January 18, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Russian Exploration

Lowell Adds Moscow Native, Youngest D-I Player

by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer

Adding players midseason is rare in and of itself. Adding 17-year-old Russians who haven't played since last March is unheard of. But that's exactly what Massachusetts-Lowell did this week, as the team announced on Tuesday that it has added 6-foot-2 defenseman Dima Sinitsyn to its roster.

Sinitsyn, who is now the youngest player in Division-I hockey and the first-ever Russian to play for Lowell, hasn't played since finishing last season as the leading scorer for the Dallas Stars U-16 Team in the Tier 1 Elite League.

He was selected by the Green Bay Gamblers in this year's USHL draft and then had his rights traded to the Sioux Falls Stampede, but Sinitsyn never made it to the USHL. His student visa expired after graduating from high school and he was unable to obtain another.

That's when the River Hawks stepped in. Assistant coaches Cam Ellsworth and Jason Lammers had both seen Sinitsyn play in Dallas, and both believed he was a player who could help Lowell. So when Sinitsyn — whose mother teaches English in Russia and wanted him to go to college in the U.S. — returned to Moscow, head coach Norm Bazin and his staff decided to see if they could help get him a visa.

It took longer than Bazin anticipated, but Sinitsyn's visa was finally approved over the weekend, and he was on an 18-hour flight to Boston a short time later. Sinitsyn, whom Bazin described as "an offensive type of defenseman," arrived on Lowell's campus Monday and practiced with the team for the first time that same day.

Of course, no one is expecting Sinitsyn's transition to be easy. Division-I hockey is a big step up from midget minors, especially for someone whom Bazin said is still filling out his frame.

"It's certainly a challenge," Bazin said. "It's going to be a work in progress. He's a young boy who's going to have to learn our systems and watch some games to get a feel for things. And obviously he'll need to get acclimated to a new culture and start a new school. So there's a lot of different hurdles he's going to have to get through, but we're confident he'll be able to overcome them."

That difficult transition raises questions about why Sinitsyn was brought in now rather than after the season, when there would be more time for him to get settled. Bazin said they wanted to get him on campus now, though, so he could start the transition as soon as possible.

Bazin said it's much too early to set any sort or timetable for Sinitsyn's first game action. He'll only play once Bazin and his staff feel he's up to speed and ready to help the team win. If that isn't before the end of the season, Bazin said redshirting Sinitsyn would be an option so he doesn't lose a year of eligibility.

"I hope he can compete for playing time by the end of this season, but that's yet to be determined," Bazin said. "It really depends how he makes the jump and what his learning curve is. I won't rush him into anything. We feel he's going to be a big part of our future, and that's the way we want to attack it for now."

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