March 20, 2023

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Ilya Solovyov never had a chance to meet his hockey hero.

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He was still in high school when his childhood idol Ruslan Salei died in a plane crash at the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.

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“Honestly, I dreamed of shaking hands with this guy and saying that I am so proud of your game,” Soloviev said. “He was the first Belarusian to play nearly 1,000 NHL games. He was a huge man and a great guy. A lot of the guys who played with him tell me that. He was my favorite player.”

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Indeed, Salei has proven that the blue liner from Belarus – hardly a hotspot for finding future NHL players – can be capable of big things on the biggest stage.

Solovyov hopes someday to show the same. The 22-year-old has quietly become one of the Calgary Flames’ most intriguing defensive players. He currently competes in the best pair of Wranglers in the AHL.

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Soloviev was just a toddler when Salei, above all a homebody, scored the most memorable goal of his career. He buried the overtime winner in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, though his Anaheim Ducks would eventually lose that series to the New Jersey Devils.

“I was so young, but my father was watching this game,” Solovyov said. “I think that almost the whole country saw it, the whole of Belarus watched this game. So yes, it means a lot to me. Every time I think that one day I will do it too.”

It wasn’t a playoff game with an international TV audience, but Solovyov did rob the winner of overtime last month by coming out on top to end a three-on-three session against the Colorado Eagles.

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“It was amazing – it was my first goal of the season and it was in overtime,” he beamed. “Everyone in the locker room was like, ‘Congratulations, Solo. It was amazing.”

The Wrangler had plenty of positives this winter, as you’d expect from the first team to place in the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs, and Solovyov’s ascent is easy to overlook because his stats don’t exactly jump off the page. . Leading up to Friday’s game against the Tucson Roadrunners, he had two goals and 11 assists in 56 games.

The point is that a successful minor league system doesn’t just develop high-scoring hitters and future powerplay quarterbacks. You also need to fill some of these simple roles and there is optimism that this 6ft 3in, 215 lbs. The southpaw could eventually be an option for the Flames’ bottom pair.

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Solovyov, a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, moved up the depth chart in his second campaign for the farm club.

Solovyov “does little things”

He was recently assistant to Nick DeSimone, a duo who usually put together the toughest matches. He blocks shots boldly, scores regular penalties and that’s obviously a good sign when you get to record changes in overtime.

“His puck handling and defensive solidity are perhaps his most outstanding qualities,” praised Wranglers general manager Brad Pascal.

“He does the little things in hockey that you want other guys to do,” added Solovyov bench head Mitch Love. “And I think we’ve seen this level of trust and this growth in his game over the course of the year where he was earning more minutes and playing our top pair. (Dennis) Gilbert is coming up and now we need another guy to kind of step into that role and they’re very similar, the two players.

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“This guy bets every night and his teammates love him and I think that was really key. He feels it. He goes to the rink every day with the right mindset to get better, and this year I have noticed a significant increase in his game. And even if you go back to last year, I saw a huge growth in him as a young player.”

This progress is a source of pride for Solo, who started his professional career at Dynamo Minsk, a KHL club based in the capital of Belarus. Asked about his biggest improvements in 2022-2023, he replied: “I think that’s all, but especially I start playing faster, I start skating faster, thinking faster and playing harder.”

“I think that this season I play much better than in the past,” Solovyov added. “Everyone, they told me this. And I feel it. I feel like I’m playing for the team. I feel like a big part of our team, so it’s quite nice.”

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Title quest

He will be an important figure for the Wranglers as they battle for first place in the Pacific division – and first place in the first round – and then aim for the AHL title.

And, perhaps, in time, he will become an incredible Stanley Cup playoff hero, like his idol Salei. According to, only 14 players from Belarus have taken part in The Show so far.

“I’m a little shy, but I never think about it – whether I’m around or not,” Solovyov insisted. “I just think about the game and maybe when the Flames general manager or head coach decides I’m ready, they’ll call me and I’ll try to play there.

But now I don’t even think about it. I’m here and I’m just trying to do my job and do it well. When they call me, I’ll do the same in the NHL.”

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Friday – Wranglers at Tucson Roadrunners

Saturday – Wranglers at Tucson Roadrunners

March 24 – San Diego Gulls at the Wranglers, 7:00 pm

March 26 – San Diego Gulls at the Wranglers, 7:00 pm


Cole Schwindt finally got out of the protracted hype. Ahead of Friday’s showdown with the Roadrunners in Tucson, the 21-year-old forward played three games in a row. Moreover, two of these counts were counted as victorious. Prior to his current tear, Schwindt had only scored a couple of goals in his last 30 games.


Last week, the Wranglers bolstered their position in the blue line with the addition of Christian Rubins, who made three appearances for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021-2022 season. Now there are 11 guys with experience in the NHL in this lineup. Also on the list are forwards Clark Bishop, Dryden Hunt, Ben Jones, Matthew Phillips, Kevin Rooney, Cole Schwindt and Brett Sutter, as well as defensemen Nick DeSimone and Nicolas Meloche, and reserve player Oscar Dansk.


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