Aliaksei Protas Nearly Gave Up On Hockey Following First Trip To North America At Age 14

Photo: HC Vitebsk

Washington Capitals forward prospect Aliaksei Protas traveled to North America for the first time at age 14 to play for a youth team. The attempt was unsuccessful. So much so, upon returning home, Protas seriously considered giving up the game of hockey.

“The first coach persuaded me not to give up and try again,” said Protas. “From that moment on, I began to take hockey more seriously and finally decided to connect my life with this sport.”

Protas, 21, told the story during a recent appearance at the Vitebsk hockey school. The event was part of the school’s “Step to Success” campaign. Protas himself is an alumnus of the school.

Thanks for the hard work, Protas was again offered to try his hand in Canada. As we now know well, the second trip overseas was much more successful for Protas, as he became a standout prospect for the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League.

Protas, a 6’6”, 210 lb left-handed forward, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round (#91 overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. After a year in the KHL and AHL, Protas was primed for a chance at a roster spot in Washington.

Making The Leap

Protas impressed Capitals coaches during the team’s 2021 prospect development camp as well as during the Capitals main training camp prior to the start of the 2021-22 season. However, he would eventually begin his 2021-22 campaign in Hershey.

Fortunately his detour to Pennsylvania would be short lived, as Protas was recalled by the Capitals and made his NHL debut on November 1 against Tampa Bay.

“The only thing I was worried about was not to fall during the warm-up when I went out to skate alone [traditional for a rookie’s first game]. And the rest was fine,” Protas told Hockey.by.

After playing 33 games for the Capitals (3g, 6a), Protas returned to Hershey for the conclusion of the AHL season and the Bears postseason run.

Hard Work Continues

“I was always told that there would be a chance, the main thing is to work,” said Protas. “Nobody knows what might happen in the next moment. I worked hard and believed in myself. I knew that everyone in the club was constantly watching and analyzing, so every day you need to prove that you are worthy. This circumstance did not put pressure on me in any way, it only motivated me to work, knowing that a chance could present itself at any moment, and I had to be ready for it.”

Protas said that he met with head coach Peter Laviolette before returning to Hershey, and that the Capitals bench boss conveyed a positive message to him.

“Work hard and be ready. You came here, stayed for two months, did a great job,” said Laviolette. “We are grateful to you, you became part of the reason that this team is fighting for the playoffs. You never know what will happen, just work.”

Laviolette’s message to Protas resonated with the 21-year old. There was no discernible dip in his level of play when he returned to Hershey, common in NHL rookies returning to the AHL.

“I took everything in a positive way. I know what to work on, I felt it all. Now, in the summer, I’m trying to squeeze out the maximum in order to become a full-fledged NHL player next season.”

By Jon Sorensen

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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Center in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.

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