Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Nazarov: "Who said the Cold War was over?"

I'm a bad idea whose time has come

A little more than a month ago I had posted the story of Russian enforcer Andrei Nazarov, who was seeking a trade (possibly to the New York Rangers) after being benched indefinitely by the Minnesota Wild's head coach, Jacques Lemaire. A trade never happened, and at the beginning of November, despite his one-way NHL contract, Nazarov was assigned to the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston.

At the time, Nazarov wasn't able to pursue the option of returning to Russia to play, as he was still serving a one-year suspension for abusing an official over there. The suspension was lifted about a week after Andrei reported to the Houston Aeros; still, Nazarov remains in Houston, where he has yet to appear in a game after three weeks on their roster.

Recently, the Russian site Sport Express ran an interview with Nazarov, where he was light-hearted as he discussed being in Houston and the AHL. The article bears the heading, "Who Said That The Cold War Was Completed?", and began:

"In the lowest league of North America under the direction of the NHL, is one of the most popular hockey players from Russia, for whom 10 days ago the RHL removed its one-year disqualification. 'Now I am found in Houston, one of the largest and most beautiful metropolises in North America,' Andrei Nazarov began his story. 'Here is the Houston Aeros of the American League, to whom several weeks ago I was sent by their NHL team, the Minnesota Wild.'"

What are your impressions of the hockey in the AHL?
Our club is on a long road trip, and therefore I haven't had the chance to make my debut in the AHL, only to train actively and get into the best shape. If I were to give my observations from the sideline, then the level of the American League seems high to me. It is equal to the third or fourth level of clubs in the NHL. Here is an example: recently, Minnesota recalled Kurtis Foster from Houston, who in his first game in the NHL scored two goals!

Here there is a very interesting rule: each AHL club per game can play only 5 veterans, players who have appeared in no less than 250 games. This is done so that in the league there would be as many young players as possible. In Russia, it is vice versa-- there is no concern for a limitation of veterans, and a quota of three juniors has been introduced.

You already have 250 games, after all.
Yes, therefore it is necessary to overcome that for a place on the team. In Houston, if I am not mistaken, we have have at least seven veterans. It seems that two will have to sit on the bench.

Are there many fights in the AHL?
Sometimes not many, then sometimes a lot! A lot of players who in recent years battled in the NHL now play in the American League. Krzysztof Oliwa, Francis Lessard, Brantt Myhres, Reed Low-- guys like these are playing now in the AHL. It goes without saying, in the NHL they were not elite fighters of Donald Brashear's level or equal to Tie Domi, but nevertheless they are notable players. Alas, in connection with the rule changes in place in the NHL, they are not there now.

Competition among the AHL enforcers is high?
Mad! Just look: in Houston, besides me there are two additional enforcers, Tetarenko and Kinkel, and there is only one place on the team... To go even further, on Minnesota's farm club there are another two players taller than two meters who weigh more than 110 kilograms (about 6'-5" and 240 lbs), and they also battle for one spot. To go down along the system still further, on the junior level, you'll find even at the minimum two fighters. So the fight for survival here goes on from the lowest rung!

However, not all NHL clubs are cut from the same cloth. In Minnesota's system, or for example Anaheim or St. Louis, there is a minimum of six enforcers. But at the same time there are some clubs-- Detroit in particular, where they have another policy entirely-- in their entire system there will be a maximum of one or two policemen.

It is known that in the NHL there is a secret Soviet "boys' code". Is there such a disposition among AHL players?
Here, everything is very simple. I expect that for me as a Russian, who is well known and has played a little in the NHL, the enemy enforcers will challenge me without exception. Probably in the AHL, as it is in other lower leagues, they did not hear that the Cold War between the West and the East is long over. For that, I am ready. And also, as the saying goes, to work on solving problems in the order of their appearance (laughs). (most likely meaning, crossing bridges when he gets there)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember following Nazarov's career when I was in H.S. I really liked the fact that he was a Russian player who played the way he did. I kinda stopped following him when he left Calgary. I dont understand what his role is now, is he some sort of correspondent for russian media? is he that popular in Russia? I saw some clips of him from last season, doing some of the craziest stuff i've seen on a pad of ice. I hope he get's out of Houston soon and goes back to Russia and enjoys a nice end to his career, sounds like he is enjoyed there.

4/28/06, 6:08 PM

Blogger Brushback said...

Nazarov was quoted on one of the Russian sites about a week ago that he's pretty sure his NHL career is over, so maybe he will go back to play in Russia next year. It wasn't much fun to see what happened to him this season, being sent down to the minors and then never getting to play at all.

He does seem to be very popular in Russia, possibly more than some other players because he's been just about the only Russian "enforcer" in the NHL.

He's also very good with a quote, so, as you've noticed, he gets asked about his opinion on NHL stuff by the Russian press a lot. Whenever they want a view on what's happening in North America, especially if it relates to fighting, it's usually Nazarov that they call.


4/28/06, 11:52 PM


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