The Russian press caught Caps LW Alexander Semin enjoying a smoke.
The Russian tabloids went crazy this week after several members of the Russian national hockey team were captured on film smoking outside a restaurant in Germany at the World Championships – the most familiar being Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals. Other “guilty” parties shown in the video are Ilya Nikulin, whose rights belong to the Atlanta Thrashers, and 2002 NHL draftees Sergei Mozyakin (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Vitaly Atyushov (Ottawa Senators). Late in the video one can also see soon-to-be UFA Ilya Kovalchuk hanging out with the naughty smokers and acting a little “off” while being escorted into a waiting car.
It seems ironic that in a country where just about everyone smokes that something like this would spark such controversy and outrage. Or not.
During Soviet times, Russia took its athletes’ development very seriously. Hockey players were closely monitored and were strictly forbidden from smoking and drinking. Athletes were highly revered and their jobs were taken very seriously. They were seen as more than just mere mortals, having an amazing ability and will to resist outside distractions. After all, they were living representations of the Soviet ideal. Most of the players from that era still maintain a strict policy of abstinence when it comes to tobacco and alcohol.
Of course, there are always the exceptions. We’ve all heard the stories about Sergei Zubov smoking in the showers between periods or Nikolai Khabibulin having a clause written in his contract allowing him to smoke, but the majority of the old-school players didn’t and still don’t.
Alexander Semin, left, lights up with his Russian teammates.
Yet in the new Russia things are different. While players are still closely watched by their teams, attitudes definitely seem to have relaxed in many areas. Smoking, it turns out, is one of them. A current KHL player told us it’s the nature of being a hockey player: You either smoke or dip (chewing tobacco). In Russia, smoking is definitely the mode of choice. Still, hockey is one of the most popular sports in Russia, with world competitions being big news. So much so that in response to the media frenzy, the team has decided to boycott the press, a move which, of course, has created even more controversy in the Motherland.
Yet to be fair, we have to mention that smoking and chewing is also part of the scene in the NHL, the minor leagues and college in North America. Don’t let the media fool you. It may be more hidden these days, but believe me, it’s quite pervasive –- especially chewing tobacco — at just about every level. Even superstar Alex Ovechkin has been known to indulge in a little bit of snuff.
While the Russian population is shocked, North American fans seem to be saying “big deal” (although I wonder what the reaction in Canada would be if, say, Sidney Crosby was caught doing either). Here, we have to shake our heads at the stupidity, naivete or audacity of these players: Standing outside a restaurant smoking in full view of the public practically begging someone to bust them; and then give a little chuckle when they boycott the media for daring to report it when someone catches them red handed.