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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rus-shing to Conclusions?

Taking a break from reporting on John McCain’s extramarital affairs, the New York Times ran a piece yesterday about the growth of Russia’s hockey Superliga.

The article, written by Michael Schwirtz, explores the re-emergence of Russian hockey, following an extended period of stagnation that went hand in hand with the country’s economic woes of the 1990’s. These days, the league is selling out 10,000 seat arenas in small cities (are you listening, Detroit?), and luring back Russian-born players with NHL-experience such as “Dirty” Darius Kasparitis, Oleg “Yes, The Jets Really Traded Teemu Selanne For Me” Tverdovsky, and best of all, Alexei Yashin!

Yashin, as IC readers will know, was recently bought out of the final four years of his NHL contract with the New York Islanders, which facilitated his move back to Russia.
Or, put another way, the Islanders thought Yashin was so bad that they were willing to pay him nearly $18 million NOT to play for them. Imagine being so bad at something that your employer thinks it a good investment to spend millions of dollars just to ensure that you don’t show up to work tomorrow (note to Illegal Curve staff: perhaps we want to look into doing something like this with writer Andrew M.)

Now, as a Winnipeg Jets fan, I consider myself to be a pretty good arbiter of bad Russian hockey players, a skill to which all credit is owed to Mike “with our first pick, we select Sergei Kharin” Smith. And I’m pretty confident saying that the aforementioned trio [Yashin included] don’t exactly justify breaking out the big fur hats to celebrate. But don’t let that stop the Russians, who are confident that the Superliga is firmly on the path towards eclipsing the NHL as the premier hockey power in the world [insert analogy to Cold War illusions of Soviet military might here]. Witness the following statements, courtesy of the Times article:

“Hockey is a Russian sport — though Canadians think it’s theirs,” Sergei Naryshkin, a deputy prime minister. [five words for you Sergei: HENDERSON HAS SCORED FOR CANADA!!!]

“We will be No. 1… regardless,” – Former Red Wing, and current Superliga coach Sergei Fetisov [was that a threat??]

Speaking of threats, Bill Daly of the NHL was rather dismissive of the risk posed to NHL superiority. In an email to the Times, Daly simply stated “The best players in the world are going to want to continue playing in the greatest hockey league in the world.”

And though it wasn’t clear from the quote, I don’t think Daly was referring to the ECHL.

For Illegal Curve, live from Tel Aviv, I’m Steve Werier.

Shabbat Shalom.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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