30 July 2007
So, as I said last week, I wanted to spend this week looking at the NHL and it's role in the international swing of things. this can range from anything, the Olympics, international rink size to anything, but today I think I want to look at how international players do in the NHL. (By the way, International in this context is going to mean non-North American.)
One thing that has become apparent to me is that some of the international players, more specifically Russians and players from the old Soviet bloc, have a much more difficult time adjusting to the NHL and north American lifestyle than other internationals.
First I want to qualify this as saying that players of all nationalities flame-out and are busts. You could probably write a book on North-American NHL busts, so this isn't a strictly international thing, but I think the transition is tougher on Internationals though. Before factoring any social differences in, what you have is an 18-19 year old kid (who has probably never been away from home) taking him to a country that he doesn't know the language(s) with no one to help him with the transition. Imagine yourself at 18 and how homesick and terrified you'd be if you were sent to Russia or China and told to live. It has to be an incredibly tough transition, and I would assume that this means international players are more likely to suffer from depression, which leads to substance abuse and indifference.
Now why I say Russians are less apt to make the transition, is because not only do you factor in the above paragraph, but you also should factor in the social differences. Sure Finnish, Swedish and Czech players face a different culture, but at least they are based on traditional western culture. By most accounts just because communism fell in the 80's doesn't mean that mentality has fallen. From the accounts I've read is that youth and pro leagues, and society in general, in Russia still have that "You do what you're told" mentality.
Think back to college, and think of the people who had the toughest time transitioning to the freedom that college offered. Who transitioned better, kids whose parents granted them limited freedom in high school, so that the kids would know how to deal with the responsibility of freedom, or kids who were nearly controlled by their parents and then given all their freedom at the same time? I mean how many Catholic School Girls do you know who went crazy when given the freedoms of college? Are Russian players are the Catholic School Girls of the NHL? Here's a really good article describing the transition a young Russian, and his family, has to make while trying to work his way up to the NHL.
I don't want to paint an entirely bad image of Russian players. Many have made very successful transitions to the NHL. Larionov, Federov, Khabibulin, Bure, Kamensky, Kozlov have all made fine careers in the NHL, not to mention budding young stars like Ovechkin, Malkin, Nabokov, Bryzgolov, Markov and a score of others that seem to be on the right track, but there also seems to be a disproportionally bigger number of Russian players that are unable to make that transition.
Personally I think it's in the NHL's best interest to see these young Russians succeed. The more Russians that do well in the NHL increases the leagues international visibility, international marketing/merchandising, and reputation. It's in the NHL's best interest to get as many prospects on the right track as possible. I am sure the NHL has some kind of rookie/drafted player symposium, but after searching the web I couldn't find any information about it. There are many reasons to knock the NFL, but it tries it's hardest to make sure it's rookies know how to deal with that transition. It has the best rookie symposium in the business and realizes that they have an investment in these players and try to maximize that investment.
The NHL needs to establish a similar symposium. One for all drafted players, but also one for international players. Short courses in money management, cultural differences, and expectations need to be explained to give these players the best chance to succeed. classes in English (and French) should be offered, or even required.
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