The plan? First make peace with the fact that the NHL latest work stoppage will become a reality. Check. Watch as much non-NHL hockey as I could get my hands/eyes on. Check. During these couple of months Iâ€™ve watched the KHL, AHL, SM-liiga, Elitserien, Czech Extraliga, OHL, QMJHL, EBEL, NCAA, and the CHL vs. Russian selects Super Series.
All of this gave me more insight about our beautiful game as well as new appreciation of both the NHL and hockey in general. Here are some of the things that stuck with me as I
video traveled across the international hockey stage.
1) Unexpected is the way that the story often goes
Evander Kane â€“ top prospect, power forward, future behemoth. Dustin Jeffrey â€“ bottom six NHLer, a nobody in an NHL team packed with stars? How things change. Jeffrey moved to my hometown team (Medvescak Zagreb) where became one of the leagueâ€™s star players, putting up 22 points in 18 games played (11 goals) and being adored by the home crowd.
Meanwhile, Evander Kane scored only one goal in 12 games played for the KHLâ€™s Dynamo Minsk before he was released by the team citing â€œtrouble adapting to the European style of hockeyâ€ as the main reason. Perhaps. Perhaps thatâ€™s troubling Rick Nash, Joe Thornton as well. In the meantime, Tyler Seguin and John Tavares are growing up with style in that league. Oh, Glen Metropolit has 10 goals and 24 assists, enough for 3rd in total points. Damien Brunner is leading the league in scoring with 47 points (22 goals). Bravo Red Wings, bravo.
Here’s an interview with Dustin Jeffrey for one of Zagreb’s radio stations. No worries, it’s in English.
2) People in Finland are smart
Some of the rinks in Finland (namely HIFKs Helsinki Ice Hall) shut down the lights during the intermission breaks to conserve energy.Â HIFK was founded in 1897 and is one of Europeâ€™s oldest hockey teams.
Since then, the team has won the Finnish National Championship title seven times (1969, 1970, 1974, 1980, 1983, 1998 and 2011) and produced players such as Olli Jokinen, Niklas BÃ¤ckstrÃ¶m, Esa Tikkanen and Wildâ€™s prodigy Mikael Granlund.
3) Alexander Barkovâ€™s skating isnâ€™t his strength
- thatâ€™s about all thatâ€™s wrong with him. Everything else is in the toolbox.
- hockey smarts, vision, creativity and sublime scoring skills. When youâ€™re watching a 17-year old who currently ranks 6th in the SM-liiga in scoring you kind of expect him to be that good.
- the son of former Russian player Aleksander Barkov, this Finnish native also holds Russian citizenship and is looking to take the next NHL draft by storm.
4) Jagrâ€™s HC Kladno team is really fun to watch
Yep, they are playing some freewheeling, exciting hockey. Sure, you have Tomas Plekanec and the man himself putting up sublime point totals, but the team also features NHLers Marek Zidlicky, Jiri Tlusty and former NHLer Jan Hlavac.
Kladno also goes by the name RytÃÅ™i Kladno (Kladno Knights) and has won four consecutive league titles (1975â€“1978). They repeated the feat in 1980. This is the fourth time that JaromÃr JÃ¡gr is playing for his home town team. As you can see, they sport a pretty badass logo too.
5) Russian junior hockey is changing
First the WJC then the Super Series win. The Russians are adapting to the North American style of game, leaving freewheeling hockey behind when they need to. Players like defensemen Andrei Mironov and Nikita Zadorov donâ€™t shy away from the physical game and are very responsible with the puck. Zadorov’s first OHL fight
6) Nathan MacKinnon is really good
If there is one good thing that could come out of this what seems to be a full season lockout, thatâ€™s the fact that our Leafs could win the draft lottery and get MacKinnon. Even when he isnâ€™t playing his best, heâ€™s still controlling the game and putting points on the board â€“ a trait which only the best players in the history of the game possess. His first couples of strides are simply amazing but we shouldnâ€™t simply be talking about his physical talents. His hockey IQ is really high, be it finding space in coverage or predicting where the play will end up.
7) Teddy Bear Toss in Zagreb was really fun
As per usual, when you do things to benefit the less fortunate you always come away with a great feeling. Even though I have known about the event in North America, this was still something new for my city and I was very proud with the way people responded. With an attendance hovering around 6500 people, 5124 teddy bears were thrown on the ice.
Also, the Vukovar heroes tribute pic will never leave me. It was certainly something special as the all the smartphones suddenly developed a human component:
8) KHL wonâ€™t take away North Americaâ€™s viewers
To find your KHL team, you have to become emotionally invested in the league. Sure, the hockey there is a good replacement for something that isnâ€™t going on, but itâ€™s the NHLâ€™s history, the Stanley Cup and the rivalries that keep it so engaging. Even at the time when the KHL is trying to make the game more internationally appealing (using English commentators for highlights and replacing Cyrillic with English on the default website, player jerseys and some broadcasts) it wonâ€™t replace the NHL in the eyes of the North America viewer.
9) Junior hockey is more engaging
At least for this writer it is. Thereâ€™s just something about watching the stars of tomorrow battling it out for every inch of the ice that really should draw more fans to the CHL.
Itâ€™s fun because when youâ€™re watching it youâ€™re not simply waiting for the NHL to start. You are watching something that has future NHL impact and itâ€™s pure hockey, pure competition (Go Knights go!).
Itâ€™s the same thing with NCAA â€“ I really enjoyed watching Boston College vs. BU because the atmosphere was so electric.
10) Everyone is talking about Connor McDavid and rightfully so butâ€¦
â€¦ man, can Josh Ho Sang wheel. He can easily control the pace of any game with that blazing speed. It could make him an NHL superstar one day. He still has to learn when to keep hold of the puck and when to distribute it but the pure potential this kid has canâ€™t be denied.
My advice on what to do during the lockout?Â Go and watch/play some hockey.