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On Saturday afternoon, a group of Russian hockey legends squared off against New Jersey Devils alumni at Prudential Center in a charity game to benefit Hurricane Sandy relief for the Garden State.
Among the players for the Russian side: Alexei Yashin, the former Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders star who is now the GM/assisting coach for the Russian National Women’s Team.
I spoke with Alexei Yashin Friday morning about the event and other hockey topics, including his retirement:
Q. Alexei, you are a long time New York resident, did Sandy affect you and your family?
YASHIN: “Yes, we do own a house in New York. But fortunately for us the circumstances were such that we were very lucky that our house didn’t suffer any damage. The only thing we lost were about 20 trees on our property.
"But this is nothing comparing to what other people lost and went through – some of them lost absolutely everything. That’s why I am really happy that I have this opportunity to help people by playing in the charity game.”
Maybe there is a particular story that touched you the most about Sandy?
“It was all very difficult, and I watched a lot of reports on TV at the time… In particular I remember a report about a hundred houses or so lost in one neighborhood due to a huge fire. It was really scary to see the amount of damage that hurricane brought. And that’s the reason I hope the game will help raise funds to restore communities.”
What are your expectations for the game? Is it only about the charity, or an opportunity to see old friends again?
“I just got back in town from Canada, actually. But I heard the organizers are approaching the game very seriously and hope to raise a substantial amount for the Sandy relief efforts. This is the main reason. And this is great.
"At the same time I am really excited to see all of the guys who will be participating. I think this is so great that everyone is keeping in touch, everyone is staying in shape. I think it will be a real treat for fans to come and watch this game.”
About staying in shape… Is it fair to say you have officially and practically retired? Or are you holding on to a glimmer of hope that you will play professionally again?
“No, I have ended my professional career for good.
"It’s just moments like these come around when you get a chance to play a game, when you get to be on the ice, when there is an opportunity to stay in shape. These games make you feel good. Just recently I was skating with the girls [Russia Women’s National Team] ahead of the World Championships and it was great. It’s great being in shape and look forward to game like the one for the Sandy relief. I think this is important.”
So, there is absolutely no chance we will see you in the Islanders’ uniform? Your relationship with the club management is quite good.
“You said it yourself, the relationships is good indeed. But is it the reason you should be playing? Is the 'good relationship' the motivation to play somewhere? I don’t think this is a professional approach. I have made a decision to retire from professional hockey. I am doing something else now. Now I am the general manager of the [Russia] women’s national team.”
Yes, this was an interesting decision. Were you worried at all about taking on this?
“You see, I didn’t approach this as some people may have. Some only do things that benefit them financially or further their career ambitions. It was completely different for me. I felt that, having retired from hockey, this is where I can really help Russian hockey and the country. The next winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, and I hope my experience and my connections will help the team to get better and to get ready for the Olympics. That is the goal. And I think it will be reached.”
Are you worried about the future of women’s hockey as an Olympic sport?
“Yes, there is a lot of talk whether women’s hockey will be around in the future. All I have to say is that women’s hockey will be played at the Sochi Olympics. That is why my main goal is to get the team ready for those Olympics, to play to the best of our abilities, try to win medals. And as far as what happen after that? That should be handled by the IOC. But my opinion, as someone who follows women’s hockey very closely, I really like it. All of the games are very interesting and I really enjoyed the World Championships that were recently held in Ottawa.”
There is still no official news about NHL’s participation in Sochi. What do you think will happen?
“I truly hope that the NHL, the IOC or whoever is handling this issue will find some common ground and figure out the solution allowing players to go. At the same time I know that both sides still have a lot of issues and concerns to work out, and these negotiations are very difficult. I just hope for a positive outcome. I wish I had some insider information for you, but I don’t.”
What is going to happen in the event the NHL does not go to Sochi? Will Russian players, who have said they would go regardless, stick to their words?
“I really can’t say anything about this. There are rules, and there are lawyers who know everything about those rules. I just don’t have the information, and can’t really say much about what is going to happen, what sanctions may follow.”
Finally, back in the Islanders: Mike Milbury’s tenure as the Islanders’ GM wasn’t the best, to say the least. Is it surprising that he is the leading hockey analyst in the US?
“No. Mike has been in hockey for a very long time and is well known. He is someone who has talked about the game for a long time. That’s why I am not surprised.”