It’s been no secret that the mid-level talent exodus of players from the NHL to the KHL has been a growing storyline for the league, particularly this summer. Brendan Bell fits into that category, as the moderately productive offensive defenseman moved to Omsk, Russia to play for Avangard Omsk, a KHL team that happens to employ future Hockey Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
The Ottawa Citizen features a great story on Bell’s early experience in training camp overseas. First, here’s a quick description of the KHL style of play.
“I haven’t had the four-a-day workouts, the one-hour bag skates of pulling tires and things that some of the others have to go through,” Bell says.
“I talked to Marty St. Pierre (of Embrun) the other night, he’s over here as well (with Neftekhimik). He had one practice where there were tractor tires on the ice, and players on top of them and you had to pull them up and down the ice.”
“There’s lots of skill. Even the fourth-line guys are very skilled. There are no big hits because the ice is so big, and there’s so much room out there.”
“The pace is very, very high. There’s not a lot of dumping the puck, everybody is constantly moving. Everybody is always swinging, guys are darting in and out of holes. So, as a defender, you’ve got to be very aware of what’s going on around you, and as an offensive player, you’ve got to be very creative.”
In many cases, the toughest adjustment for a player in a foreign country (whether it be a European assimilating to North American hockey or vice versa) is breaking the language barrier. Bell says that Jaromir Jagr has been a big help in that process, showing him where the good restaurants are and generally “acting like a kid.” Whether it’s fooling around by making STD jokes at a clinic or showing his obsession with hockey by skating on off-days, the former NHL scoring leader has left quite the impression on Bell.
While Bell has had a few “what have I gotten myself into?” moments – particularly in noting a sharp difference between the middle class and lower class in the geographically isolated Russian region – it seems like Bell is enjoying his time in the KHL. So far, at least.