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Two Takes On European Player Development

By George Malik Two articles from the Globe and Mail caught my eye recently: First, Ken Campbell does a nice job of debunking the IIHF's study on the NHL's "detrimental" effects on European player development:
The motivation behind the IIHF report was to try to convince the hockey powers to allow players to play longer in Europe, not only so that they’ll ultimately develop into better NHL players, but so they’ll fill more European rinks, and elevate the quality of play and the teams over there will make more money.
The fact is, playing as a teenager in a foreign land might not be for everyone. But is it that destructive for a player to come to North America and learn the language, culture and style of play before embarking on an NHL career? One of the stats in the study astounds me, quite frankly. It points out that 79.4 per cent of the Europeans who came to play in the CHL as 16- or 17-year-olds never went on to play in the NHL. That means, then, that 20.6 per cent of them did. That’s a phenomenal number!

The fact is, the CHL would love to have a graduation rate among Canadian players to the NHL that would be anywhere near that. Next time you go to a junior game, take a close look at both benches. If more than three or four players from the two teams combined end up having a lengthy NHL career, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot.
As it stands now, the CHL allows just two Europeans per team and theoretically, they are taking up the spots of the two worst home-grown players on those teams, players who probably wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in Hades of making the NHL anyway.

more, with the requisite amount of Cherry-bashing…

Second, Alan Maki talked to Caps coach Glen Hanlon about cultural differences.  Hanlon should know—he spent the lockout coaching the Belarussian national team:

[T]here are differences between [Alexander Semin and Alex Oveckhin] and Hanlon, having spent time in their neck of the woods, is using his Belarussian background to manage both Ovechkin and Semin.
“I had almost zero exposure to English over there. I had the BBC on TV, that was it,” said Hanlon, who was hired by Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, who occasionally practises with the national team. “At first, I couldn’t go into a store and buy anything. There wasn’t any English on the labels. I couldn’t even buy shampoo. ... I learned right away how difficult it is for young athletes coming over here. It’s given me way more patience dealing with them.”
Hanlon also noticed how robotic the Belarussian players were; not on the ice, but off it. So much was done for them that they developed a comfort zone. With his two Alexanders, first Ovechkin, now Semin, Hanlon has made sure that hasn’t continued.
“The hardest part of the transition is independence,” Hanlon explained. “Over there, everything is taken care of. They get their wake-up calls. The food is laid out for them. They’re taken to meetings. Here, the staff asked me about wake-up calls [to the players’ rooms when the Capitals are on the road] and I said, ‘Let them do it themselves. Let them get to the rink on time.’ I want them to fend for themselves.”

continued,  and take note: Dean Lombardi’s trying to read War and Peace to wrap his mind around Alexander Frolov’s favourite book.

The honest truth is that the quest for the NHL chews up and spits out the vast majority of North Americans who try to make “the show,” but cultural differences are killer, especially for Russians.  If you go to a Spirit-Whalers game and spot the draft picks, you might spot four to six NHL’ers, but only one or maybe two of them will have the “A-list” career success that the IIHF’s study deems as an “acceptable” level of accomplishment.

The Russian hockey system is one of the last bastions of the real hard-liners from the Soviet era (see: Viktor Tikhonov).  Most everything on and off the ice is dictated by the central authorities on the hockey club, which mirrors the centralization of power and control found in Soviet government. 

On some “old school” clubs, players still stay in on-site “barracks” during the day, and most everything is done with the same maddeningly militaristic routine, from the two-to-four-a-day practices, dry-land training, and tasty team meals (Yay, unidentifiable meat product!) to the big club taking care of your car, your condo, and your bills.  The club’s regime does so with ruthless efficiency, so their prospects come over here and don’t really know how to take care of themselves as adults…

And, unlike the North American teenagers and early 20-somethings who make the NHL, they can’t elucidate the fact that they don’t know how to balance a checking account, nor can they figure out why their $200 white dress shirts are turning pink when they wash them with their red socks, because they don’t speak the language.

PS: Hey, Deano!  I’ll save you a few hundred pages.  War is hell, the quest for morality is maddening, and in the end, true love prevails, especially if you’re a mason.  Sort of.  Also: the characters have so many nicknames that you’ll end up as lost as Napoleon in winter if you don’t have some sort of secondary reference for Russian name derivations.

Filed in: NHL Talk, George James Malik, | KK Hockey | Permalink


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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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