Former Jets defenseman Sergei Bautin is a subject of profound respect among Dynamo Moscow fans. No wonder – he was a part of arguably the best teams Russian hockey has ever put together. In the early 1990s Dynamo Moscow was a pretty much a dream team. Bautin joined the blue-and-white, played with them for 2 seasons and won 2 championship titles.
Being an excellent shutdown defenseman, it was perfectly logical for Sergei to make the Olympic roster of Team Russia – although, officially the team represented a Union of Former Soviet Republics. Russians won a hard-fought semifinal against the Americans and beat Canada 3-1 in a gold medal game.
Staying put in Russia wasn’t an option in those days. The clubs couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money on the players, the country was going through a huge crisis and the NHL finally was able to grasp something it had longed for ever since the 70s – Russian hockey players. As a result, almost the entire roster of Dynamo Moscow crossed the pond looking for glory in North America.
As for the time Bautin spent with Dynamo, one of his fondest memories has nothing to do with gold medals. Interestingly enough, it’s a short trip to Great Britain that Sergei loves to reflect upon.
"I was fortunate enough to be a part of unique British series. I played alongside with Darius Kasparaitis, Yan Kaminsky and Roman Iliyn. Honestly, how many hockey players can say that they stepped on the ice in England? I don’t remember exactly how many games did we play, but it was fantastic! As they say in America, it was a lot ‘fun’", reminiscences Bautin, saying the last word in English. "Our opponents were no match to us, but it was very interesting to visit the country. Although, the only big city we went to was Glasgow".
The Jets drafted Bautin in the first round 17th overall in 1992. Three of Sergei’s teammates were drafted before him – Alexei Yashin (2nd overall), Darius Kasparaitis (5th) and Andrei Nazarov (10th). Also the Washington Capitals chose Traktor’s Sergei Gonchar with 14th overall pick – he would spent the next 2 seasons with Dynamo Moscow before coming over to the NHL.
Certainly, the Jets were another world in every way for Bautin. Not only did he have to deal with a different type of hockey and overcome the language barrier, but the team wasn’t nearly as successful as what he was used to back home. So when you ask Sergei about the time in Winnipeg he mostly talks about the atmosphere in the dressing-room.
"We had a good team. [Teemu] Selanne beat a bunch of league records in a row, competing with [Alex] Mogilny in goal-scoring. [Phil] Housley was simply unbelievable. A lot of other guys found their game, too. Including [Teppo] Numminen and myself. Most of the season – about 40 games or so – I was paired with him", says Bautin.
Sergei inked a 3-year deal with the Jets and despite having to leave Russia, it wasn’t that difficult for him to adapt to a new life. The Jets had also brought Igor Ulanov, Evgeny Davydov and Alexei Zhitnik on board.
"The atmosphere in the dressing-room was also good. Even after losses we would often get together, try to shake things up, get ready to fight again…although, this atmosphere was nothing like we had in Dynamo. In the NHL the players have more of a business-oriented relationship with each other."
In his debut season in the NHL Sergei played 71 regular season games, scored 5 goals and notched 18 assists for 23 points. Next season after 59 games he was traded to the Red Wings along with Bob Essensa for Tim Cheveldae and Dallas Drake. That was pretty much the end of his NHL days. At one practice Sergei collided with Kris Draper and got badly injured. He was sent down to Detroit’s AHL affiliate at that time – Adirondack Red Wings. Because of the lockout Adirondack became his home for a whole season.
As a free agent Bautin signed with the Sharks, hoping to play with fellow Russians Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. His fate wasn’t as bright as that, though.
"I played just one game against the Bruins and then they sent me down", explains Bautin. "Perhaps at that point the Sharks were not that happy with Russian players. However, I think it happened because the Sharks had a lot of defensemen with 1-way deals and I had a 2-way contract. So it was easier for them to send me down. I played in Kansas almost the entire season. Andrei Nazarov, Viktor Kozlov and Arturs Irbe also spent some time down there. My contract expired by the end of the season. I didn’t see a lot of opportunities for myself in North Americe and so I asked my agent to find me a team in Europe."
The next two seasons Bautin spent in Sweden playing for Lulea. In 1996-97 he won his last trophy – Elitserien silver medal. His career lasted until 2004 allowing him to play hockey in Germany and Japan: so turns out that little trip to England was just a beginning of a long journey around the world.
Bautin retired in 2004 after spending a season with the legendary Krylia Sovetov of Moscow in a second-tier Russian league.