By Tom Hanson
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. — Idaho’s Andrei Vasilyev proved in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals that you can’t teach experience.
The 32-year-old Russian recorded a hat trick in the Steelheads’ 5-1 victory over the Florida Everblades Friday night at TECO Arena. But scoring playoff goals and being in the limelight is nothing new for Vasilyev. Vasilyev became the first player to score three goals in a Kelly Cup Finals game since Mississippi’s Chris Schmidt in Game 6 against Richmond in 1999.
Of the 36 players in the Finals, he has the most NHL experience.
During his 14-year professional career, he’s had three different call-ups to the big leagues.
His longest stint — 10 games with the New York Islanders — came during the 1995-96 season.
And even though his stay was short, he showed his stuff, scoring seven points, including two goals.
With three goals Friday, Vasilyev proved why the Islanders selected him in the 11th round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s got the patience of a pro,” said Darrell Hay, his Idaho teammate. “He’s so smart and so calm.
And he does things that just amaze you. It’s like, ‘Wow, did he just do that?’ Like his last goal.”
Vasilyev scored his final goal after it looked he was trapped be hind the Everblades’ net. But with a fake to the right, he found a space on the left and beat Florida goalie Rob Zepp with the wrap- around.
The goal, which came at the 11:34 mark of the third period, put the game out of reach for the Everblades.
“He’s got the best shot on our team,” said Idaho coach John Olver. “He’s just an experienced guy you like to have on your roster in the playoffs.”
In the Steelheads’ last three games, Vasilyev has posted seven points: four goals and three assists.
Vasilyev has made a career out of finding the back of the net in the postseason.
In 80 minor league playoff games appearances (including Friday night’s contest), Vasilyev has 42 goals and 21 assists.
“The playoffs have always been my best time,” Vasilyev said.
“(The playoffs) are a special time for any player and I just feel fortunate to be here.”
Vasilyev also considers himself lucky. For example, he put the Steelheads in front 1-0 in the first period by accidentally redirecting a teammate’s shot.
And he’d rather be lucky than good.
Which is why he cherishes his two International Hockey League championships with Denver and Utah in back-to-back seasons.
Now, he’s hoping he’s got enough good fortune and legs left to add a third title.
“I hope I am,” Vasilyev said about being a good luck charm.
“I’m old. I’m 32. But I still feel like a kid. I’m still having fun.”