Steve Valiquette: Too Fast For Love
Rangers/Wolf Pack goalie Steve Valiquette, Lokomotiv '05-'06
Bruce Berlet wrote an interesting article that appeared in the Hartford Courant a couple of days ago, about Steve Valiquette's time spent playing in Russia last season:
Steve Valiquette left the Wolf Pack after the 2004-05 season for Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League, where imports earn $350,000 to $500,000 and goalies can get a $5,000 bonus for shutouts.
Valiquette and his wife had a $400,000, two-bedroom apartment he said was "better than anything I lived in in the U.S."
It just didn't have an elevator, making the 87 steps to the fifth floor especially challenging after buying groceries.
He drove a 2005 Ford Taurus, but had to get used to roads with only a line down the middle.
"It was actually kind of fun, like being in a Grand Prix video game," Valiquette said.
Valiquette and his wife found several restaurants they liked in Yaroslavl, but on the road with the team, he found the food lacking.
But he seldom found the opposing team lacking for imagination. Valiquette, 29, won't ever forget prostitutes calling his hotel room in the middle of the night. If he unplugged the phone, they found other means to be a nag.
"There's a war off the ice between the teams," Valiquette said. "The prostitutes knew I was the starting goalie and was going to play the next night. ... Teams would do anything to try to mess with you."
Like on his second visit to Nizhnekamsk, where floodlights lit Valiquette's room, which didn't have drapes, causing him to buy black covers for his eyes.
Valiquette also got a sad reminder of his surroundings on a pregame walk in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city. An hour after a snowfall, the snow had turned black from the soot.
"With no emission controls, the air quality is worse than you can imagine," he said. "The buses are pre-World War II, so if you're behind one, it's like putting your mouth around a tail pipe."
The air wasn't much better on team flights as players and management smoked on antiquated planes.
In the end, it was all worth it. Valiquette signed a two-year, $1.235 million contract with the Rangers after having a 1.95 goals-against average and five shutouts in Russia.
Valiquette with Hartford this year (Courant photo)
A few other players talked about their experiences in various European leagues, as well.
Scott Lachance on Switzerland:
"The coaches spoke different languages in practice (most teammates spoke four languages-- German, French, Italian and English), so that was pretty interesting," Lachance said.
Full-time imports earn $150,000 to $200,000 and have use of a car and apartment, which includes satellite TV. Lachance said he improved his skating and learned to play with more patience on the larger European ice surfaces.
"Switzerland is as advertised, probably the safest spot in the world. And the travel is appealing because you bus the day of a game, kind of like the AHL, though the salaries are better."
Chris Ferraro on Germany and Sweden:
The salaries in those countries were between $75,000 and $150,000, but Ferraro also got housing and a car.
Sweden allowed four imports a team and Germany 10, but the German people offered an intriguing mix. Fans often arrived two hours before games and stayed until two hours after, making it kind of a mini-Oktoberfest.
"The fan support was the best I've ever been involved with," said Chris. "It's just a huge party for them, like a soccer game, which is why we played a lot of games on Sunday at 2 o'clock. They show up at the local pub and drink and drink and drink, then they're up jumping and dancing and waving flags."
Chris Ferraro said the hockey was good in both countries, but it was difficult getting used to the anti-American culture.
"We don't have a good reputation anywhere," he said. "Everyone has something against the United States. We're spoiled, and we're this and we're that, and they label you right away. They never really give you the benefit of the doubt and just kind of prey upon that, which is unfortunate."
Brad Isbister on Austria:
In the lockout season, Brad Isbister had a brief stint in Innsbruck, Austria. Though he played only 11 games at the end of the season and five in the playoffs, he also got lodging and use of a car.
"It was a beautiful area in the mountains," said Isbister. "I thought about skiing but felt I might break my leg, so I stayed away from the hills."
Isbister said teams weren't far apart, but it sometimes took six hours to reach another town because the bus had to wind through the mountains.
"It was a good opportunity to experience a different hockey style and lifestyle," said Isbister, who got paid by the game. "I didn't go over for the money. I just went to play hockey, stay sharp and have a chance to do something a little different."