Stan Galiev wants to be recognized as something more than just the hockey player who once ate the beating heart of a cobra before devouring the rest of it.
That’s why he’s been on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex the past three weeks, working with Capitals strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish and a growing contingent of Capitals players.
But first, we’ll recount the snake story.
Galiev and his girlfriend had planned a vacation in Vietnam and read online that it is a Vietnamese tradition to have a snake killed in front of you at a restaurant, and to eat its “still-beating” heart.
“Basically, it was my biggest fear,” Galiev said. “So I was like, why not do it? I might only have one chance to do it. I am proud. I fight through it and I ate the snake. I’m glad I did.”
So, how did it taste?
“Actually, I was surprised how it tastes. It tastes like normal meat. Snake tastes good.”
While on the same vacation Galiev also overcame his fear of piranhas by catching one and eating that as well.
Making the Capitals is next on his bucket list.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Galiev, now 23, came into training camp as one of the Caps’ top forward prospects. Coming off a dominant 2012 Quebec League playoff performance in which he led all scorers with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 17 games, Galiev spent most of his first pro season with the ECHL Reading Royals, where he recorded 47 points in 46 games in 2012-13.
He split the following season between Reading and the Hershey Bears and when he began last season as a healthy scratch under Bears first-year head coach Troy Mann, it appeared his career with the Capitals had reached a dead end, especially since he was in the final year of an entry-level contract.
“Obviously, you get angry when you’re not in the lineup,” Galiev said. “I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can so that will be my last healthy scratch game.”
Galiev scored in his first game back in the Bears lineup and never looked back, leading the club with 25 goals, including 15 on the power play.
“He’s got a good shot and scored lots of goals in the American Hockey League,” said Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who played on a line with Galiev in their two seasons together on Russia’s junior national team. “He has skill and you have to have skill in this league. You always want your friends to play with your team, so it would be cool for him to get a spot on the NHL team.”
Mann said Galiev’s willingness to go into the danger zones – in front of the crease, at the sides of the net and in the high slot – resulted in more scoring chances and more goals.
“I think I started shooting more and went to the greasy areas,” Galiev said. “I started to think defense first. And I played with confidence. If there was a play to make I tried to make it and not think about making mistakes.”
The Capitals were impressed enough to recall Galiev for his first two NHL games – he scored a goal in his second NHL game against the Rangers on April 11 – then awarded him with a two-year, two-way contract that pays him $100,000 if he plays in the AHL and a salary cap-friendly $575,000 if he plays with the Caps.
“When you get a two-year deal (it shows) people trust you,” Galiev said. “I played my first two NHL games and it kind of teased me. I want to be here and I want to do everything I can to impress the coaches.
“I feel I’m ready. I just have to be smart and don’t be nervous. It’s the same game, just different people.”
With the Caps’ top three spots at right wing expected to be taken by T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Tom Wilson, Galiev will be battling forward Michael Latta for fourth-line ice time.
“It’s been long enough,” Galiev said about his wait for training camp, which begins Sept. 18. “I miss hockey.”
As for confronting his fears, Galiev was asked if he would be willing to eat the beating heart of a snake again if given the chance. He passed on the opportunity of a clever reply (“In a heartbeat”) but said he would.
“If I had the chance, I would do it again,” he said with a snake-eating grin. “Why not?”