Tag Archives: KHL

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.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

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

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?

No?

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!

Donetsk would rather move across the English Channel

Once British, always British. And that is why Donetsk, a major Ukrainian city, should secede from Ukraine and join Great Britain forthwith.

HUH?

Indeed. Thus a group of young Donetsk citizens. And they DO have a case.

A British entrepreneur named John Hughes founded the city in 1869.

Hughes hailed from Wales, and the place he considered best to expand to in Ukraine was right in the middle of a huge and rich coal mining region, with steel foundries all over the place.

Pronounce the founder’s last name. Got it? Now, read the original name of Donetsk: Yuzovka. Sound similar? That’s because it was meant to be.

And that is why the Donetsk youngsters took to VKontakte (http://vk.com/), a European version of Facebook, to declare their intentions and start a petition for a binding referendum.

VKontakte says it is the largest European social network with more than a 100 million active users. It runs in three language versions: English, Russian and Ukrainian. Your pick.

Anyhow, organizers wrote (verbatim translation from the Russian version): “Donetskists! English brothers! This is the deciding moment!

“ONLY YOU WILL DECIDE WHERE YOUR CHILDREN WILL LIVE AND WHICH LANGUAGE THEY WILL BE SPEAKING!

“As is well known, Yuzovka (Donetsk) is truly an English town, founded by the great English entrepreneur John Hughes. The Russians have been lying to us for more than 100 years that this was originally a Russian town, while the Ukrainians have kept saying it was Ukrainian.

“We demand a referendum to decide that Yuzovka returns to her mother country, Great Britain.

“Hail John Hughes and his city! God save the Queen!”

Here’s the original version of their declaration, as published on a regional news site, Donbass.ua:

Дончане! Братья-англичане! Наступил решающий момент!

ТОЛЬКО ТЕБЕ РЕШАТЬ, ГДЕ БУДУТ ЖИТЬ ТВОИ ДЕТИ И НА КАКОМ ЯЗЫКЕ ОНИ БУДУТ ГОВОРИТЬ!

Как известно, Юзовка (“Донецк”) исконно английский город, основанный великим промышленником-англичанином – Джоном Юзом. На протяжении более сотни лет русские обманывали нас, что это исконно-русский город, а украинцы – что украинский!

Мы требуем референдума по возвращению Юзовки в своё исконное лоно – в состав Великой Британии!

Слава Джону Юзу и его городу! Боже, храни Королеву!”

Within a day of the referendum demand, some seven thousand Donetsk citizens cast their votes, with more than 60 per cent saying they were all for joining Great Britain, and about 16 per cent saying they would like to become something of an autonomous region under British mandate, with English as its official language.

Donbass.ua is of the view the entire matter has been meant as a satirical spoof on what’s been going on in and around Donetsk in recent weeks and months.

And there’s been a lot going on. According to the Russian news site, newsru.com, there have been demonstrations staged by some Russian nationalists. They want the southeastern Ukrainian region to join Russia, just like Crimea had. The pro Russian crowd clashed with the defenders of what they describe as “unified Ukraine” about two weeks ago. According to the latest accounts, there was at least one casualty, but nobody’s sure: news coverage is based on which side the particular journalist is reporting for.

According to newsru.com, the eastern  part of Ukraine has supported the recently deposed president Victor Yanukovich. In fact, the site reports, the Donetsk regional parliament has formed a working group to prepare a referendum about joining Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s office claims his government has no plans to invade and swallow eastern Ukraine. Nobody believes THAT statement. Everybody has grown up knowing they must not believe any rumours until those rumours have been officially denied.

Thus the movement to join Great Britain, instead. Funny, ridiculous, even, as it may sound to the uninitiated, there is a serious note behind the whole thing.

People of Donetsk remember their history, too. They are aware that Donetsk, now a two-million-citizen city, lost its original name (Yuzovka) in 1922, to honour Josif Vissarionovich Stalin: it was renamed Stalino. It got its current name in 1961, because Stalin’s name became anathema following revelations of his crimes against humanity in general and the peoples of what used to be the Soviet Union in particular.

People of Donetsk also know that their raw material resources and industrial base make their region a tidbit the Russians would be more than happy to welcome into their empire.

Russian KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) Vladimir Shalayev announced the other day that the Donetsk hockey team will not be playing its playoffs home games at home but, rather, in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. He cited unrest in the region. Players’, referees’ and audiences’ safety and security were of paramount concern, he said.

Consider the source: Shalayev used to be a high-ranking Soviet state security (KGB) officer. So was his country’s president, Putin. And if there is anyone Putin trusts implicitly and explicitly, it’s his former KGB colleagues.

So, little wonder some people of Donetsk would go to any lengths to avoid becoming part of the all-mighty Mother Russia.

Alas, no word yet from either the Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street. If they still believe the whole thing about Donetsk joining Great Britain is a joke, they should start thinking of beginning to think again.

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 R-Sport.ru 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 iDNES.cz 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, cas.sk.

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

R-Sport.ru 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.

Olympic omissions stir fans in faraway Europe, too

It’s a strange tradition: hockey fans debate who didn’t make their country’s team for the Olympics, rather than discussing the gold medal parade route for those who did.

Need examples?

Just watch the hand-wringing about Martin St. Louis or Claude Giroux in Canada. In fact, this case has revealed how many amateur psychologists there are in Canada. They keep analyzing Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman’s feelings. How perfectly tough it must have been for him when he had to reveal to his Tampa Bay Lightning star player that he got the short straw.

Or think of the the gnashing of teeth over Team USA executive Brian Burke’s comments regarding Ottawa Senators’ forward Bobby Ryan, as dutifully reported by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside.

But don’t think for one moment these excesses are limited to North America.

They have a wonderful scandal going on in the Czech Republic, too.

Team Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik named his roster for Sochi the other day.

Czech fans (and journalists) zoomed in on three omissions. How come Calgary Flames forward Jiří Hudler didn’t make it? How about Radim Vrbata of the Phoenix Coyotes? And how could Hadamczik forget about Colorado Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda?

Zdeněk Janda, writing for Czech daily Sport, telephoned Hejda to ask him what he thought of the omission. Hejda said he was disappointed, but added he somehow expected it. He hadn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Hadamczik when the twain met during the last world championship. By way of explanation, Hejda was critical of Hadamczik’s coaching methods, too. He was used to coaches who would give their players systems to play within, and if there was one thing sorely lacking the last time out, it was precisely that. Hejda went on to say he was much more surprised that he didn’t see Hudler’s name on the roster. Still, Hejda concluded, he wished Team Czech success, and he would be cheering them on.

Now, that’s called sporting.

So far as Hejda’s sentiment regarding Hudler was concerned, Calgary coach Bob Hartley echoed it. Hartley said, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Czechs must have a frightfully talented squad if they could afford leaving Hudler off. They must be prime candidates for gold, Hartley added.

Of course, there’s a minor catch of major proportions involved here: if Hartley knows anything about the Czech players who ply their trade in Europe, be it within the Czech Extraliga or the Russian KHL, or any other top European leagues, Hartley would have second-hand knowledge of their talents at best, if any at all.

Still, leaving Hudler off the Czech Olympic roster has raised more than one eyebrow.

But Hejda was the first of the top players to come out and say openly what many other Czech players would grumble about in private. They just do not like Hadamczik as coach, period.

In fairness, having talked to a few Czech players who had won bronze in Torino Olympics of 2006, their views of their coach were split right down the middle. To some, Hadamczik was anathema and, they claimed, they got as far in the tournament despite his coaching (or lack thereof). Several others said, on the other hand, that they were just fine with Hadamczik’s methods.

One of the major issues amongst the Czech hockey fandom is they hate Alois Hadamczik. Whether those fans know whereof they speak or not is perfectly irrelevant. They are aghast about some of his alleged business dealings, but neither the fans nor the Czech media have ever come up with a single proof of any wrongdoing.

What is it then? It seems Hadamczik just isn’t their cup of tea.

To top it off, Hadamczik named Michal Barinka of HC Vítkovice to the Olympic squad, giving him the spot many Czech fans believed was to belong to Hejda. Now, Hejda himself didn’t even mention Barinka’s name in his interview with Sport’s Zdeněk Janda. In fact, Hejda didn’t mention a single player named to the roster. He didn’t mention anybody but Hudler.

But Czech fans are aware of the minor fact that coach Hadamczik is Michal Barinka’s father-in-law. So, they cry nepotism. Whether they are right or not does not really matter. One would expect that they should reserve their judgement till after the Sochi Olympics. But they haven’t.

Hejda’s NHL coach, Patrick Roy, the one who can’t hear Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms because he’s got his Stanley Cup rings firmly stuck in his ears, joined the chorus. Hejda, Roy was quoted as saying the other day, married the wrong person. He should have married Hadamczik’s daughter, instead of his lovely wife Tereza. His position on the Czech national team would be unassailable.

Judging by reader reactions in the Czech media, some praise Hejda for coming out and saying what he thinks, while others say it’s all sour grapes on his part. How so, they wouldn’t elaborate. The fact remains it was a Czech reporter who called Hejda, not Hejda calling the Czech reporter. And that Hejda didn’t resort to cliches? More power to him.

Hejda himself is now more or less shocked to the point of amusement. He spoke to one reporter. Once. And that single interview has been appearing all over the place since then, in various shapes and forms, soliciting heated reader exchanges wherever and whenever it ran.

William Shakespeare had a fine description for events like this: much ado about nothing.

Oil Change’s second installment this season features October from hell

The first month of this NHL season was a month the Edmonton Oilers would rather forget, and that’s putting it mildly.

Oil Change, the television documentary that has been following their ups and downs with unique backstage looks, for the last four years, will provide us with more insights Sunday, Nov. 17, on Sportsnet.

Here are the times as provided by Sportsnet: 9 p.m. Eastern time on the East and Ontario regions, 7 p.m. Mountain on the West region, and 9 p.m. Pacific on the Pacific region.

Write these times down as this upcoming episode promises a lot for Oilers’ fans to frown upon. But it promises moments to enjoy, too.

Of the 14 games the Oilers played in October, nine took place on the road, six of them in the east, a region where the Oilers have traditionally had difficulties.

Why?

Who knows?

In any case, their head coach Dallas Eakins has maintained throughout the ordeal that his club is better than its October record seems to indicate. Whether he knows something the rest of us don’t, only future will tell. It would be good, not only for the Oilers and their fans, but for Eakins, personally, too, if he is right.

As is the tradition of Oil Change, we’ll see in this episode scenes mostly hidden from general view when and as they happen.

For example: a morning off in Montreal, with top centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his brother Adam, a student at Concordia University. Or the Oilers celebrating their beloved, long-time dressing room attendant Joey Moss’s 50th birthday with a laugh-filled pro-wrestling show at Ryan Smyth’s house. Or a group of the team’s young stars having some four-wheeled fun in the parking lot outside Rexall Place during a TV commercial shoot for Ford. And a glimpse of some young prospects on the Oilers farm teams in Oklahoma City and Bakersfield, as they are chasing their NHL dreams.

Many fans could be forgiven if they ask: who are these guys? Mark Arcobello, Will Acton and Luke Gazdic, classic underdog success stories, all of them. Or fellow rookie Anton Belov, who passed up much bigger money in Russia’s KHL this year to try to make a name for himself as an NHL defenceman. That he might earn himself an invitation to join Team Russia at the Sochi Olympics in February would be an added bonus.

And what’s wrong with Nail Yakupov? The first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has been struggling as an Oilers sophomore, ending eventually as a healthy scratch for the first time in his starry career.

Edmonton’s award-winning Aquila Productions has created the entire Oil Change series that has developed a healthy, cult-like following across the entire North American continent.

If previous seasons and installments are any indication, we have great television to look forward to.

Beer and shots: Sergei Varlamov’s deadly combination

If only half of what Colorado Avalanche goaltender Sergei Varlamov’s girlfriend (one assumes she’s now his former girlfriend, but who knows) had to say is true, the guy should land behind bars for the six years that the U.S. law allows.

Evgeniya Vavrinyuk spoke to the Denver Post newspaper. A video recording of her story (you can watch it here: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_24436856/translation-media-interview-given-by-semyon-varlamovs-girlfriend), with translation from Russian to English, appeared on the newspaper’s site the other day.

Vavrinyuk told the paper her version of what happened on that night that ended with Varlamov arrested on domestic violence charge, spending one night in a police cell, only to be released the next day on a $5,000 bail.

It’s not too pretty.

In fact, it’s perfectly ugly.

According to Vavrinyuk, Sergei Varlamov got drunk beyond description, whereupon he proceeded to assault her physically, causing her what is known in police jargon and legal circles as bodily harm. It was not the very first time he would do so, Vavrinyuk told the Denver Post. When it happened in Russia during the lockout, she would report the incident to local police at Yaroslavl but nothing would happen: Sergei Varlamov was (still is), after all, a famous hockey player, a celebrity. Vavrinyuk’s complaint was ignored.

She found that matters were somewhat different in North America: women have their rights and authorities have no difficulty with defending them, no matter whatever social status enjoyed by the perpetrator.

In fact, what happened in Mother Russia once the report of Varlamov’s arrest in Denver was made public there confirmed the well-known generalizations about Russians, especially their males, and sports fans in particular. Vavrinyuk received numerous personal threats, her family members were harassed, too, and she fears that a return home would cause her even more grief than what Varlamov had inflicted upon her.

Vavrinyuk told the Denver Post she is not (and never has been) after Varlamov’s money. After all, she worked as a model in Hong Kong and earned enough to sustain herself. She broke her deal in Hong Kong about a year ago because Varlamov insisted that she join him in Denver.

Whether she is or is not after his money is perfectly irrelevant at the moment, but her statement isn’t. If it happens that the whole thing comes to trial and she changes her mind, Varlamov’s lawyers would, perfectly logically, confront her with her statement made in the Denver Post interview. That might carry the day so far as this part of the matter is concerned. Then again, it might not, but it would quite ridiculously complicate the affair.

This is not to say that each and every Russian guy there is drinks too much for his own good and can’t hold his booze too well, to boot. This is not to say, either, that each and every Russian guy is a bully and a dirty male chauvinist pig. There must be (and, one hopes, there are) exceptions. But the legend is too convincing. And, by the way, so are this author’s personal experiences from Russia and with the Russians.

The Avalanche are, of course, perfectly correct when they wouldn’t hesitate to start Varlamov in their nets. Unless and until he’s legally convicted, he’s as innocent as freshly fallen snow. If his goaltending form remains where it’s been the last few weeks, good for the team. Besides, a professional sports team doesn’t exist to judge anybody’s personal character. A professional sports team is here to win and, by extension, make its owners some spending cash.

The picture would change altogether if the paying public turned against Varlamov and, by extension, against the Avalanche paying the goalie and casting a blind eye on his alleged (still alleged, not proven, at this time) shenanigans. Were that to happen, the club might end up running away from the black eye a.k.a. Sergei Varlamov, going faster than speed of light.

If, by the way, the latter were to happen and Varlamov were to be found innocent in court, after all, even if it were to be on a technicality, he would be able to mulct the club in heavy damages. That’s something Avalanche’s lawyers must have taken into consideration, too.

In any case, the Avalanche must have got used to such kind of spotlight by now: its coach, Patrick Roy, was in a similar predicament some time ago when, still the club’s goalie, he got into trouble over domestic violence, too.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Quite a few people keep asking: well, if Sergei Varlamov was such a bully and girlfriend-beater, why did Evgeniya Vavrinyuk stay with him so long? They knew each other for four years, after all, and were partners for about a year.

Any psychologist worth her or his salt knows the answer. There are people (mostly women) whom the psychologists consider to be worthy of the title of Good Samaritans. Why it is mostly women, nobody knows for sure; some say it’s the good old maternal instincts, other just satisfy themselves with knowing that that’s how it is. In any case, it is mostly women who accept hard-drinking, abusive men, saying to themselves it must have been his former girlfriend or wife or parents, or whoever else, who had made him do it, but now that he’s met me, he’s going to change, I’ll teach him to mend his ways, and so on, fill in whatever other such and similar shortsighted and stupid expressions you can think of.

It’s the same with that good, old (and stupid) pick-up phrase: You know, you’re so different, my wife, she just doesn’t understand me – the percentage of women who end up spending years with psychologists trying to help them get out of the breakups is simply shocking.

This, in any case, would go a long way to explain Evgeniya Vavrinyuk’s behaviour.

And what if Sergei Varlamov sees the writing on the wall after his lawyer has whispered in his ear it seems he’s going to get at least four years behind bars, if not the maximum six years? What if he goes for it, leaves the courtroom before the judge returned with her or his sentence, makes straight for the Denver International Airport, and next thing we know he’s back in Yaroslavl, telling the club there they need a good goalie?

Modern electronic communications are faster than the fastest airplane. Before he landed in Russia, a note would have been sent from the Denver court to whatever authorities, the NHL head office being one of them. A copy of the note would make its way to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s head office in Zurich, Switzerland, whence they would go with that same speed to Moscow: Sergei Varlamov is a fugitive and, as such, he’s not allowed to be employed by any hockey club within the IIHF jurisdiction. Certainly, the KHL would say it’s not bound by any such nonsense issued by those guys in Switzerland. But the Russian hockey federation that is an IIHF member would be bound by IIHF’s refusal to issue a transfer card for Varlamov. As a result, Varlamov would be also banned from coming close to the Team Russia training camp before the Sochi Olympics in February 2014.

This, of course, would confirm what several high-ranking Russian hockey people had been saying all along: the Varlamov case is a plot, a conspiracy, to deny Mother Russia the services of its best goaltender in an attempt to make sure Mother Russia doesn’t win the gold medal it so richly deserves at the Sochi Olympics.

Crazy? Not one bit. The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, is a former high-ranking KGB (Soviet-era state security and espionage service) officer, and many of those now serving within all kinds of Russian organizations, have been serving the KGB in one major capacity or another, too. And if anybody knows a thing or two about plots and conspiracies, it would be the good old KGB.

We’re getting into the high-wire balancing act of international politics here. And all that because one goalie drinks too much, can’t hold his liqueur, and ends up beating up his girlfriend.

And a brief note as an observation for those not fluent in the Russian language: the translation below the video, while not a literary gem and/or proof of the actual interpreter’s abilities, is correct and doesn’t miss anything.

Lockout in Russia? Let’s hope not, says Kovy

There are a few issues Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and its player union will have to solve, but not one of them seems to be a catalyst for a lockout.

Thus union president Andrei Kovalenko.

According to the 43-year-old NHL veteran (Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins), there are no insurmountable issues between the KHL and its player trade union (that’s how it prefers to call itself). And Kovalenko has been his union’s president since its inception in 2009.

“Our collective agreement expires after this season,” Kovalenko told Russian newspaper Sport-Express, “but we hope to have a new deal done by the end of next April.”

There will be changes in the KHL’s structure, what with the addition of several new clubs, including Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki and, possibly, Lada Togliatti. That, the KHL has been saying, would mean an increase in the number of regular season games.

As it is, the KHL has three clubs from outside of the former Soviet Union: Czech Republic’s Lev Praha, Slovakia’s Slovan Bratislava, and Medvescak Zagreb from Croatia. There are also several clubs situated in the former Soviet republics, such as Dinamo Riga in Latvia, Ukraine’s HC Donbass, and so on. That puts a strange emphasis on one of the trade union demands: cut the number of foreigners permitted on each roster.

There’s one more issue here that can have an impact. It would be a political impact of major proportions: the European Union looks askance at limitations put upon its member states’ citizens seeking employment in other countries that belong to EU. A few years ago, it told European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, to clean its act or else. Nobody spelt the “else,” as nobody needed to: the UEFA fell in line forthwith.

Granted, Russia is NOT an EU member. But the Czechs are. And the Slovaks are. And so are the Finns and the Croats. As it is, the KHL is skating on thin ice. It has European Union-based clubs as its members. These clubs now will have to decide by whose rules they are going to play. The KHL’s? They wouldn’t be able to run their business in their home countries. The EU’s? What’s the KHL going to say?

There is, of course, a bit of a way out: they can always claim they’re foreign entities, only playing under a Russian league’s banner. To them, if anyone is a foreigner, it’s the Russians.

If this goes through, lawyers on all sides will have a field day.

Everybody concerned says the relationship between the league and its union is not as antagonistic as seems to be the case between the NHL and its players association (NHLPA). After all, Kovalenko makes no secret of his close cooperation with league president Alexander Medvedev and sundry top league officials. In fact, some contemporaries view this relationship askance. It resembles the bosom friendship between then-NHLPA Executive Director Alan Eagleson and then NHL President John Ziegler too closely for comfort, they say.

But still, disagreements do pop up from time to time.

“I don’t think we’re facing a lockout like the NHL did,” Kovalenko says. “But we do see certain important issues that our players view as the principle of how to proceed in the future.”

Such as?

“Such as the number of games,” says Kovalenko. “We conceded a few points to the league during the Olympic season, but we’d rather not see these things repeated ever again.”

More specifically?

“Training camps opened July 15 for this season,” Kovalenko explains. “We had to move the date by about two weeks (because of the Olympics). We’d like to see it included in the new CBA that training camps will not open before July 20, just as it used to be. Our members don’t like trips that last too long, either. This season, clubs play four away games in a row. That’s because the schedule was compressed due to the Olympics. We would prefer three-game road trips as a maximum.”

But if there is one issue the league and its trade union haven’t been able to see eye to eye, it’s the issue of foreigners on team rosters.

League president Medvedev has hinted some time ago that the limit imposed on clubs would be raised for next season from five to seven. Russian hockey federation didn’t like the idea, and Kovalenko isn’t a particular fan, either: “To include more foreigners would be counterproductive. The foreigners would form cliques and clans within teams, endangering clubs’ team spirit,” Kovalenko argues.

Well, speaking of spirits, Kovalenko knows whereof he speaks: whenever he used to be on an NHL team with another Russian (or, Heaven forbid, more Russians), these guys would stick together even if they hated each other’s guts. And never mind such infamous affairs as Kovalenko’s overnight disappearance on an Edmonton Oilers’ California swing, with his countryman Boris Mironov appearing for the club’s bus departure even later, claiming he had been trying to find Kovalenko. In vain, of course.

But that’s water under the bridge now, and Kovalenko is strictly against players forming cliques and clans within their teams.

His other point seems more valid: “We have to think about bringing up our own young players. Personally, I would prefer a limit of two to three foreigners per team, and those selected based on their top levels of play,” Kovalenko insists.

That kind of thinking limps behind the NHL by a couple of decades. The North American league has adopted, however grudgingly, Glen Sather’s old dictum: “I don’t care where the guy’s coming from. He may be coming from Timbuktu, but if he knows how to play hockey, he’s my kind of guy.”

Kovalenko warns, recognizing he’s talking about the NHL two decades ago: “Only those foreigners who were tops could play. If they were on the same level as the locals, clubs preferred to have Canadians or Americans playing for them.”

This is a sore point for the Russian psyche: they are (and have been for the longest time) of the view that they are the world power. While they might be getting used to sad fact their importance in the world economy (and consequently politics) has shrunk somewhat, they wouldn’t accept even a hint of similar developments so far as their hockey goes.

So, where the debates over limits on foreigners will end is anybody’s guess.

And then there are a few minor issues. Such as how to dress properly for the game. Wearing your sweater tucked into your pants is frowned upon in the NHL, and Russian fans read in their media again and again how their beloved Alexander Ovechkin has suffered. The KHL uses a similar rule, except here, we’re talking about fines. SKA St. Petersburg is a prime example of how it works in the KHL. “The club had to pay four fines for four breaks in one single game,” says Kovalenko, with righteous indignation.

Except, the fines get steeper with each infraction. Where the first fine would come at 10,000 rubles (about $330 Canadian), the infractions that follow double the fines: 40,000 rubles follow 20,000 rubles, and so on, you get the picture. “Our players don’t like it,” says Kovalenko. “It may happen that the player is innocent, he just hadn’t noticed. We would like to convince the league, and the referees, that this isn’t an issue to lose sleep over.”

He’s right there.

But what’s going to happen if Russian players decide they want to get bigger pieces of the pie than they are getting now? That they want to change their league throughout, an astute business proposition as it is and has been, into something resembling a co-operative rather than a corporation?

Nobody would answer this question for the record, but – anonymously – all those asked agreed: this is Russia, not America, we’re talking about. We pamper our players better than Hollywood pampers its celebrities. What are the players supposed to do in return? Why, nothing spectacular. Just play hockey and keep their mouths shut.