After bringing in Nik Antropov to join Ilya Kovalchuk on the front line, resigning Marty Reasoner to keep stability lower down in the lineup and cutting a deal with Colby Armstrong…the Atlanta Thrashers were looking around for that one last little piece to complete the makeup of their offense.
To that measure, in September they extended an offer to Maxim Afinogenov…who had spent all of his nine NHL seasons with the Buffalo Sabres…to join their training camp on a professional tryout. It didn’t take long to see that the 30-year Moscow native was going to fit right in with this club and he was signed to a one-year $800,000 contract to play in Atlanta.
Upon joining the team, Max said that John Anderson just wanted him to play his game… to simply utilize his skating skills to help the Thrashers score goals.
“He told me to just be myself”, Max said of his new coach.
He’s certainly done that so far…and he’s brought a very entertaining style of play to Thrasherville, often sprinkling in a dash of dramatics as well.
In October, during the Thrashers first trip to Buffalo this season…and with the home fans dishing out their own special brand of hockey hospitality…Afinogenov gave them exactly the type of response that was called for.
Amidst the warm and touching homecoming “welcome” by the fans of western New York, Afinogenov to scored his first ever goal as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers. Just 17 seconds after Drew Stafford had netted a goal to pull the Sabres to within one, Max took a pass from fellow countryman Slava Kozlov, completely undressed Taylor Myers on his way through the defensive zone and beat Patrick Lalime…providing the Thrashers again with a 2-goal cushion with just over 3 minutes left to play.
“It was fun scoring that first goal in Buffalo”, Max told me recently. “I was so happy”.
But he went on to say that he was even happier about the timely score because it helped his new team win a big game on the road. At the time, Atlanta was playing its fourth road game of an important five-game trip at the beginning of the season…one that ended up 3-1-1.
That goal was the first of what is now 12 total goals for the season…tying Rich Peverley for second behind Ilya Kovalchuk’s 20…and his 31 overall points ties Antropov for third on the team. In fact, 31 point after 35 games played puts him on a pace to finish with something around 73…which is exactly the same as his career-high put up during the 2005-06 season. Then he had 22 goals and 51 assists during 77 games played.
November proved to be a very good month for Afinogenov as he produced 8 goals, 10 assists and was a +12 in the 14 games played in that month. Several of those tallies came late in games or periods…none more dramatic than the game-winner against the Panthers with just 5.5 seconds left in the third back on November 30.
This earned his the player of the month award from the Atlanta Thrashers Fan Club, which was presented to him last Saturday.
Afinogenov has enjoyed the offensive style of play that the Thrashers and coach Anderson employ here in Atlanta, a type of play that is about as opposite from Buffalo’s as the weather in the two cities. “In Buffalo, it’s so defensive…Miller is the main guy there and the defenders help him win games like 1-0, 2-1”.
Around these parts, those types of games come around about as often as measurable snow fall.
Helping this Thrashers team win, as he said, is something that he takes a lot of pride in so far this season. But what about living in the big city of Atlanta…how has that been for you Max?
“I’m originally from Moscow, you know”. He said. “It’s a big city and there is a lot to do [like in Atlanta]. My friends and family enjoy visiting me here”.
OK, so…you are now in a large city where there’s many things to do. But don’t you miss dealing with 10-feet of snow for six months out of the year?
His laughter pretty much answered that question.
“I like four seasons, definitely. The [seasonal] change is good…it’s a big plus”.
So Max is indeed enjoying playing and living a big, vibrant city with much more to offer him than previoulsy.
“I like it here…it’s a beautiful city”.