KHL

North Americans in KHL: ‘I can’t believe that just happened’

10 Comments

Ben Scrivens keeps trying to figure out what he is doing wrong.

And it has nothing to do with playing hockey.

Every once in a while in the Kontinental Hockey League, the former NHL goaltender offends someone and has to figure out what Russian superstition or custom he broke. There are plenty.

”You’re supposed to bring cake to the rink on your birthdays,” said Scrivens, a Canadian. ”If you step on someone’s shoe, you’re supposed to put your foot out and they step back. It’s like a tit for tat type of thing. They’re super superstitious and so they have a lot: you can’t whistle in doors, you can’t shake hands through a doorway. And obviously you would never just guess these things, so you have to make the mistake.”

Dozens of North American players returned to the KHL last week after playing in the Olympics, where they learned different cultural lessons in South Korea. For foreigners unaccustomed to Russia and other places in the KHL, life on and off the ice can be a bit of a shock that never quite goes away.

”Pretty much every day there’s something that I shake my head and I can’t believe what’s going on,” said American forward Ryan Stoa, who is in his fourth KHL season after stints with the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals. ”There’s pretty much something every day that I can’t believe that just happened.”

That’s the KHL, where former NHL defenseman James Wisniewski said, ”The normal’s abnormal and the abnormal’s normal.”

That explains a lot, like when a sheep was sacrificed on the ice earlier this season before a Barys Astana practice in Kazakhstan, which made a few North American players vomit at the sight of it.

”That’s probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard of, honestly, in hockey,” Canadian forward Gilbert Brule said. ”I couldn’t believe when I heard that.”

Sheep sacrifice is up there in the pantheon of the unbelievable in the KHL, though there are countless stories about everyday life in what’s considered the second-best hockey league in the world. Wisniewski said saw players giving themselves their own IVs and Wojtek Wolski keeps notes in his phone of the strange stuff he has seen so he doesn’t forget to share stories with friends back home.

”You’ve got to be ready for anything,” Wolski said. ”I always say anything is possible and everything seems impossible at the same time and in the same day, in the same hour.”

Life in the KHL also means some more serious issues. Some players have not gotten paid because teams can’t make payroll. Old planes being used for travel came to light again when 44 people were killed in 2011 in the tragic Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash.

Scrivens said he can live with 99 percent of the cultural, personal and professional things that bother North American players and tries to ignore the rest.

Former New York Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy’s first day in the KHL was also his birthday, and his new teammates all wondered where the cake was. He and Stoa have gotten used to the Russian custom of shaking hands with everyone each day if you didn’t sleep under the same roof the night before – from players to the bus and Zamboni drivers to rink attendants.

So much for keeping germs in check.

”I think guys get sick quite a bit because of it,” Scrivens said. At the Olympics, which saw an outbreak of norovirus, officials recommended players fist-bump instead of shaking hands.

Asked if he’d been stiffed on pay, Scrivens hedged by saying: ”I don’t have any stories that haven’t already been publicized. I don’t have any worse stories than what’s already out there.” Some players were not willing to share stories because they either still have KHL contracts or could return to the league in the next few years, but Chris Bourque said, ”Every story you hear is true.”

That includes the strenuous two-month training camps.

”Training camp is one of the hardest things there that I’ve probably ever been through in my life,” Brule said. ”You’re basically going for almost two months straight, two-a-days, three-a-days. You’re on the ice twice, you’re working out all day, you get a break for lunch and you’re back at it all afternoon.”

For all the horror stories and head-scratching, Stoa pointed out that some guys have positive experiences in the KHL. Playing for Helsinki-based Jokerit or high-powered and wealthy SKA St. Petersburg or CSKA Moscow is a much different experience than living in Togliatti, Magnitogorsk or Chelyabinsk.

Gilroy said the language barrier is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, though teams have interpreters to help. Some practices are run in Russian, but for all the craziness that goes on around them, North American players have one place they feel just fine.

”When you’re on the ice, it’s kind of all the same game all over the world,” Gilroy said. ”You feel the most comfortable when you’re on the ice. Off the ice, you’re kind of a fish out of water, but when you’re playing the games it was the most comfortable you could be.”

Predators’ P.K. Subban named EA Sports NHL 19 cover athlete

Leave a comment

As announced during Wednesday’s NHL Awards, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators will be the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

This is Subban’s first time on the cover of the series, which featured Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid last year.

More details from EA:

For the first time in franchise history, NHL® 19 allows players to journey from the pond to the pros and play on outdoor rinks in new and returning game modes. Players can create a character and express their look and playstyle with over 900 new customization items including, for the first time, lifestyle apparel inspired by pond hockey. On the ice, the cutting-edge animation technology Real Player Motion (RPM) Tech delivers explosive-edge skating with more acceleration and responsiveness that looks and feels better. NHL® 19 also lets players compete with and against over 200 of the greatest hockey legends to ever play the sport, including Wayne Gretzky.

In NHL® 19, the sport returns to the ponds where players can compete under a unified progression hub called World of CHEL that unites EA SPORTS Hockey League, NHL THREES™ Drop In and two new modes, NHL ONES™ and Pro-Am. NHL ONES™ pits three players against each other in a 1v1v1 free-for-all with no rules and no stoppages. Players can win to rank up to new outdoor locations and defend their position as king-of-the-hill. Players can also play in any World of CHEL mode to progress their online Create-A-Character, unlock rewards, and customize their look and their playstyle.

EA Sports

Here’s the full trailer:

The game is set to be released Sept. 14 for Playstation 4 and XBOX One.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights’ William Karlsson lands Lady Byng

Getty
Leave a comment

William Karlsson just finished a fantastic season, so it’s nice to see him take home a trophy at the 2018 NHL Awards.

Karlsson generated 43 goals, 78 points, and just 12 penalty minutes during the 2017-18 season on his way to winning the Lady Byng Trophy. The other finalists were Aleksander Barkov and Ryan O'Reilly.

(Note: it’s unclear if Karlsson edged out his competition by way of hair flips.)

Here are the voting results. Note that this was cut off at the top 20, while 49 players received at least one vote. As a reminder, the Lady Byng is “given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

This is a nifty factoid about Karlsson’s win:

Devils’ Brian Boyle receives Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Leave a comment

Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils is the recipient of the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominate a player from each of their 31 chapters and three finalists are named after a vote.

Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes were the other two finalists.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September and missed the opening month of the season before returning Nov. 1. One week later he scored an emotional first goal of the season. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

The Devils forward didn’t only deal with a cancer diagnosis this season. Boyle and his wife, Lauren, also went through an ordeal where doctors believed their two-year-old son Declan was possibly dealing with Ewing sarcoma of the mandible. Turns out it was a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation, and after a handful of procedures the situation is under control.

Boyle’s red and white blood cell counts show little traces of CML remaining. He told Dan Rosen of NHL.com this week that he could be off medication in three to six months.

“I am in a good spot,” Boyle said. “I’m certainly not concerned.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders’ Mathew Barzal claims Calder Trophy

1 Comment

Mathew Barzal became the fifth New York Islander to win the Calder Trophy, which was handed out during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Bryan Berard were the previous Islanders players to win the rookie of the year award.

“This is an amazing honor to win the Calder Trophy,” Barzal said. “The players that have won this award, within the Islanders organization and then others around the league, includes Hall of Fame players and Stanley Cup Champions. To have my name next to those guys in the record books is very humbling.”

Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). He finished the season as the Islanders leading scorer and was fourth on the team in goals.

One of the many highlights of Barzal’s rookie season was the three 5-point games he recorded, which made him him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. Joe Malone last did it 100 years ago during the NHL’s first season in 1917-18.

Here’s what the voting looked like as Barzal beat out the other two finalists, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.