Mikhail ‘Birdman’ Berdin flew the coop to pursue NHL dream in North America

Winnipeg Jets draft pick Mikhail Berdin is still just 21 years old, but the young goaltender has already put on a lot of miles to get the American Hockey League.

His Manitoba Moose teammates call him the “Birdman,” and it’s a fitting nickname for the Russian-born goalie who left the nest when he was barely a teen, moving from Ufa to just outside Moscow — over a thousand kilometres away.

“I’m not the first goalie probably on my team in Ufa,” Berdin said. “They say they doesn’t need me, and I need to figure out something. And coach called me: ‘You want to change team?’ I say, ‘okay, why not’?”

But what the teenager was not prepared for were the real-life tasks outside the rink.

“When you move, first year is pretty tough actually for me,” he said. “You need to think about food, think about school — nobody to control you.”

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The Jets drafted Berdin in the sixth round, 157th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. And he came straight to North America as an 18-year-old to play in the USHL, where the language barrier was the biggest obstacle.

“My English — nothing,” Berdin said. “Guys were asking, ‘Hey man, how are you doing?’ And I can’t say anything back, like oh wow.”

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But after living with his billet family in South Dakota, Berdin started to pick up the language. The adjustment, however, wasn’t just difficult for him, but also for his family back home.

“My grandpa, grandma, like they so surprised,” Berdin said. “‘Oh, you go to America. We never before been in America. How is it?’ They think it’s a different world. They call me the first couple months. He doesn’t know what time here. So they call me here, like I’m sleeping. They call me at 3 a.m. or something. And they think we have the same time.”

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While many Russian-born players are opting to stay back home until they’re older, Berdin was only concerned with chasing his dream of playing in the NHL.

“Some guys in Russia dream about KHL,” he said. “But I don’t remember dreaming about KHL. I was watching [Alex] Ovechkin and highlights from NHL.”

It’s a dream he hopes becomes a reality in the very near future.

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