Russian Hockey, the KHL and Snarky Remarks

For many, Russia’s defeat to Finland in today’s quarter final matchup was a shock.

It’s understandable why people see it that way – the Finns were absent their top three centres and the hosts were one of the favourites in Sochi.

But the Scandinavian’s habit of getting it done on the international stage once again shone through, whilst Russian played like a side built around individual talents.

The Finns demonstrated perfectly that a team first ethos (combined with a good goalie) will trump raw skill more often than not. Sadly for some, it was Russia’s defeat and not a victory for an opposing team, playing like a team, in a sport which so often preaches the virtues of ‘the name on the front of the shirt, not the back’.

No, it became an opportunity to make snide remarks and snarky comments about Russian hockey and the KHL…

Finland vs Russia

Russia picked nine KHL players in their final roster. That included their third choice netminder, Alexander Yeryomenko, and stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. This seems to be the nail people are hanging their hat on. Not whether there were better players in the KHL, just that they were from the KHL.

The Russian’s were poor versus Finland – there is no two ways about it. They failed to create any serious chances when the chips were down, and NHL superstars such as Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were effectively anonymous. The Russian coach was, rightly, criticised for his reluctance to mix things up. After all, Malkin and Ovechkin had all the chemistry of the oft cited chalk and cheese…

Radulov and Kovalchuk, on the other hand, demonstrated the same chemistry they had at last years World Championships, with the former arguably the hosts best player through the tournament. That’s two of their KHL players, outshining pretty much every one else on the roster – NHL or otherwise.

Sadly some only saw their club, and not two players with the ability to play amongst the worlds elite. Kovalchuk was one of the top 5 players in the world when he was with New Jersey, now he might as well be dead to some hockey writers. Radulov is notoriously difficult to work with, but his skill on the ice cannot be questioned.

Likewise Evgeni Medvedev was targeted, as people asked why a KHL blue liner logged so many minutes – seemingly missing how absent Andrei Markov was during the game…

The ultimate kicker in all this is that the victorious Finns had eight KHL players in their roster.

Two sides, with the exact same number of KHL players on their rosters – but this fact seems to have been largely ignored in favour of taking shots at Europe’s top tier.

Throw in the numerous members of Dinamo Riga playing for Latvia in Sochi, and the embarrassing smear campaign against the KHL becomes even more apparent.

It’s a great shame such animosity seems to remain between North America and the KHL, or perhaps just Russian hockey in general. One writer accused the KHL of thinking it was better than it is, apparently without a hint of irony as Canada were made to work for their victory against ‘lowly’ Latvia or that Finland had more players from outside of North America than the Russians did.

Hockey snobbery is nothing new, but today took my breath away.

Russia failed to meet expectations in Sochi. Many had them as gold medal favourites on home ice, even more thought they’d at least get a medal. But their failings do not rest at the door of the KHL.

The reality is, Russia has failed to address its flaws at grass roots level.

Perhaps, like in Great Britain, the Russian top tier could do more to try and encourage or support the nations development structure. But this is a nation who have been struggling with the same issues for some time.

An easy example of this is the absence a dynamic young D man. Sergei Zubov has long since retired, Sergei Gonchar was left out and Andrei Markov looked like a spent force too often in the tournament.

Who is the Russian Erik Karlsson? Or their equivalent of Duncan Keith? Simply put, there isn’t one. And their transition game, and powerplay, struggled as a result; severely blunting what should have been a fearsome offence.

Things were compounded by the lack of cohesion we saw from this team throughout these Olympics – but again, it’s hard to blame one league for the failings of the national sides coach.

But that hasn’t stopped ‘respected’ writers taking cheap shots and acting like we’re still in the midst of the cold war.

I’m not sure which is more disappointing – that people like that continue to be paid to write that kind of bile. Or that readers lap it up.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on February 19, 2014, in European Hockey, Hockey, Olympics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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