NHL.com’s Shawn P. Roarke, USA Today’s Kevin Allen, the National Post’s Michael Traikos, the Ottawa Sun’s Chris Stevenson and the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle all duly note that Czech Ice Hockey Federation “representative” Slavomir Lener brought a powerpoint-heavy presentation that claimed, per ESPN’s Scott Burnside, that, “527 players who left the Czech Republic to play in North America as juniors only 22 went on to play 400 or more games in the NHL.”
In other words, Lener, who is actually the coach of the Czech Under-20 team (Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer will lend him a hand at the World Juniors), blamed the CHL for the downfall of Czech and Slovak junior programs that have disintegrated over the past fifteen years, just as the Russian junior programs have turned into dust (to the point that the KHL is trying to re-start Russian junior hockey).
There aren’t many, if any, teams in the Czech Republic or Slovakia where junior-aged players can play against other junior-aged players and develop–as Wings prospect Tomas Tatar’s case illustrates, he had to leave Slovakia to join the Grand Rapids Griffins because he was stuck trying to compete for a spot on HkM Zvolen’s men’s team and wanted to come over and play for the Kitchener Rangers instead. His rights happened to shift to the Plymouth Whalers, and then the Wings sent him to Grand Rapids so that HkM Zvolen wouldn’t demand that he return to Slovakia, but he just wanted to play at the level of hockey which would best suit his development into a professional hockey player. There wasn’t a real option for him in Slovakia. Ditto for Wings prospect Andrej Nestrasil, who’s playing in the QMJHL because it was a better option for him than “staying home.”
It’s not the CHL’s fault that the Czech and Slovak developmental hockey infrastructures need serious-arse revivals based upon serious investment by the pro teams that increasingly rely upon aging NHL’ers and import players to survive.
Hell, former Wing Igor Larionov’s steered half a dozen Russian prospects to the OHL over the past three years while slowly but surely separating himself from SKA St. Petersburg and beginning his career as an agent for Ian Pulver’s “Pulver Sports” agency, and here’s what he had to say to the London Free Press’s Ryan Pyette about what he’s doing:
August 25, London Free Press: “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.”
The London Knights are benefiting from Larionov’s latest OHL recruits, Vladislav Namestnikov and Igor Bobkov, and assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu makes a few telling comments about the reality of life for many hockey parents in Eastern Europe, not just Russia:
“There’s no middle class in Russia,” Beaulieu “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.”
Of course Rene Fasel told Mirtle that the NHL is largely to blame for the systemic issues the Czech Republic and Slovakia face because the league is “stealing” players in the absence of a player transfer agreement, which Lener, of course, assented to in spades: