When Yuuri was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, it was a dream come true. Years of practice, of hard work, of talking to scouts and agents, of posting his own highlights on Youtube — it all paid off. Sure, he went in the seventh round, surrounded by players who were probably never going to make the show, but Pavel Datsyuk went in the sixth and look at his career. Yuuri was going to make it. He moved all the way across the world for this, competed internationally for this, bled and cried for this. He was going to make it to the NHL.
Yuuri didn't make it. He spent the three years of his contract playing for Toledo in the third tier ECHL, getting four hundred dollars a week and living with three other players. He only played in five AHL games, where he registered three assists and no goals. He was never called up to the NHL at all. He was struggling under the pressure and drowning in anxiety. His North American agent barely answered his phone calls, even though he was doing fairly solidly in the ECHL, and Yuuri knew that that was it. Between the few chances he got to show what he could do on a bigger stage and the point slump he had when his parents told him Vicchan died, he didn't see a way forward.
When his contract was up, he parted ways with his agent and went home to Japan.
"Have you come to practice?" Yuuko asked when he showed up at the Ice Castle. Yuuri nodded, and Yuuko went about setting the ice up for hockey, dragging out the nets with her husband and even putting out cones. A trip to the freezer for some pucks and they were set.
"Let's do that game we used to play," Yuuko suggested. The three of them had been obsessed with ice sports after the 1998 Olympics, when they watched figure skaters and hockey players compete in their respective competitions on the international stage. They would hobble out in hockey skates, barely aware of what they should do, and pass the puck with sticks that were too long. They tried their best to copy what they saw in the highlight reels that made their way online.
"Unless you're too chicken," Nishigori said when Yuuri looked hesitant. None of them noticed the triplets behind the boards.
And that's how video of Yuuri imitating the signature moves of all the leading NHL players, and a number of KHL ones as well, went viral.
Japanese Hockey Player Yūri Katsuki Imitates NHL and KHL's Best
tooh0ckey4u [10 hours ago]
Wow, this was the kid that was drafted by the wings right?
view all 52 replies
fuxkpens [8 hours ago]
yeah but he failed out like tsujimoto
Yuuri had time to figure out his next move. The offseason was long for those who don't make their respective playoffs, and someone from the ALIH had already contacted him for his agent's information. He told the representative he didn't have an agent yet, and that he would get back in touch when he did.
"You could make a lot more money in the ALIH than you never did in America," his sister Mari said. "I'll even be your agent."
"The ALIH isn't the NHL though," Yuuri sighed, and Mari threw up her hands and stomped away.
It wasn't the NHL, but it would be hockey. He'd be paid more than three times what he was in the ECHL. He'd get to live in Japan, play for a Japanese team, see Japanese faces in the audience. The Asian teams always looked for homegrown talent; no one wanted to look too dependent on their foreign players, those Americans and Russians who trickled in from the bigger, more established leagues. Phichit played for one of the Korean teams, so they would get to see each other.
It would be a good step to prolong his career, if that's what he was looking for.
Yuuri was still moping around Hasetsu weeks later. He split his time between eating far too many bowls of katsudon and going to the Ice Castle, where he did halfhearted drills and one man rushes against stationary cones. Then Phichit called him with the news that Viktor Nikiforov had been spotted at the airport near Hasetsu. Then he went home and saw a very familiar canine outside his parents' onsen. He ran without a second thought, tearing through the hallways, right past Viktor's infamous dog and into the baths.
The Viktor Nikiforov. Captain of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, four time KHL MVP, two time Gagarin Cup winner, two time Olympian, and member of four World Championship winning teams. That Viktor Nikiforov.
He was naked.
Yuuri was so screwed.
"He flew all the way here from Russia for you! To play with you!" Yuuko shouted.
"He saw that silly video your daughters posted," Yuuri protested. "He probably just wants to do a, a follow up video or something."
"He's your idol. What are you going to do, turn him down?" Nishigori asked skeptically.
Yuuri thought about Viktor, naked, standing up in the hot spring and extending his hand to Yuuri, about him saying, "I decided I need you on my line." As if that wasn't absolutely crazy.
As if Yuuri could turn him down, if Viktor was serious.
Viktor dragged him to the rink the next day, his equipment brought ahead by a distressingly helpful Minako. Nishigori had unhelpfully volunteered to play goaltender for them. Once there, Viktor bullied Yuuri into doing practice drills and keep-away games, and—
Yuuri had been obsessed with Viktor for years. Viktor was only a few years older than him, but Yuuri had watched his tape religiously, from when he was a prospect to when he made the NHL at eighteen. Yuuri had spent hours watching him play and then trying to copy it, getting a feel for how Viktor ate up the ice and split through defensemen. Yuuri had even chosen his position just because Viktor played center, so that one day he might have the option of playing on Viktor's wing.
So when Viktor diagrammed the play he wanted them to try, Yuuri was ready.
They sank into rhythm like they had been playing together every day of their lives. They traded no look pass after no look pass, perfectly in sync. Yuuri was hyper aware of Viktor, every stride he skated, every adjustment he made to his hockey stick. The puck landed in the middle of the tape every time. Together they drove Nishigori nuts, scoring on the net like he wasn't even there.
"You're very light on your skates!" Viktor exclaimed after Yuuri scored with a spinorama, just to show off.
"I used to figure skate," Yuuri explained without embarrassment. Figure skating was the perfect way to gain control and flexibility on the ice.
"Excellent, so did I!" Viktor smiled conspiratorially. "Perfect."
Nishigori grumbled something about having better things to do before abandoning the net. Neither of them noticed.
"Why did you quit?" Viktor asked once they had finally wound down. The second half of their session had felt like dancing, it was so perfect. Yuuri hadn't felt like this since he and Yuuko had danced pairs as children, when they knew each other so well it felt like their hearts beat as one.
"I didn't quit," Yuuri protested. "My contract finished."
"You didn't even try to negotiate another one," Viktor said. "If you really loved North American hockey so much, you could have signed on for another two years. You could have gone to a different team. You could have gone to the SPHL instead, or even the LNAH. But you came here to a town with no hockey opportunities. I heard you haven't even called the ALIH back."
"My dream was to make it to the NHL," Yuuri said quietly. Like Viktor had.
"So was mine," Viktor said. "I even made it. But it wasn't what I had hoped for. I lost my love for the game, much like I think you have. So I went home and found it again. Is that what you're trying to do, find your love for the game again?"
No, Yuuri was hiding from his own shame and failure.
"Won't you come to the KHL?" Viktor asked softly. "If Metallurg is to repeat the Cup, we need fresh talent. No one can read me on the ice like you can. None of them can keep up with me like you. I need you."
"I don't have a foreign agent anymore," Yuuri said. He doesn't have a domestic agent either, really, and he's no Alexander Ovechkin to have his mom negotiate for him.
"That's all right, you can use mine," Viktor said easily, like some Russian agent was going to welcome a Japanese nobody with open arms. Maybe if Viktor said so, he would.
"You can even live with me and Makkachin!"
Yuuri looked down. He was too busy trying to hide his blush to see that Viktor was smiling down on him fondly, Yuuri's own feelings reflected in his eyes.
Yūri Katsuki and KHL MVP Viktor Nikiforov Practice Together in Hasetsu Japan
crosbymebb [3 hours ago]
Holy shit! how did the wings let this kid go? Shades of Crosby and Kunitz here
view all 36 replies
doncherryontop1 [1 hour ago]
anyone would play good next to that russian coward
crosbymebb [1 hour ago]
your as enlightened as your username suggests
Metallurg finished the season at second in their conference. They made the playoffs. Metallurg blew through the first round with an almost embarrassing best-of-seven 4-0 sweep, the second round with a decisive 4-2 victory, and the third round with a nail biting 4-3 Game 7 win. The finals seemed to drag on forever. Yuuri was so full of nerves he spent the nights before games staring sleeplessly at Viktor's ceiling or snacking endlessly on pickled beets. Yuri Plisetsky, the junior player Viktor was billeting from the MHL, scowled every time he caught Yuuri stuffing his face.
(Yuuri had missed tsukemono unbearably in Toledo. The only thing Americans seemed to pickle were cucumbers. Russians pickled as many vegetables as the Japanese and then some, and even if it wasn't quite the same, it still reminded him of home.)
In the end, it came down to the last minute of Game 7. Metallurg and SKA were tied at two each, and both teams were desperately scrambling for the win. Coach put Yuuri and Viktor's line on the ice, and Viktor stole the puck from Khokhlachev before the other center could blink. Yuuri tore down the ice with Viktor, pulling back only to be sure that Viktor crossed into the offensive zone first. He twisted around the lone defender, accepted a blind pass from Viktor—
And shot the puck into the back of the net, right over Koskinen's shoulder.
Viktor slammed Yuuri into the boards in celebration, screaming a nonsense mix of excited Russian, Japanese, and English into his ear. Their teammates crowded around them, trading celebratory hugs and butt slaps, but Yuuri's eyes never left Viktor. His hand gripped the captain's K on Viktor's shoulder.
The celebration ended, and after a quick victory lap, they settled back into position. They had a 3-2 lead with thirty seconds left on the clock. If they wound the time down, Yuuri's goal would be the game winner. He would have won his team the Gagarin Cup.
Yuuri exchanged a final nod with Viktor as everyone lined up at the faceoff dot. He was ready.
The Unexpected Rise of Yuri Katsuki: How a Japanese player most of us have never heard of made history
by Steve Dangle, guest writing for RMNB
To say that no one expected Yuri Katsuki's dominance would be a lie. One person absolutely expected it: Katsuki's teammate, roommate, and the man who recruited him to the KHL, Viktor Nikiforov.
"I saw that video that went viral just like everyone else," Nikiforov said, referring to [this video] that shows Katsuki copying the signature goals of famous players from Sidney Crosby to Patrick Kane to Pavel Datsyuk. Nikiforov's own spinorama technique was featured prominently several times. "I knew he was a special player immediately. I couldn't believe that he was a free agent."
With Christophe Giacometti returned to his home country of Switzerland, there was a spot open for a winger on Nikiforov's line. After seeing that video, he knew exactly who he wanted to fill it.
"I flew in right away!" Nikiforov laughed. "I barely even let my agent know where I was going. I wanted to get to him before anyone else did."
He succeeded. Shortly after, another video of Katsuki went viral — this one of him practicing with Nikiforov — and Metallurg Magnitogorsk announced that it had signed Katsuki to a try out contract. He would play the preseason with the team, and if he did well, they would offer him a full contract.
"I'm very glad they gave me a chance," Katsuki said when asked about the try out. "I know that going from the ECHL to the KHL involves a leap of faith on the organization's part."
Some commentators have compared to Katsuki's rise in the KHL to a fairy tale. How else would a virtual unknown break records as the KHL's highest scoring Japanese player of all time in just one season?
Katsuki's long time childhood friend Yuko Nishigori disagreed that it sounded like a fairy tale. "Yuri worked hard. He and Viktor trained together all through the offseason. Nothing was handed to him. He earned his spot on Viktor's line. He just needed someone to give him the chance that Detroit didn't."
"The talent has always been there," family friend Minako Okukawa added. "He's represented Japan multiple times internationally."
Friends and loved ones have gathered at the Katsuki family inn to celebrate Metallurg's Gagarin Cup victory. Nikiforov and Katsuki display uncanny ability on the ice together, and it only makes sense that Nikiforov be here for the celebration. After all, he did get the assist on Katsuki's Cup winning goal.
Katsuki is the only Japanese player to score a Cup winning goal in KHL history, a fact that Nikiforov mentions at regular intervals.
"They're gross. It's bad enough having to live with them," Yuri Plisetsky said when asked about Katsuki and Nikiforov's on- and off-ice chemistry. Plisetsky plays for Stalnye Lisy, the junior team affiliated with Metallurg. He billets with Nikiforov during the season and appears to have been dragged to Japan to celebrate the championship win with his mentors.
"I have no idea what we're going to do with them," Mari Katsuki, Yuri's sister, said as the two celebrated with Japanese party games. "It's like they were made for each other."
It certainly shows on the ice.
Be sure to watch Katsuki and Nikiforov next year in the KHL. If you want to see even more of them, check out this video they graciously agreed to shoot where they humiliate me on my own vlog: [KATSUKI AND NIKIFOROV MURDER STEVE DANGLE ON THE ICE WHILE MRS DANGLE LAUGHS]
Additional note: The Katsuki's family inn was delightful to stay at and I encourage anyone who finds themselves in that part of Japan to check it out.
Wow I watched the video and Katsuki and Nikiforov are even gayer for each other than the rumors suggested
normally I don't hold with this kind of talk, but SERIOUSLY
but they're so good the khl ignores it, bless
Someone get these two on a plane to the NHL.