Even Hockey Can’t Offer Escape

It’s difficult to focus on hockey when missiles are flying in Europe, not unimaginably far from where I’m sitting and typing this. And yet, all I want to do is think of hockey, hoping that the game will, once again, offer me refuge from the grim realities outside the rink.

Then again, all through my lifetime, hockey has been at the center of political attention, a venue for proxy fights and battles, from the 1969 World Championship, relocated from Czechoslovakia to Sweden due to the Soviet invasion of the original host country – and then the Czechs and Slovaks beating the the Soviets twice in the tournament – to the 1972 Summit Series to the Canada Cups to the 1980 Olympics and the Miracle on Ice all the way to the IIHF relocating the 2021 Worlds from Belarus.

There’s no escape.

Having grown up as a big Valeri Kharlamov fan, I desperately tried to separate the players from the regimés in my head, and it was a lot easier in the 1980s when I saw the quality of the Soviet players’ sticks and skates or how they wanted to trade their precious caviar and crystal glasses for, well, anything, when Soviet league teams came through my hometown during their Xmas break tours of Finland.

The players were great, but whoever made them play with those sticks sure wasn’t

For a kid, it was easy to separate the two thoughts. On the one hand, living in Finland, right next to the Iron Curtain, that was just the way life was, and on the other hand, Kharlamov was just so good, as were Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, and Vladimir Krutov. Since I was a “diminutive forward”, I never paid much attention to the defencemen behing the KLM line (but apparently Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov were pretty good.)

But I’m not a kid anymore.

Even the hockey world is rocking now.

The Kontinental Hockey League has been a life-saver for dozens and dozens and dozens of Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Americans and Canadians who have cashed in very good pay checks they wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Will players still want to play in Russia?

What about Helsinki Jokerit, the Finnish KHL team? Their official fan organization already posted a demand for the team to withdraw from the league. Majority owner Jari Kurri is between a rock and a hard place, but even if he wanted to take the fans’ advice, he needs a unanimous decision from the team’s board. (Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta, owned by Vladimir Potanin, owns 40 percent of the team.)

And will the team still be able to play in their home arena in Helsinki, also one of the venues for the 2022 Worlds to be held in Finland in May? Back in 2013, Finnish businessman and current MP Harry Harkimo – in an effort to avoid personal bankruptcy – sold the arena to a company owned by Russian oligarchs Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko, who have featured on different sanctions lists since the annexation of Crimea.

What about other teams? Will they boycott the Worlds the way Canada and Sweden boycotted the 1976 Olympic tournament (albeit due to amateur-pro rules) which was played with six teams?

What will happen to the popularity of Alexander Ovechkin, a Putin supporter whose Instagram profile picture is a photo with him and the president? Will Larionov ever return to coach a Russian national team?

Not the most pressing questions, I know. In the end, none of that really matters.

Maybe I’ll try to find some old Kharlamov clips on YouTube.

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