Category Archives: KHL

War hysteria re-defines hypocrisy

Adolf Hitler dragged politics into sports big-time in 1936 when Germany hosted the Summer Olympics in Berlin.

After the Second World War, when then-communist countries began taking part, with their master, the Soviet Union, joining the Olympic fray in 1952 (Norway’s capital Oslo for the winter, and Finland’s capital Helsinki for the summer), Olympic Games would become unabashedly politicised. Winning medals would no longer be a sign of the winners’ athletic prowess. It would signal whose political system is better.

The parallel between fascism, Nazism and communism is intentional: they are but three branches of the same tree.

With the communist countries falling into the toilet during the late 1980s and early 1990s, most international sports, and the Olympics in particular, would turn into outright business, with a dash of outright nationalism thrown in for good measure.

Yes, nationalism. What’s an athlete running faster than others got to do with patriotism?

Here’s what: biased media whip nationalism up into literal jingoism (our runner is better than your runner, nyah nyah nyah nah nah). Passionate fans, united behind the flag, do what? Yes, they buy tickets, they watch television, listen to radio broadcasts (including commercials), and they buy newspapers or visit their papers’ websites, paying for beyond-the-paywall access, with advertisements galore all over the place, and they buy shirts and other merchandise like there’s no tomorrow.

And into this din, some athletes (and sports officials) would try to impose all kinds of political slogans du jour. Some scribes covering sports would try to sound like social scientists, asking athletic stars and starlets for their opinions on this or that hot political topic of the day.

It has now swollen into a crescendo of hysteria, with one political movement trying to outdo all others, trying to paint professional sports and professional athletes as hotbeds of socially aware ideologies. An athlete serves as what they call “role model,” and that now includes proper opinions and stands on proper issues, instead of serving as a role model in, say, shooting the puck from any point in the opponent’s zone, or back-checking, or whatever else is important to and in the game.

Whether their fans really care seems to have become less than an afterthought.

Except: a war that fills newscasts and newspapers’ front pages has broken out, and it so happens that athletes from the warring sides happen to be employed in sundry professional leagues all over the world. Most of those host countries have decided that one of the warring sides is guilty. True, Russia did fire the first shot, but in the scheme of things, so far as sports go, this debate is not as important. The important question is: how to treat athletes born in Russia, and still citizens of the generally acknowledged aggressor?

Skating around the issues

In North America, it is the National Hockey League (NHL) that has the most Russians on their teams’ rosters.

Tensions flared up when someone who couldn’t write if it saved his life asked Alexander Ovechkin, a legitimate NHL superstar and captain of the Washington Capitals, for his opinion on the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The poor guy danced around it as if he was a trained diplomat. One of those who don’t tell their interlocutors that they are lying like nobody’s business but use instead sentences such as, “Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that your statement can cause serious doubts in a more serious conversation.”

Whether that scribe was aware that Ovechkin just happens to be on friendly terms with Russian president Vladimir Putin doesn’t matter much. In fact, if he did know and still asked, it would show a considerable level of insensitivity at a time when all and sundry have to undergo so-called sensitivity trainings so as not to annoy people with their questions or statements, or just simple looks, even.

Of course, in today’s atmosphere of political correctness, Ovechkin was taken to task for not blasting his country’s president and personal buddy to pieces. Not so much by fans but by the media and, shockingly, by a former goaltender, and Hockey Hall of Fame member, Dominik Hašek. Confirming the accepted view that hockey goaltenders are generally crazy, because only crazy people would voluntarily face barrages of projectiles shot in their direction with alarming speed and precision, Hašek called poor Ovechkin all kinds of names, some bordering on expletive. And, while he was at it, he demanded that all Russian players currently employed by NHL clubs be suspended (at best) or outright fired (at worst).

That some of the Russian athletes are no particular friends of their country’s president, didn’t matter. Artemi Panarin, a Russian-born forward many hockey fans would pay a lot to see in action, has been open about his negative views of all Vladimir Putin stands for. Yet, in Hašek’s book, he’s still guilty as charged. Just because he was born where he was.

Most of the media reported on Hašek’s outburst with politically correct admiration.

How this approach fits in politically correct abhorrence of racism and nationalistic chauvinism remains unexplained.

All kinds of international sporting bodies have imposed sanctions on Russian teams’ participation in their competitions: Russians are banned from soccer events, the popular hockey under-20 world competition has banned Russia (and Belarus, as Russia’s alleged ally), and they all feel smug about themselves. They’ve contributed to what they think is justice.

Yes, these bans and boycotts may cost Russian sporting organisations a few dollars here and there, but anyone who thinks Russian government is bothered, they should have their heads examined. This kind of behaviour only confirms the traditional Russian view of the surrounding world: we’re not paranoid but here you can see that everybody’s against us.

Not only that, in the propaganda war context, it justifies Russian government’s view that their country is within her rights to put the stinking Ukrainians in their place.

There’s one word for the western reaction: counterproductive.

A strange request

A few groups of Canadians of Ukrainian origin have asked the Canadian government to stop granting new visas and work permits to Russian athletes.

Coincidentally, these groups have no issue with Ukraine’s security services showing their enthusiastic admiration for Nazi ideology and methods of governing. The fact that official Ukrainian view promotes the Second World War criminal Stepan Bandera onto a national hero pedestal doesn’t matter to them one iota, either.

And this is not a one-in-a-million case of nation-wide worship for Hitler’s Nazi collaborators among the Ukrainian population. While, granted, there have been many reasons why the Ukrainian dislike all things Russian, and a huge share of them very valid (the artificially-induced famine, a.k.a. Holodomor, of the 1930s comes to mind), this still does not justify making these individuals national heroes.

Of course, when Putin speaks of his desire to de-Nazify Ukraine (this is his own expression), perhaps he should start by cleaning up the anti-Semitism that pervades in his own country. After all, the word pogrom (attacks by frenzied masses on peaceful Jewish communities) comes from Russia.

Still, none of this justifies, for example, the decision by the world’s top soccer body, FIFA, to grant Team Poland a walkover win over Team Russia in the qualifiers for the World Cup. And none of this makes correct, for another example, the newest decision by the NHL to cancel its cooperative agreement with its Russian counterpart, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Nothing in the world justifies the New York Metropolitan Opera’s decision to fire one of today’s greatest soprano ladies, Anna Netrebko, either. This happened, word from the Met’s top ranks says, just because she is Russian and happens to have Putin’s private telephone number on her speed-dial. She was hired, after all, to sing and attract thousands adoring opera lovers to enjoy her art.

Boomerang effect

Russian athletes, artists or scientists currently in North America won’t talk too much (and too openly) about what’s happening. Those who agree with Putin fear North American reprisals based on politically correct hysteria. Those who disagree with Putin fear repercussions imposed by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s top censorship office.

The tide is growing: a Russian F1 driver was banned recently from the British Grand Prix. Norway is banning Russians from upcoming skiing competitions.

Does it make any sense other than making those issuing these directives feel they are ahead of the stream, punishing people who have nothing to do with the events other than their nationality?

This kind of international behaviour didn’t help much with South Africa’s apartheid: the shoe is on the other foot now, and the old racial wars continue. The only thing that has changed is who owns more guns and controls the system.

Proponents of the banning game speak of collective responsibility. This is definitely not a brand new idea. Just look at atrocities imposed on losing nations by victors throughout history.

Does the fact that this kind of collective solidarity-based revenge has been an accepted rule make it acceptable?

For an answer, look up North American governments compensating the children and grandchildren of people of German, Japanese or Italian descent who were living on this continent during the two World Wars, and who were detained as potential enemy supporters during those conflagrations.

So, one more time: does the fact that this kind of collective solidarity-based revenge has been an accepted rule make it acceptable?

Be honest when answering: what would you think if it were to happen to you?


Russians still don’t get it: their unsportsmanlike behaviour deserves punishment, not alibis

Russian sports minister Vitalyi Mutjko agrees Team Russia shouldn’t have left the ice after losing to Canada in last month’s world championship finals before O Canada was played. Still, he maintains, if the organizers didn’t open the gate, his country’s players would have never done that.

This seems to be a bit at odds with the latest news coming from Moscow: Russian hockey federation plans to punish a few people for the incident. General manager Andrei Safronov and head coach Oleg Znarok seem to be the targets. That, at least, is what Arkadi Rotenberg is saying. His word carries some weight: he sits on the board of the Russian hockey federation, and he also serves as Dinamo Moscow president.

“Yes, people will face consequences,” Rotenberg says, “and the general manager and head coach were right there to make sure our players stayed to hear Canada’s anthem.”

Of course, considering that International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel is on the record as saying the Russian federation will face a punishment meted out by his organization, Rotenberg’s next words were not surprising: “It wasn’t planned for our players to insult Team Canada, and it wasn’t planned ahead, either.”

Nobody’s talking about planning. Everybody’s talking about lacking sportsmanship and behaviour worthy of a butcher’s dog, to use the local lingo in translation. Besides, Fasel stood there, in shock, watching Team Russia captain Ilya Kovalchuk order his teammates to leave as soon as they collected their medals and shook the Canadian players by the hand. Only very few Russian players, led by superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, stayed, and Kovalchuk skated toward them and very forcefully insisted that they leave the ice before a live orchestra gathered to render the Canadian anthem.

There was no sign of either Safronov or Znarok, and it makes no difference, either: this was not Kovalchuk’s first international tournament, and he would be expected to know the rules.

Besides, ignorance is no excuse.

“Safronov and Znarok are aware of what they did wrong,” thus Rotenberg, “and I believe that this will never happen again.”

A nice change from sports minister Mytjko’s qualifier that, while wrong, Team Russia players were not to blame. If it weren’t for a gate opened by the organizers, they would have stayed. He simply echoed Russian hockey federation president Vladislav Tretiak’s assurances that it was the Czechs who were the guilty party. They could have kept his team on the ice if only they didn’t open the gate.

The only English-written newspaper published in Moscow, The Moscow Times, has come up with an interesting take. The paper described, tongue in cheek, what would happen if Canadian players left the ice before they heard Rossia Sviaschennaia Nasha Derzhava, formerly known as Soyuz Nerushimyi.

“The investigators find,” thus The Moscow Times spoof, “that Team Canada, by leaving the ice before hearing the Russian anthem, have committed a criminal act comparable to abuse of the national flag of Russia. If found guilty, they will have to install toilet seats in all of the KHL arenas all over Russia, as punishment.”

Fine and dandy as it goes.

But let’s cut to the chase: what punishment will Safronov and Znarok face? Any consequences for team captain Kovalchuk?

“First, we’ve got to see what the IIHF is going to do,” said Rotenberg. “We’ll make our decision based on that.”

In his land, they have an expression for this kind of behaviour. They call it alibism.

NHL dreaming, Hockey Unlimited fifth episode’s focus

Mechta” is the Russian word Yakov Trenin used.

It means: dream.

That is the reason he, along with many others, has moved several thousand of miles (kilometres, if you wish) away from home, to play in North American junior leagues. These kids hope that an NHL scout is going to notice them, like them enough to go to bat for them at the NHL draft, and they’re going to make it all the way to the show.

They are perfectly aware that a chance of THAT happening if they stayed at home would border on the improbable.

Whether they will make it or not is another question. Even if they don’t, they’re going to return home stronger men.

But their dreams have some pretty solid foundations. Such as: they must have been good in their respective age categories. The North American junior teams wouldn’t have drafted and brought them over if they weren’t.

Hockey Unlimited, an Aquila Productions’ documentary series aired on Rogers Sportsnet Monday, March 2, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for the next couple of weeks (see detailed schedule below). In its fifth episode, Hockey Unlimited opens with a very careful, sensitive and sensible look at a couple of guys, kids, really, who have made the jump.

The abovementioned Yakov Trenin came all the way from Chelyabinsk. The place is home to Traktor, a Russian KHL club. Yet, not even the potential perspective of playing for his hometown team would change young Yakov Trenin’s dream. He knows, obviously, that to be the best, he has to compete with the best.

Yakov Trenin now skates with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The other kid featured in this episode of Hockey Unlimited, Edgars Kulda, shares Trenin’s ambition. He came from the capital of Latvia, the ancient and beautiful city of Riga, all the way to a brand new place (everything is relative) called Edmonton. Where Riga’s roots reach to the 2nd century of the past millennium, in Edmonton, everything that comes close to being a century old is a historical artefact. Kulda, too, could have tried to make his hometown KHL team, Dinamo. His ambition aimed higher.

Nothing wrong with that.

Kulda, now an important part of WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has made the first step: the Arizona Coyotes have selected him in the seventh round, 193rd player overall, in the 2014 draft. Only one step remains: making it out of the Coyotes’ camp.

These two guys are similar. To a degree. And Hockey Unlimited, without saying it, notices these differences in careful detail. Where Trenin is a shy newcomer, a greenhorn, Kulda is a grizzled veteran. A 2014 Memorial Cup MVP, Kulda comes across as a self-assured kind of guy. Where Trenin still has a bit of difficulty finding the right words to express correctly in English what he wanted to say in Russian, Kulda is firing away with undisguised gusto as if he was born speaking English, with a mistake here and there.

In addition to talking to both guys’ coaches and teammates, Hockey Unlimited gives considerable space to the billets with whom these kids are staying. The loving relationships between the kids and their surrogate parents are obvious. But the billets’ ability to pinpoint these two guys’ character strengths and weaknesses is refreshing.

The next segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited is perfectly logical.

Player agents don’t appear all of a sudden in players’ lives. They’ve been watching the playing phenoms with at least as much interest as NHL scouts. They reach out to players whom they consider safe investment, nurturing their relationships with both the players and their families. They do all that for free, in the hopes that when their client would make the NHL, they would negotiate a rich contract for him, and their percentage would be a nice return on their investment.

All fine and dandy. Still, it’s refreshing to hear Don Meehan, one of the most powerful player agents in the business today. He’s pretty straightforward when he explains that there might come a time in a player’s career when it would be a good player agent’s job to sit down with him and ask him whether his ambition is limited to playing on an NHL club’s farm team, or whether the time has come to look at other options.

Which brings us neatly to the third story: Wes Goldie became the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He helped the Alaska Aces win the Kelly Cup. He made it all the way to NHL teams’ training camps twice during his career. That would be as far as he would be able to get.

Wes Goldie has retired and he’s repaying his wife and his four children for all the sacrifices they made during his career.

Was it illustrious? You bet. You don’t have to win all of the NHL’s annual awards to have an illustrious hockey career.

Wes Goldie tells his story with enthusiasm that is quite justified. And his family is, just as justifiably, proud of him and his achievements. His career didn’t make him filthy rich. Not so far as his bank account is concerned. But it made him a wiser man. And that should count for something.

As has become its useful habit, Hockey Unlimited also features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

In addition to its brilliant tradecraft, wonderful camera work, editing, music and overall sound selection, Hockey Unlimited’s choice of stories shows that its creators know and love their topics, their heroes, as well as being perfectly aware of the role hockey plays in the everyday life fabric of so many Canadians.

Three cheers! And five stars, too.




Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East


And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

The airplane maker whose product crashed demands restitution

If you think you know what the game of Russian roulette is all about, think again.

And if you think that you know what the game of snag-shifting is all about, then, think again, too.

A Russian aircraft manufacturer has been out to prove that even the proverbial American lawsuit-happiness is nothing particularly special. What you can do, we can do, and better than you.

Here’s a real-life story to show you how little we all know about Russian roulette and snag-shifting. It will show you how little we all know about Russia, period.

The maker of the Yak-42 aircraft that crashed in September of 2011 while taking off from Yaroslavl is demanding that Vadim Timofeyev of the Yak-Service company pay the manufacturer almost 18 million rubles. That would be a tad above $374,000 in Canadian money, or a little over $322,000 south of the 49th parallel at today’s exchange rates. Yak-Service owned the doomed plane.

Why? Yak-Service’s lack of proper service has caused irreparable harm to the Yakovlev aircraft manufacturers and their reputation. People have been wary of buying the machine since the tragic crash.

Thus the allegation.

The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team to their next Kontinental Hockey League game in Minsk.

Not that the Yakovlev company wouldn’t have a case.

Originally, investigators blamed the flight crew. They alleged that instead of accelerating, as would be expected on takeoff, they engaged the braking mechanism. Several months later, independent investigators concluded outdated technology that was just crying for proper maintenance, if not replacement, was to blame. Local authorities begged to differ, but further probes confirmed that the independent investigators had it right.

While not excluding pilot failure, official Russian investigating commission said that Vadim Timofeyev – who was serving as second-in-command at the Yak-Service at the time – violated all air transportation safety rules. He should not have let the crew in the cockpit, to begin with. The pilots were not qualified and their experience was negligible, too.

Besides, and now it becomes really intriguing, the commission found that Timofeyev has arranged that the captain would receive his licence based on fake documentation. And the co-pilot was not supposed to be in the cockpit, either: he hadn’t finished the appropriate flying lessons on a Yak-42.

In fact, the investigators said, not only were individual crew members incompetent, but Timofeyev had been aware of it. He, say the investigators, went so far as to ignore data analyses from earlier flights. Those data allegedly had shown long before the fatal flight that the captain had been making mistakes for quite some time. With no consequences, to boot.

Whether it matters or not is irrelevant, but the investigating commission went on to stress that the two pilots and their flight engineer have only shared three joint flights among themselves. And, on top of it all, one of the flight crew members had been under the influence of a medication whose label says specifically that one should not operate any machinery, such as automobiles. Flying an airplane would fit the label warning, too.

Strangely enough, Timofeyev is the only person accused of any responsibility. He, of course, denies any guilt. He blames technical errors and, possibly, pilot errors, but not himself.

Still, based on the investigating commission report, the Khrunichev State Space Science Manufacturing Centre, the company that builds the Yak-42 aircraft, said it had enough evidence to demand restitution. The court looked at it and told the company to submit the paperwork. That, under Russian laws, means the court is willing to consider it.

There have been numerous other factors the court will have to consider. Such as: why did the plane leave a full 24 hours later than scheduled? Is it true that it was overloaded?

There are several questions nobody has bothered to ask. Not yet, in any case.

For example: if it is true that Vadim Timofeyev ignored warnings about that particular captain’s incompetence, who paid him for keeping his eyes closed, and how much? Similar questions should emerge in the context of the entire flight crew.

If it is true that the plane was in a sorry technical state to begin with, who allowed it to take the taxiway, never mind the runway in an attempt to take off? Whose responsibility would that be? And who ignored this responsibility? For how much? Paid by whom? To whom?

Of the 45 people on board, 43 died at the crash site. One of the two rescued from the wreck died five days later in hospital. Only the avionics flight engineer, Alexander Sizov, survived. And he told an investigator that so far as he was aware, the plane had been in perfect order when the crew took it over to prepare for the flight. Now, of course, this quotation comes from the Pravda newspaper. Pravda means the truth in English. Which means that no sane person would believe it – even if it were telling the truth and nothing but, so help us Nature. Except for the hapless Vadim Timofeyev, the only person now blamed for the tragedy. To him Sizov’s testimony equals freedom from the seven years in prison he would get if found guilty.

So, what about the Russian investigestigators’ findings? How independent was the commission, anyway?

How reliable are the experts’ findings that say, among other shocking stuff, that when Russian crews abort takeoffs, make second runs or divert their planes to other airports they can risk losing their bonuses or face other sanctions as carriers focus on cutting costs?

If this is true, one would understand why Russian pilots are reluctant to take emergency measures which might lead to delays. Of course, how does this finding fit in with another accusation, namely, that the flight was 24 hours late?

The newest findings basically say that the plane’s owner, Yak-Service, failed to observe safety standards and adequately train the crew.

But the questions keep coming back. In a country whose business operations are (and have been for centuries) based on graft, who paid whom, how much, and for what steps that allowed Yak-Service to continue with its operations?

The answer is not forthcoming. And it will not be. Not in foreseeable future, anyway.

That the tragedy took 44 lives? Well, too bad. That it cancelled Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s season? Well, too bad, too.

Somebody, somewhere, must be laughing their heads off. Who?

Who says summer’s got to be boring?

The number of single female kindergarten teachers getting swallowed whole by sharks off the coast of the Adriatic grows exponentially every passing summer. They’ve become the usual front-page material for European newspapers, especially those whose countries have no sea coast.

After all, readers, listeners and viewers prefer lighter fare in their newscasts and news pages during summers. Don’t bore us with political situations and economic upheavals when the mercury is climbing north of 30 Celsius in the shade. Journalists are trying their darndest to oblige. This is true all over the world, North America happily included.

When there’s really nothing happening that the journalists could sink their teeth into, they use their imagination. And now that we have new media, rumours make their way around the globe with the speed of a summer thunderstorm lightning. Thanks to social media, journalists don’t even have to be the original authors any longer, even though membership in the profession helps.

Aliens, UFOs, new infections and whatnot still make the cut, but general population seems to be fed up with this kind of drivel. You can say that Hollywood’s fascination with stories based on the extravagant, combined with the sad decline in their ability to tell these tales coherently, if not convincingly, killed the genre.

Just as reality television, a scam to end all scams, pretends it exposes real stories of real people, the summer season in journalism is trying to pretend it’s based on reality, too.

Such as: have you heard yet Ilya Kovalchuk is on his way back to the NHL?


Here’s the deal: the Russian-born forward who had retired from a huge NHL contract (and the New Jersey Devils) so he could return to Russia and play in the KHL has been talking to Devils’ chief poohbah Lou Lamoriello. Kovalchuk’s return is imminent.

Are you saying you do NOT believe Dino Costa, the slightly shocking radio host? Sure, Costa’s independent treatment of facts became too much even for the Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Radio. But are you saying he’s not worthy of your trust?

Mad Dogs fired Costa almost a year ago. You would think they were depriving his faithful audiences of an original voice that they all clamoured to hear. But not to worry. Enter social media. In this case, Twitter.

How do you get followers? You come up with something out of the ordinary. How do you keep followers? You repeat the routine with regularity not even daily use of strong doses of Metamucil can help you match.

So, anyhow, Kovalchuk’s on his way back. Thus spake Dino Costa. OOOPS: thus tweeted Dino Costa.

That would, of course, mean that Ilya Kovalchuk is a perfect moron.

He is not.

Kovalchuk retired from the NHL, walking away from a 12-year deal worth $77 million in greenbacks. That was the only way how he could leave and join the KHL legally.

As pointed out by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, to be able to return, Kovalchuk would have two basic options.

First, he would not be allowed to engage in professional hockey for one full year. Considering Kovalchuk came to Russia with a lucrative four-year deal awaiting him, it’s hard to imagine he’d do anything of the kind.

The other option would see all 30 NHL clubs grant him (and the Devils) a unanimous agreement to return. Can you see that happening?

Here are a few more details. If Kovalchuk missed the NHL that much that he would forego professional hockey for a year (and furnish a proof), he would be eligible to return only to the Devils, and he would have to stay there till the end of the 2018-19 season. Then, and only then, would the league remove him from the list of players who voluntarily retired, and – aged 36 – he would be able to sign with some other team.

And what are the chances that, say, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers or the Pittsburgh Penguins agree that the hated Devils bring back a reinforcement as potent as Ilya Kovalchuk?

Besides, sundry media (mostly Russian, to be sure) have quoted Kovalchuk as saying he’s frightfully happy in the KHL, the game is different but he’s getting used to it and everybody treats him like a king.

But: Dino Costa has got new followers on his Twitter account. That matters. At least, to him it does.

And he became famous all over the hockey-loving world. Or is it infamous?

Still, his “boring summer story” pales in comparison with the tragedy of the many single female kindergarten teachers swallowed whole by sharks off the coast of the Adriatic.

KHL loses three teams, finds three replacements elsewhere

One day you’re up, fighting for cup victory in game seven, and the next day you’re gone.

Well, to be less dramatic: it took a few weeks for Lev Praha of the Russian KHL to start gasping for life. First, they lost to Mike Keenan-led Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Gagarin Cup finals. Now comes the news its shareholder owners Yevgeni Myshkovskii and Petr Speychal haven’t got enough in the kitty to continue. The club’s budget last season said the club needed $40 million (Canadian) to operate.

According to news out of Prague, no such money is forthcoming, and the club will have to fold.

The owners issued a statement forthwith, denying they are quitting. They are dealing with the situation, they said, and next Monday would be the deadline for a definitive answer. Until then, the owners added in an official statement, all news about the club’s demise are pure speculation.

As (wrongly) attributed to Mark Twain, and paraphrased, news of their death was greatly exaggerated. Except, the reports come from a region known for yet another pearl of wisdom: don’t believe any rumours until they’ve been officially denied.

Just to make matters more involved for the KHL, the venerable Spartak Moscow is headed to the poorhouse, too. In addition, Donbass Donetsk won’t be able to play because of the tense political (and military) situation in Ukraine. Donetsk, after all, is one of the neuralgic points in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Here’s the main issue: for whatever reason, Russian oil and natural gas giant Gazprom has decided to cut its epenses on professional hockey in half. Gazprom just happens to be KHL’s main sponsor. To what degree sponsoring the KHL made any economic sense to Gazprom in the first place is hard to fathom. After all, Team Russia’s main sponsor at international events is another Russian company. One that exports weapons. So says its logo on Team Russia’s official jerseys.

Of course, says the KHL, no need to worry: we have Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki joining as of next season, and a team from Sochi, and another one from Togliatti. The former club, HC Sochi, a.k.a. Sochi Leopards, has former NHL player Vyacheslav (Slava) Butsayev as its coach. The latter, known as Lada, used to be Torpedo. It was kicked out of the KHL in 2011 because it didn’t have a good enough arena. It was renamed Lada because the Soviets used to build their version of the Italian car, Fiat, under the nickname of Lada, in a local car factory.

So far as Lev Praha is concerned, the first signs of trouble emerged earlier this spring. According to early June quotes from Rashid Khabibulin, the team’s sports manager, there were issues when the club tried to negotiate a new lease deal with Prague’s O2 Arena. He didn’t specify what issues then, but now, say some Czech insiders, it is becoming obvious what they were. Lev wanted to pay less than what the arena owners had been asking for.

Several Lev players, approached by the media, tried to put brave faces on: it’s not official yet, they would all say, and they hope the owners will find a way.

Only the owners’ bankers know whether this optimism is justified or not.

And they’re not telling.

Dave King revives Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

This is how legends are born.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the Russian KHL team that rose from the ashes of the aircraft crash that had wiped out the entire club, has made it all the way into conference finals of the KHL Gagarin Cup. The club rode over Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg with a vengeance. It now faces Lev Praha.

Thanks to Canada’s Dave King.

Yaroslavl coach Pyotr Vorobyov resigned for health reasons in February, during the Olympic break. A day later, King got his leave from the Phoenix Coyotes and was on his way to Russia.

This isn’t King’s first coaching job in Russia. In fact, during the 2006-07 season, he became the fist Canadian coach in the KHL, guiding Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He opened the door for Barry Smith, Paul Maurice and Mike Keenan.

King’s arrival in Yaroslavl had some pretty emotional connotations. Brad McCrimmon, one of that fatal air crash victims, a former NHL defenceman and a Yaroslavl coach, used to be King’s personal friend. Both hailing from Saskatchewan, they’ve always been on the same wavelength.

King is very much aware that not even time will heal the terrible loss Lokomotiv has suffered. But he is also aware what a major victory can do to help the healing process.

One of Dave King’s advantages: he knows hockey inside-out on both sides of the Big Pond. He has coached in the NHL, he has coached for Canada internationally, even at Olympic level (Calgary, 1988, Albertville, 1992), he has coached in the KHL (Magnitogorsk), he has coached in other European countries in their elite leagues (Sweden, Germany). He has been a keen student of the game as such and of different approaches to it, recording things that he had learned in Russia in a book. Co-authored by veteran journalist Eric Duhatschek, King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League was published in 2007, becoming quite a success among hockey fans all over the world.

When King took over at Yaroslavl in February, Lokomotiv was out of the playoffs.

Now, it’s in conference finals, having beaten two clubs whose motto was “Cup or bust.”

Nobody expected that.

Should Lokomotiv win it all, Dave King can count on having a statue of him unveiled right at Yaroslavl’s central square.

And if he doesn’t? Well, he still got the team to a level that nobody had expected it to be just a few months ago.

And, irony of ironies: if Yaroslavl succeeds, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk wins the other conference, two Canadian coaches will be facing each other in the Gagarin Cup finals: King would be coaching against Mike Keenan.

Go Canada go!

KHL drops playoffs games in Ukraine

Political tensions in Ukraine have dragged professional hockey in Russia’s KHL into the mix.

Lev Praha is to play Donbass Donetsk in KHL’s quarterfinals. But KHL management has decided it would not be safe for either the teams or their fans if the games took place anywhere in Ukraine.

“It’s obvious we won’t play in Ukraine,” KHL vice-president Vladimir Shalayev told the website Tuesday.

“We’re now debating where to play. We want to hear what Donbass has to say, they have the right to choose.”

Sources say that it seems at the moment that Slovan Bratislava’s arena will be the venue.

Bratislava is the capital of the Republic of Slovakia.

Lev Praha’s spokesman Jan Rachota told Czech website it looked as if the series would be played in Donetsk, but “negotiations between Donbass management and the KHL are ongoing. We await their decision.”

It doesn’t matter where they will be playing, Czech club’s players said.

“No change, so far as we are concerned,” Lev’s forward Petr Vrana told the team’s website. “We’re playing two games at home and then we’re going on the road, no matter where that’s going to be.”

After all, “We all know what’s going on in Ukraine,” Vrana said, “so I understand they made the call because of security concerns. Of course,” he added, “if we’re going to play in Bratislava, it’s better for us because we won’t have to fly anywhere, we’ll just bus it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Slovnaft Arena would become a home-away-from-home for Donetsk: it was the site for their seventh and deciding game against Riga.

Donetsk coach Andrei Nazarov has been philosophical: “I like Bratislava. I don’t want to talk about how it all ends right now. If there’s no change, we’re going to play our next two home games in Bratislava. But it’s going to be the league management’s decision.”

Slovak players on Donetsk’s roster were pleased with the last game, the decider against Riga, that they played in Bratislava: “I wouldn’t have dreamt that I would play the series final and deciding game at home,” observed Donetsk’s defenceman Peter  Podhradský. He happens to be a Bratislava native.

Still, Podhradský said, Donetsk fans would have deserved that their club faced off against Lev in their real home arena, Druzhba.

Donetsk goalie Ján Laco, another Slovak, said he didn’t know what the fuss was all about: “When we drove to the airport, the city was calm. Nothing catastrophic.”

Yes, he conceded, “There was something going on in the area of Donetsk’s main square downtown, but nothing serious,” Laco told Slovakian website,

“But,” Laco added, “ it’s not our decision.” sees things differently.

Donetsk, in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, is being rocked by violent clashes between pro-Russian protesters who want closer ties with Russia and pro-Ukrainian activists who do not, the website said.

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