Robbie Irons just told me that Boris Zinchenko passed away today. Though he never played a game, Boris was one of the great characters in the history of Komets hockey as the interpreter for the Komets' Russian players in the early 1990s. Whenever the media, or sometimes the coach, wanted to talk to one of the Russians, we would call Boris and he would meet us at the coliseum.
Boris had moved to Fort Wayne from the Ukraine in 1949, and he became much more than an interpreter to the Russian players. He'd help them find apartments, apply for driver's licences and Social Security cards. He even co-signed for phone bills and apartment leases.
Boris was not an interpreter by trade, but did this just as a favor, but worked as an engineer for International Harvestor. He came to America at age 19 from Germany where he worked in a German labor camp during World War II.
His son Paul used to travel with Irons and his son Kevin to tournaments and Irons suggested that the Komets use Boris.
There were a few kinks along the way. When Igor Chibirev came to Fort Wayne as the Komets' first Russian player in 1992, it was a huge sensation. After all, the Berlin Wall hadn't fallen until 1989.
Anyway, I remember the first time I got Boris and Igor together. There was a lot of interest in hearing what Igor thought about things. I asked the first question, "What do you think of playing in Fort Wayne?" Boris relayed it and then Igor talked and talked and talked for more than two minutes. I'm thinking, ``Wow, this is going to be great stuff!'' I could hardly wait to hear what Igor had said, thinking this is going to be a huge story. Then Boris said, "He says he likes it."
Needless to say, we had to train Boris a little on the role of an interpreter, and he became a great asset.
Another funny story: A few years later, Boris, who had almost as dry a sense of humor as Ken Ullyot, approached Irons in the coliseum hallway, and said, "Don't do me any more favors. I talk for these guys and now I can't get rid of them. They have practically moved in and they eat all my food." Then he walked away with a chuckle.
Boris was one of the great guys behind the scenes with the Komets, part of the hundreds who make Fort Wayne hockey what it is. Rest in peace, my friend.