A Bunch of Bolshevik!

It’s easy to blame the Russians. Canadian hockey fans love doing it. If the team fails, it’s the fault of the Russians.  It’s easy, most people just accept the generalized ethnic stereotype and it’s become part of hockey culture in Canada. For me personally, it’s getting old, kind of sickening, and just sounds like caveman mentality that too often finds its way into the game I love.

You don’t have to look very hard to find recent examples of this, just look at the Nashville Predators. Not long after (and even before) the Phoenix Coyotes eliminated the Predators the McCarthyist accusations began. Those pesky Commies infiltrated the Predators and dismantled them from the inside; stripping their Stanley Cup hopes from their American as apple pie/Canadian as maple syrupy hands.

It was those Russians Kostitsyn and Radulov. Yes, I know only Radulov is from Russia and Kostitsyn is actually from Belarus. But that detail doesn’t seem to bother anyone else, just like Canadians and Americans are pretty much the same thing. But those two are to blame, especially if you choose to ignore everything else may have plagued the Predators.

The scouting report was out on the Preds a while back. There were concerns that were raised about how they can be pushed around easily by bigger teams and had been. Something that Phoenix did to them and combine that with a red-hot goalie in Mike Smith and, poof, the Predators were toast. But we should ignore that.

We could say the psyche and chemistry of the Predators was affected by the addition of the ‘Red Menaces’. Really though, this is a team that has been bent over by their core group of players for the last two seasons.  Rinne needed a big contract or they risked losing him. In signing Rinne to big deal, it raised doubts the Predators could get their other two starts, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, under long-term contract. The soap opera of Suter and Weber has been ongoing: are they staying or leaving, being moved if they didn’t plan on staying, can they give us a straight answer? Nope. It’s always wonderful for your team’s collective confidence when you know your two leaders are loading the life boat and fastening their life preservers to jump ship as soon as they can. I think a relationship in which your girlfriend enjoyed a little wine every now and again is better than a relationship where you have a girlfriend who didn’t want to marry you in case a wealthier better looking suitor (or Suter…get it?) came along. But we should definitely ignore that.

I’m a fan of the loyalty and time given to Barry Trotz by the Nashville ownership. It’s a rarity in the sports world, where standings, business and bottom lines are so intertwined that any coach is given the tenure Barry Trotz has. But it also means he can rule with an iron fist. If players don’t play the exact type of hockey he wants they’re gone. No questions asked. I’m guessing management was comfortable with this except for when their star prospect, Radulov, got the heck out of Dodge and went to the KHL. I may be wrong, but management seemed quite eager to accept Radulov back. After all, the point total he put up in his last season in Nashville in 2007-08 (58 pts) was only surpassed once since. Also, since jumping to the KHL he had also won back-to-back scoring titles. I can’t say I blame the management for welcoming him back with open arms, even though coach Trotz probably wasn’t as excited.

There is the opinion that Nashville was a good enough team before the Radulov addition with nine games to go in the season. Nashville was good, no doubt, but Radulov made them better. The numbers are there.  Radulov notched seven points (3G-4A) in his nine games for the Preds (spread over a season that’s 64 points and the team lead). Before Radulov came back, the Predators were scoring 2.79 goals per game and allowing 2.8 goals per game; pretty much a wash. After the addition of Radulov, albeit for nine games, Nashville scored 3.1 goals per game and averaged 2.0 goals against. That doesn’t sound like someone who destroyed a team, but instead, it sounds like someone who made a team a whole lot better. Those nine games Radulov played in, saw the Preds win six of those; good enough for them to jump the Red Wings for home ice advantage in the first round. In that first round versus the Wings, Radulov was the Predators best offensive player.  He helped lead the Predators over the Wings and into a second round match-up versus the Coyotes. But we should absolutely ignore all that.

Then Curfew-Gate came along. It came out that after game one of the Preds’ second round series against the Coyotes, Kostitsyn and Radulov painted the town and violated a team rule: curfew. The incident led to both players being suspended for game three of the series; a tough decision, but props to Trotz for doing that. But that’s when the problem grew out of control, missing curfew was bad, but the coach should have put it to bed. Something like the two players violated a team rule and they’re no different than anyone else blah, blah blah and will be suspended for one game, and they’ll both be back the next game. Case closed. His team banded together for game three and then you have a pumped up Kostitsyn and Radulov, hungry for redemption in game four. Perfect, right? Instead coach Trotz decided that this issue needed to be dragged out a little longer (a week) and sat his two offensive stars for another game because he was really happy with the two goal performance his team put up. A performance that saw the Preds score two goals in the first 10 minutes of the hockey game followed by 50 minutes of nothing and an 0-for-5 power play. Sounds like Trotz impresses easily. Game four was a lot of like game five, minus the Preds scoring any goals, but the good news was their power play was a just-as-effective 0-for-3.  Trotz was quick to say that both players will be inserted into the line-up for game five of the series; too little, too late, Trotzy. But we’ll need to ignore all of these things, too.

Were they stupid for violating curfew; yes. Is it stupid that adult men who get paid millions of dollars to play a sport even have a curfew; very yes. And maybe their teammates were angry that the two new-comers broke a rule and they probably had their feelings hurt. And if the team’s feelings were hurt they should have got over it. They’re professional athletes. All teams put up with this. Some teams put up with stars knocking up reporters, goalies playing politics and players breaking curfew.

But none of this seems to matter. What it boils down to is that Radulov and his partner in crime, Kostitsyn, are Russian/Belarusian. They’re evil. They sit at home in Mother Russia plotting against Moose and Squirrel; laughing at the Stanley Cup and throwing darts at a Paul Henderson picture while fawning over a shirtless picture of Vladimir Putin.  They don’t actually do any of these things (although Putin is kind of ripped, so maybe they fawn a little). But this is the impression a lot of hockey fans seem to have about Russian/Eastern European players. They blame everything on them when a lot of the blame lies with the players, management, coaching staff; not just the guys with the last names that end in ‘ov’. But it’s easier to point the finger at the guys who can only defend themselves in broken English. They say they have no heart and that’s why they go back to play in the KHL. Well, you know what, if I had the choice of playing hockey on the other side of the world or playing hockey, well paid at home, I’d probably choose home, too. Funny, no one seems to attack the Canadian players that go play in the KHL for a nice pay cheque instead of scrapping it out in the minors and clawing their way back up to the NHL. Doesn’t the Stanley Cup mean anything to them? Damn Commie Bastards!

Stereotypes are unfortunately here to stay. I’m guilty of them myself. But I had a lot of rocks and that glass house was right in front of me; what’s a boy to do? It just gets really old. Those Swedish sisters play like little girls; or that Czech doesn’t care about the Cup; or he’s just another Euro in a contract year. There are Canadian players that don’t play rough and tough hockey. There are also Canadians that play better in contract years. And believe it or not, there are Canadians who play for cheques and not the Stanley Cup. After all, players do choose to play for the Islanders and Blue Jackets.

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Born and raised Winnipegger. A life long Jets fan, as well as a Pop-Culture and sports junkie. For thoughts on the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL and things irreverent follow him on Twitter.