Tag-Archive for ◊ International Hockey ◊

17 Nov 2010 Slava Kozlov Speaks Out on the KHL
Slava Kozlov

CSKA Moscow winger Slava Kozlov.

Former NHLer and newly acquired CSKA Moscow forward Slava Kozlov says he hasn’t had any problems adapting to his Russian club.

- I had been preparing to my comeback to Russia.  When I played for Atlanta I already planned to try myself in the KHL. It turned out that in the end I got back to CSKA — to the club which I had left 18 years ago. So I don’t have any troubles with adaptation in Russia.

-I’m surprised by the new league. The KHL has a very high level of hockey. Organizational issues in the CSKA are OK, too. We have all the conditions to show our best game.

Slava Kozlov

CSKA Slava Kozlov

Photos and interview (c) official CSKA website.

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22 May 2010 They’re (Not Always) Coming to America
Alex Ovechkin

Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL

While perusing the web yesterday I came across an article at Bleacher Report by a “Featured Columnist” that I just couldn’t ignore.  The claim was that Russia is no longer producing quality hockey players.  The author’s proof?  There are very few Russians and even fewer Russian superstars in the National Hockey League.    He supports this claim with a superficial glance at recent NHL draft history, and the fact that Russians aren’t being highly drafted, if at all.

And I thought only First Nations hockey players were victims of such bigoted and irresponsible “journalism.”  Pretty shallow reporting from someone who has written for NHL.com and other big online sites.

Anyone who follows the NHL, the draft and developing talent is well aware of the shift in the paradigm in international talent.  The talent in Russia is obviously still there.  Newer players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin are clear examples of the type of talent the Motherland is still producing.

So why are there fewer Russians in the NHL? The answer is simple:  The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).  Unfortunately, the author tries to deflect any attention from the KHL by saying that he doesn’t want to hear that there is talent in the KHL, because it’s not the NHL, the best league in the world.  This superficial claim insults the intelligence of knowledgeable hockey devotees and only serves to feed the xenophobia of lay hockey fans — something that does not behoove a sport that is trying to grow its popularity in the United States.

Dmitry Kulikov

Russian-born Dmitry Kulikov, a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, plays in the NHL.

To refute these claims, one doesn’t have to look too far into the dynamics between the KHL and NHL.  The KHL may not be quite NHL caliber (as I discussed last month in another HockeyGoddess.com exclusive) but the money is, and that has kept many a Russian NHL prospect at home.  Why leave the comfortable confines of your homeland, where your dollar goes further, you don’t have to worry about learning a language you have zero knowledge of and your chances of getting hurt are a fraction of what they would be in North America?

Similarly, if you are an NHL general manager drafting talented hockey players why take a chance on a guy who might look at his options: To scratch and claw in the AHL for a couple and make a whole lot less money, or to stay home and have a higher salary?  Why squander a high-round pick on a player who may never come play in North America? (Ever hear of Ilya Nikulin, a highly touted defensive prospect who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers?  Didn’t think so.) Even some of the young kids who have come and played Junior hockey in North America, claiming the NHL is their end goal, have bolted back to the KHL after being sent down to the minors.  And really, I can’t completely fault them for that decision.

Remember, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union.  Top talent doesn’t have to defect to America to make their millions — they can do it at home.  While the standard of living in most of Russia is still well behind North America, it’s a familiar and stable culture.  Why not stay there?

Of course, we have seen some financial difficulty in recent times in Russia, with teams folding or merging under the stress of the international economic crisis.  We’ve heard rumors of some teams unable to pay their players.  This all may contribute to an increase in Russian talent in the NHL.  And while I wish the best for the Russians, I secretly hope to see more of them here in North America.  We have large Russian-speaking communities, a great standard of living, health care that far exceeds the level in the former Soviet states and a fair system to live under.  So you may not be a big fish in a little pond, but you’ll have a chance to prove you’re one of the best hockey players in the world.

Photos: Alexander Ovechkin and Dmitry Kulikov by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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21 May 2010 Ready, Semis, Finals…

Czech Republic vs. Team Sweden

Unlike some countries, many of Team Sweden's top players didn't turn out for this year's World Championships. Here, Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic makes a move on Team Sweden goalie Jonas Gustavsson.

…In the NHL? Nope! The Caps are out of it, and frankly, the NHL sort of lost its luster to me after that. So what am I talking about? The World Championships happening right now in Manheim, Germany! Believe it or not, the semifinals of the 2010 World Championships are this Saturday, and the final four nations battling for the World title this year are: Российская Федерация, Česká Republika, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, and Konungariket Sverige.

Translation: Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Sweden.

Sweden will face the Czechs for a bid to the gold medal round this Saturday at 2:00 p.m., and Russia faces the Germans (!) afterwards at 6:00 p.m.

This tournament has been interesting to say the least.  Germany won a bid to the semifinals for the first time since the current IIHF has been in existence spreading mass excitement throughout the land. The Russians’ success comes as no surprise, and likewise in some ways for the Czechs. The Swedes are playing without any of the country’s top stars and have still made it to the semis. The team itself is composed of players mainly from the Swedish Elite League, Kontinental Hockey League, junior teams, and a few National Hockey League stragglers.

Nicklas Backstrom was available to play, but due to a shoulder injury sustained in Game 3 of the series against the Habs, he opted for physical therapy and sleep instead. Many other players claimed “injury” as their excuse to opt out of playing for their national team. Not referring to Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Kronwall, and Henrik Zetterberg because those guys are actually injured.

Only those that have come from NHL are: Mikael Backlund (rookie), Victor Hedman (rookie), Erik Karlsson (rookie), Jonas Gustavsson (rookie), Jonathan Ericsson, and Carl Gunnarsson (rookie). The rest either opted out entirely or are saying they are “injured.” Niclas Bergfors of the Atlanta Thrashers did come initially, but left because he dislikes Bengt Gustafsson and his coaching … ooooh, drama! The drama won’t last long though as Gustafsson’s contract to coach the national team ends after this year, and to many, his leaving is seen as a good thing. Many have speculated that is why plenty of the “healthy” or “injured” Swedes said “no” to playing for the National team.

The only two “big name” players (this is of course in my humble opinion) are junior stand-outs, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson (Edmonton Oilers AND Lokomotiv Yaroslaval prospect — yeah, figure that one out) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix Coyotes Prospect).

The Russians being within reach of a medal is no shock to anyone who has taken a good look at the rosters of all the other national teams. The Russians easily boast the best team in the tournament this year with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, Maxim Afinogenov, and Alex Ovechkin leading the way offensively. With that much firepower, there should be no reason for the Russians to not medal … but wait, didn’t they do just that in the Vancouver Olympics? Hmm… In all seriousness, hopefully the Russians can redeem themselves a little bit by taking gold or silver — because we don’t want to know what Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin will do if they don’t!

Photo: Czech Republic vs. Sweden by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images via daylife.com.



17 May 2010 Calling All Swedes

Hello all! I was going to use my first post as a Hockey Goddess to introduce myself, but I have more important hockey-related things to discuss as of now!

Nicklas Backstrom (Annalisk19@flickr.com)

The big news in the World of the Washington Capitals is the press conference to be held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex later today (5/17/2010) at 10:30 A.M., to make “an important announcement.” Well, the rumor is, of course, that it will be the glorious announcement of the long-anticipated contract extension for the Caps’ elite first-line center, Nicklas Backstrom.  Any and all hockey fans should know this is a critical signing that is practically the key to the Capitals’ success. Caps fans — myself obviously included — have been biting our nails all season long watching the young Swedish Center put up career numbers.

Nicklas Backstrom (Annalisk19@flickr.com)

It was almost bittersweet for me, knowing with every point he put on the board this past season, it seemed like the cost of his contract would go up simultaneously a few more dollars. I began to wonder if we were going to be able to pay Backstrom what he deserves after taking a quick look at Washington’s salary cap…. $30+ million potentially wrapped up in four players alone, with Varlamov and Neuvirth coming up for contract extensions as well next season? Ai yai yai…. but I’m not going to fret over such things any longer.  As a fan, such matters are out of my hands. I believe Backstrom will stay and take a discount, but the waiting is always murder on one’s mental stability.

I do believe this means Alexander Semin will be out the door by the trade deadline of 2011, or perhaps after the 2010-2011 season has come to a close and he officially becomes a UFA. This alone will free up the $6.5 million he’s slated to make this upcoming season until summer 2011 when his contract expires. However, that doesn’t really help the fact that whatever Backstrom’s contract extension will be (because we all know he can’t leave or Caps fans might burn Capitol Hill and McPhee’s house) will take effect this coming season though… nauseated yet? My bets are he goes to the Rangers, or a West Coast Canadian team. If not, he will skip home to the KHL. Mark my words. But back to the potential excitement tomorrow may bring….

Marcus Johansson, Draft Day 2009 (Getty Images)

Spoke with Anders Backstrom, Nicklas’ father, on Saturday along with Caps prospect and fellow Swede, Marcus Johansson. Mr. Backstrom was very pleased to tell me the Capitals would be signing him to a standard three-year entry-level contract this highly anticipated Monday morning with a blushing Johansson off to the side.  As a shameless supporter of all Swedish Caps, I was beyond happy to have him officially within the grasp of the Caps.

Besides being a Swede, Johansson possesses very good hands, speed, and vision on the ice much like Nicklas Backstrom.  The young center played with both the 2009 and 2010 Swedish National Teams in the World Junior Championships. The Swedes won silver in 2009 and in 2010, with Johansson as Team Captain, took home bronze. Marcus has all the talent to have a bright future in the NHL, and I’m hoping it will be in a Capitals uniform as our second line center. I must add he was much shorter in person than I thought he would be. Go figure. Oh, but you didn’t hear from me we are signing him before it is supposed to be officially announced…

Perhaps another young Swedish prospect of the Caps most have forgotten about is the son of legendary Capitals player (and current Team Sweden Head Coach) Bengt Gustafsson,  Anton Gustafsson. Taken by the Caps in the first round of the 2008 draft  at 21st overall, Anton was hoped to be a mirror of his father where hockey smarts and talent are concerned. Unfortunately, the 20 year old has not shown much of this in his short career thanks to being plagued with numerous injuries (including a concussion sustained during the Capitals’ Rookie Camp in July of 2009 – courtesy of the crossbar).

Anton and Bengt Gustafsson (AP)

Anton or “AnGus”, was signed to an entry level contract in May 2009, and played for Borås HC of the Swedish Second Tier League, HockeyAllsvenskan. He was assigned to the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears for the entirety of the 2009-2010 pre-season. However, it was quickly decided Gustafsson wouldn’t receive ample ice time playing for the Bears, and was loaned out in October 2009 to his current team, Borås HC. He played 34 games and netted 6 goals for 18 points for the 2009-10 season. Hopefully he can overcome injuries and expectations to become an NHL player like his father, but only time will tell.

In the meantime, let us all pray that by the time 10:30 A.M. comes and goes today, the Caps will be (re)signing not one, but two Swedes.

Let it be so George McPhee, let it be so.

- Goddess Annika

Photos: Nicklas Backstrom by Goddess Annika. Anton and Bengt Gustafsson from The Associated Press. Marcus Johansson from Getty Images.

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