asked, knowing that pro hockey players, especially Russian pro hockey players, often gift their gifts to their family, friends and entourage. “Not a problem,” said the banker who I sensed, from her lack of emotion, had a little Russian in her as well.
My wife Alex was with me that day, waiting in the car as I came out with the goods. I plopped the bag on her lap with a smile. “It’s in here?” she asked. “Sure is,” I said “$3,000!” “Holy crap! Maybe we should just drive down to Mexico,” she joked. Alex was half Ukrainian, but the other English half made up for the Slavic cool in spades.
I went into the Atlanta locker room and got an instant greeting from Chris Thorburn, who nodded toward my duffel bag: “You got my skates in there?” “They’ll be here soon,” I promised. Boultsy, the fighter who liked the helmet, chimed in: “New skates aren’t gonna’ make you skate any better!” And the ribbing went down the line from there.
I pulled Maxxy aside and tried to get him into a spot where I could offer the bribe without the others hearing about it. The last thing I needed was to have 25 guys with their hands out.
“So, Max, when do you go over for the Olympics?” “Soon,” he said. “Now, I know you don’t like our helmet for some reason, but I was asked to see if you’d consider wearing it during the Olympics for $3,000?” I shook the bag, hoping he’d get the point that the money was inside. “I like the helmet I have,” was all Maxxy said. I repeated myself a little more slowly just in case the language barrier was an issue. “Sorry Kirk, not interested.” So that’s when they drop the ‘y’ thing, I thought to myself… or maybe it was just the Slavic cool coming through loud and clear.
On my way back out to the car, I passed the usual throng of autograph seekers who gave me nary a glance. Nope, not mistaken for a player today either—ego check complete. I jumped in the car with the Easton duffel bag still in my possession. “He didn’t like the bag?” Alex asked. “No, he didn’t like the bribe,” I said. Part of me was sad I didn’t close the business, but the other part of me was proud that some of these guys had limits. “Who wants to go to Mexico?” I joked.