Alexander Romanov and Ilya Sorokin didn’t have the option of going home for Christmas or spending the holiday with their extended families. Getting to another continent over a three-day break is out of the question, even if the Russian invasion of Ukraine wasn’t a factor for the two of them specifically.
So on Christmas Day, the two instead got an invite somewhere a little closer: Igor Shesterkin’s house.
The ties between Shesterkin, Sorokin and Romanov go back a long way. Shesterkin and Sorokin have been friends since childhood, and have played in the same age group for the Russian national team. Shesterkin and Romanov know each other through the Krylya Sovetov Moscow youth team, though Romanov is four years younger than the Rangers’ netminder. And Sorokin and Romanov were teammates for CSKA Moscow in the KHL long before playing together on Long Island.
On Christmas, those bonds played out as a group of players who otherwise might have had a quiet holiday were able to celebrate together.
“It’s not easy to be a foreigner in a [new] country,” Romanov told The Post. “And it’s really good when you have close friends here. It’s important.”
The NHL is unique among major sports in how it handles the holiday season. Instead of playing through and trying to make Christmas a marquee television event as the NBA and NFL do, the NHLPA negotiated three league-mandated off days, Dec. 24-26, into the collective bargaining agreement.
That allows players some rest, and some get the chance to travel home to see their families for Christmas. For the large contingent of Europeans in the league, though, that can make the holiday a lonely occasion.
At least some of the Islanders’ Europeans, though, made the best of the situation.
Aatu Raty and Robin Salo’s parents both made the trip from Finland to spend the holiday together. Raty said his mom had been in the States for more than a month, but his dad happened to fly over just a few days before he got called up.
That meant he could make his NHL debut, and score his first NHL goal, with both parents watching.
“It is [really lucky] and they are both huge hockey fans,” Raty said. “My dad played professional hockey, he’s been my coach for a long time. He’s still a professional hockey coach, he knows a lot about the game. It’s a dream come true for me and him and my mom, too. I feel like all the hockey moms know the game but she does as well.”
Raty, who skated in his second NHL game on Tuesday against the Penguins, said that it still felt “surreal” to have scored, though his brother, Aku, is on a four-game scoring streak in the Finnish Liiga, and kept him humble via text.
“He’s got more goals than me this season,” Raty said. “He said he once he is a fluke, gotta score more.”
“It’s a little bit early to tell,” Isles coach Lane Lambert said Tuesday morning, asked about Raty’s potential to stick with the team. “I thought he showed well the other night and we’ll just keep seeing how he goes here. He’s growing. The coaching staff in [AHL] Bridgeport has done a great job with all those guys that have been called up, so we’re happy about that.”
Since he’s in the middle of the season, Aku Raty couldn’t make the trip with his parents, but the family attempted to cook a traditional Finnish Christmas meal at Aatu’s home in Milford, Conn. It wasn’t easy to find all the ingredients — they had to go with premade ham, for example — but they made it work.
“It’s kind of different,” Raty said. “But it turned out well.”