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HEY, CRAIG, NO HIP CHECKS : A HOCKEY PLAYER TEAMS UP WITH A FIGURE SKATING CHAMP.

Byline: Barry Wilner Associated Press

It could only happen in the movies. Or so Olympic champion Natalia Mishkutienok and hockey player Craig Shepard thought.

So they laughed when they watched the film about a figure skater and a former hockey player pairing up on the ice and going to the Olympics. Then they decided to follow the script of ``The Cutting Edge.''

To a point, at least. Mishkutienok, a gold medalist with Artur Dmitriev in the 1992 Olympics and a silver medalist in 1994, has teamed up with Shepard, who played hockey at Michigan State, in the minor leagues and even for Moscow Dynamo. But their aims aren't nearly as lofty as those of the pair in the movie.

``We are trying to make an all-out assault on skating with each other, a serious attempt of what happened in that movie,'' Shepard said. ``We are trying to skate together seriously, even if we do not compete.''

Adds Mishkutienok, who could have her choice of most any partnerless international pairs skater: ``I think I did something big in my life with Artur and I could not do anything more. I just want to try something completely different, and nobody has tried to skate with a hockey player.

``I don't think about wanting to be what I was before and to win another medal. I just want to skate for fun and in shows. But who knows, maybe we'll compete some day. We've thought about skating in a show, perhaps. Craig wants to show a hockey player can skate.''

Of course, a hockey player can skate. But can he do the spins and jumps and lifts required of a world-class pairs figure skater?

``When we first started, I had no idea what it would be like. Nobody knew what would happen,'' Shepard said. ``I think I am learning fast, a lot faster than anybody expected. We were doing death spirals on the seventh day. The lifts are not a problem at all in the gym, but we're not doing them on the ice yet.

``I'm in school again, in figure skating school.''

Mishkutienok and Shepard are working with coach Pieter Kollen in Indianapolis and also will train in Colorado Springs with Tamara Moskvina, the world-renowned coach who guided Mishkutienok and Dmitriev to the top. Their choreographer is Nina Petrenko, wife of 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko.

Mishkutienok left skating for 1-1/2 years, partly because she was burned out. She and Shepard met while he was playing for Moscow Dynamo, a rarity for a North American hockey player. They began dating.

``Nobody knew we were together,'' Shepard said. ``We kept it a secret to avoid publicity.

``I came to St. Petersburg to see her one day, then she was going to France. I left Russia because of politics, and she moved from one apartment to another and we basically lost each other.

``I was back in the Springs coaching kids. Natalia was in New York studying English, which I didn't know. Some people told me a Russian pairs skater was coming from New York to meet this hockey coach - me - who might be a (figure) skater in the Springs, and that she was an Olympic gold medalist. So I knew it was her.

``Natalia asked them about this coach - she didn't know it was me. I came and picked her up at this lady's house and it was a big surprise.''

Another surprise came when they began to work together on the ice.

``He skates so fast,'' she said. The experiment will continue for a while. And if it doesn't work, Mishkutienok said she has a solution.

``I will play hockey.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 28, 1996
Words:609
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