Lewis Clifford has secured his first import signing as MK Thunder Head Coach in the form of towering blue-liner Ruslan Cernych.
The 23-year-old Lithunaian comes to Milton Keynes from Red Eagles ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the joint Dutch/Belgian league, BeNeLiga where he made 22 appearances last season.
“I’m pleased to have signed Ruslan for the year,” Clifford said. “At the end of last season I identified areas we needed to strengthen in and started looking a bit wider than we had previously to see how we could fill these spots.
“Ruslan came up, and after speaking to previous coaches and watching some video, I felt he could help our team and add parts to our team that we didn’t have previously.
“It’s obvious just by looking at the stats that Ruslan is a big guy. He is rangy and will cover a lot of ice with his reach and stride and be tough to beat 1-on-1, he has a big shot from the point and makes quick, smart plays with the puck in the defensive zone to get his team moving up the ice.”
The six-foot-six Cernych is excited by the opportunity in front of him and is eager to join his billet family and get started on the 2018-19 NIHL South 1 season.
“It feels great to represent such an organisation,” Cernych said of joining MKT. “I heard really good things about the team and the people who support MK. I can’t wait to start.”
“As far as describing myself , I don’t really like to do that. I will leave that to the coaching staff , fans or teammates. All I can say I will give my best and contribute to the team as much as I can… play my role, work hard and help to achieve the best results possible, together with the MK family.”
Cernych began his career at home in the Lithuanian Second Division with two seasons at Meteoras Vilnius before moving crosstown to Ice Wind Vilnius in 2013-14.
From there, the right-hand-shot spent two seasons in the USA. His first year on American soil featured stops in the Western States Hockey League with Lake Tahoe Blue and Arizona Redhawks, along with two games with the MWHL’s San Diego Skates.
After being drafted by Meaford Knights of the GMHL, Cernych signed with Northeast Generals. Twelve months in Spain with Milenio Logroño followed prior to last year’s stop in the Netherlands.
“My experience in the USA was great,” Cernych said.”I learned a lot of things there and developed a lot — had good training/games conditions. I think for a young player it’s very important.
“Netherlands was slightly different. I did learn a lot there as well — but I had to fill an important player role on the team, which is not very often for a young player. Maybe it was good , because I had much ice time. Overall I am very glad and thankful for all the opportunities I had.”
Clifford is happy to add a player that has tasted hockey in different parts of the world and can bring a flavour from each stop with him to Milton Keynes.
“It’s always good to have a variety of experience in the room,” Clifford said. “Every league in every country has different ways of doing things, and with Ruslan having played in such a wide range of countries this will add dimensions into our line up that we haven’t had before.
“I think you’ll see a guy who is immediately noticeable through his physical stature. He’s keen to come here, do well for our club, improve himself as a player as well as improve our team.”
While Cernych is new to these shores, he has spent time playing with a name familiar to MK hockey fans. A call-up to the Lithuanian national team for the 2016 and 2017 Baltic Cups saw him become teammates with former Slough Jets, Basingstoke Bison, Solihull Barons and MK defenceman Mindaugas Kieras.
“Playing for Lithuania was unforgettable for me,” Cernych said. “I never played for U18 or U20 because at that time I was not good enough. I got my first chance at the age of 21 where I got an offer to represent our Men’s national team, which was quite surprising.
“There’s big responsibility and pride to play for your country. However I still have to work and develop to be able to play constantly.
“Playing with Kieras on one of the teams was a great experience. He is a very good player who is considered to be a veteran player in our national team. He always gave tips to help and support the young guys like me.”