Tuesday, December 19, 2006


RIP, Andrei Lomakin

by Greg

It's with that familiar sad "geez, I hadn't thought of that guy in ages" feeling that I read of Andrei Lomakin's death earlier this month. His NHL career was fairly middling, but he had an interesting minor role in the Russian Invasion, and deserves to be remembered for that.

I remember Lomakin primarily as a defensive forward for the Panthers (at a time when that team was entirely composed of defensive forwards), but he came into the league as a speedy winger with the Philadelphia Flyers. Not just your average mid-20s European winger -- he was the first Russian on a team that had made a policy of not having Russians, and a team that had a heated history with the Soviets. It can't have been a fun situation. Not quite Pumpsie Green signing with the Red Sox, but still rough.

The Flyers were, of course, the hosts in the rough-and-tumble 1976 series that created all sorts of bad feelings (depending on your perspective, the Soviets were wimps who left the ice when things got rough, or the Flyers were a bunch of half-crazed goons), and in the late '80s, when the Fetisovs and Priakins and Kasatonovs and Starikovs started coming over, owner Ed Snider said no Russians would play for his team (unless they defected) -- his protest against Soviet human rights violations.

So, what changed? I can't find any first-hand accounts of Snider's mindset in 1991, but perhaps the Russians contributing to other teams served as an object lesson, perhaps the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union (the '91 draft was held less than two weeks after Boris Yeltsin was elected president), but the Flyers broke their rule and drafted Lomakin and Dmitri Yushkevich that year.

Lomakin -- who had been a star with Voskresensk and Dynamo Moscow in the USSR -- signed and came over for the 1991-92 season (Yushkevich would come over in 1992). It wasn't a totally happy move, though -- some old Flyers (notably Ed Van Impe) saw themselves as Cold Warriors, I guess, and expressed displeasure with the move. Andrei, by all accounts, handled things quite well -- winning praise for his work ethic, class, and efforts to learn English (side note: a personal favorite of mine, Jiri Latal, served as his interpreter). He picked up 30 points for a last-place Flyers team, and acquitted himself well.

The next year, his production went down rather than the expected up, though, and he ended up with the Panthers in the expansion draft. After two seasons (one ok, one miserable lockout-shortened year) he got his walking papers, and that's where I lost track of him. He ended up playing in Switzerland and Germany for a few years before retiring, apparently, at the fairly young age of 33. He settled in the Detroit area, and that's where he passed away this month. A sad, too-early end for a decent fellow.

Andrei Lomakin...not to be confused with the Panthers' other generic Russian, Evgeny Davydov.
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