August 25, 2010
Igor Larionov could fast be becoming one of the more influential people in the Ontario Hockey League.
On a broader point, Namestnikov and Bobkov, the latter of whom's release from Magnitogorsk in the KHL is not yet final, would bring the total of Russians who have joined teams in southwestern Ontario this off-season to five, if you count top OHL draft pick Alex Galchenyuk, who is American for hockey purposes.
The Windsor Spitfires have added centre Alexander Khokhlachev, plus Galchenyuk will be joined on the Sarnia Sting by the awesomely named Nail Yakupov.
The 6-foot-5 Bobkov (pictured, below the jump) could more than fill the hole caused by the Knights' top 'tender from last season, 20-year-old Michael Hutchinson, turning pro in the Boston Bruins organization.
Yakupov is represented by Larionov, the Hall of Famer turned agent who's looking to make this a regular thing, Russianizing the CHL. Larionov also has a tie with Ian Pulver, Galchenyuk's adviser.
"The Russian pipeline to the Canadian Hockey League, he said, is picking up steam.
" 'I have another kid at Val D'Or in the Quebec league and four or five kids in the 1994, '95 age groups interested in coming over,' Larionov said from Motown. 'I don't think the NHL-KHL thing (tug of war over players) has anything to do with it. The Russian kids see Canada and the United States having success internationally and they see it as the best place to develop. I think it is and I believe if they come here to play, it is the best for Russian hockey.' " (London Free Press)
Hey, that's agent logic! It is a neat coincidence that comes up in the same newscycle during which the effect of the CHL using import players on European hockey was in the spotlight. Russia, though, is a different cat.
Hockey is a massive expensively sport to play in North America, to the point any single person with no dependents can't get wrapped around how parents afford it.
Russian hockey players, though, are willing play the lottery, so to speak, like baseball players from Latin America, or many NBA and NFL players in the U.S.
"Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu got a crash course in that culture after spending 20 days this summer in Kazan running one of [Ottawa Senators forward] Alex Kovalev's hockey schools.
" ... 'The young players over there are very good, very skilled,' Beaulieu said. 'They emphasize off-ice training, even at eight, nine-years-old. Over here, we like to play games. They take it very seriously. The parents are very into it, too — some more than they are here.'
... 'There's no middle class in Russia,' Beaulieu said. 'You're either wealthy or you’re not and for a lot of the players who can come to Canada and earn a living playing hockey, it's a way out for them.' "
It is understandable Larionov, who fought the old Soviet hockey establishment in his playing days and also helped the KHL get organized, would want to take a shot at trying a trans-Atlantic solution to helping restore hockey in his homeland.
The Knights, meantime, stand to benefit, with two big additions to a club which wrung out a 101-point season last winter. It's another layer to the plot in the OHL's always entertaining Western Conference.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.