From Russia, with pucks
you were a kid and your parents kept harping on you about not
knowing how good you have it? How they had to walk uphill both
ways to school? Through a blizzard … with no shoes …
National Under-18 Team College Commitments
Well the 22
players on the US National Under-18 Team returned to America from
the World Under-18 Championship recently to tell their parents
and friends that those people have no idea how good they have
in the heart of Russia will make a young man that introspective.
tournament is the ‘first’ of three men’s World
Championships sponsored by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
It may bring together the most talent as well. With the exception
of Canada, and to a lesser extent the US, all participants have
their top players. Unlike the World Juniors, none of the top-end
players have been lost to pro hockey at 18 or 19 (i.e. –
Kovalchuk, Heatley, Tanabe). This event is pure talent on stage
representing their countries for the first time, and being evaluated
in their draft year. Even in a year marked by security and travel
concerns, combined with a remote and less-than-luxurious location,
there were still over 200 NHL scouts registered for the event.
States entered this year as the defending champion, after fielding
a tremendously talented club in Slovakia last year featuring the
likes of Ohio State’s Ryan Kesler, Colorado College’s
Mark Stuart, Maine’s Jim Howard and Boston College’s
measures were employed by both USA Hockey and the organizing committee
as a result of concerns surrounding the war and terrorism. Add
a 28-hour trip overseas that included two bus rides and three
plane flights, and Team USA’s 3-3 tie with Belarus in the
opening game of the tournament just 36 hours after arrival was
understandable. Team USA blew a three-goal lead in the third period,
as the lack of a good in-flight movie caught up to them.
short several of the top players in the 1985 age group, battled
through the first round, though. Team USA registered consecutive
3-2 wins over Slovakia and Sweden, beating the Swedes on future
Wisconsin Badger Robbie Earl’s second goal of the game with
under 30 seconds to go. Team USA then shut down perennial powerhouse
Finland, 2-0, behind the goaltending of the only non-college bound
player on the team, Mike Brown, to win its group and earn a first-round
bye in the medal round.
way, the scouts were buzzing about the play of Ryan Suter. Team
USA’s captain, the son of an Olympian and another future
Badger, Suter was on the ice against the best players from the
opposition every shift. In fact, he seemed to be on the ice every
shift. He’s a can’t-miss NHL prospect who loves to
play the game.
And how is
life in Russia? The country is a case study in contrast. On one
hand, much of the infrastructure – literal and figurative
– that was built under the communist regime is crumbling.
On the other
hand, Team USA spent much its spare time at a state-of-the-art,
50-portal internet café which was open 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, and was constantly full. These guys have capitalism
down to an art.
Yet, in front
of the building old women sit on stools selling week-old newspapers
and some form of sunflower seeds by the handful.
There is also
the tremendous contrast in architecture. The newest facilities
have that American “suburban” feel, while the ancient
churches and buildings of the 19th century are tremendous architectural
gems and have held up well to the test of time. Then there are
the buildings built by the communists – after several days
of looking at them, I am surprised President Reagan had to implore
Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.” He probably only
had to lean on it and it would have collapsed. The folks from
College Painters could make a fortune in Russia!
Life for Team
USA at the Yublienaya Hotel was not exactly the lap of luxury.
The Yublienaya was built in the ’50s, and although clean
and neat, we have now located all the mattresses from Bedrock.
parallel this contrast in architecture. The 40-year-old “Ice
Palace Avtodisel” was anything but a palace. An old, cement
structure with a paint scheme that included peach, pink and faded
green, the Ice Palace would make a great old college arena with
some work – strike that, lots of work. The only good parts
of the arena were the locker rooms – Team USA had a 10-man
sauna in its room. Upstairs you'd find the “Party”
box, a red-velvet lined box with an oak paneled party room behind
it where the old leaders of the proletariat obviously anguished
over the fate of the common worker in the Soviet Union.
Arena 2000, home of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, could not have been any
more different. The ‘new’ arena is listed as the best
arena in Europe with under 10,000 seats, and rivals any top college
or minor league building in the US. With six large locker room
facilities; 9,100 seats; a six-sided jumbotron; about 30 sky boxes
and an sky restaurant, the new arena is the cutting edge for Russia.
Although the hosts take it a little too far – they don’t
allow any food or beverage in the seats, and demand that fans
return to their seats in time for the start of the period (they
just can’t get away from giving orders over there, can they?).
And how about
the culture clash between teams? While “Eurotrash”
dance music and country roars from the US locker room, the Slovaks
are down the hall bopping to Eminem. In fact, we were so isolated
that the only source of English language outside our team and
Canada was the occasional Eminen video on MTV Russia…that’s
right, and they have “Cribs”.
Back on the
ice, an anemic power play finally cost the Americans, as they
could not pot a goal on 10 tries against Canada in the semifinal
and lost 2-1 in overtime. The heartbreaking defeat was followed
by a contest against the host Russians, who had been surprised
by the Slovaks in a shootout, 2-1. In the bronze medal game, the
young American team was introduced to Alexander Ovechkin, the
next big thing coming out of Russia. Ovechkin scored twice and
kept the US defense busy all night. The USA battled back from
deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2, but could not catch the high-scoring
Russians and fell just short of a medal with fourth place. The
finish, however, was the second-highest for the US in the five-year
history of the event.
tremendous contrasts in this society in transition, one obvious
thing is the Russian passion for hockey. Russia’s first
round games were sold out, and the fans create a noise level that
makes Yost Arena feel like a chapel.
are not only legal in Russia, they are encouraged. Combined with
the flags, and incessant chants, an opponent can be unnerved quickly.
One of the favorite chants is “Shi-Bu”, which means
“Shoot the puck” and rains down in a sing-song cadence
during all power plays. Ahh, some things are the same in all languages.
Monaghan, the Director of Operations of the USA Hockey National
Team Development Program, was the Team Manager of the U18 National
Team. A former college hockey sports information director, he
has worked as a manager at five World Junior Championships and
five World Under 18 Championships.