Russia: Alexander Semin – Insight into NHL/Post-Soviet Relations

An acute sense of euphoria spread across the nation on Sunday, May 20, when Russia defeated Slovakia 6-2 in the Gold Medal match of the 2012 World Hockey Championship. As a whole, the tournament provides insight into the modern interrelationship between the Western Hemisphere's National Hockey League and post-Soviet Russia. Additionally, Russian professional hockey player Alexander Semin provides an example of an instance where these two cultures diverge.

One reason Sunday's victory generated euphoria among Russians is that the 2012 Russian national team was the first to remain undefeated in the World Hockey Championship in the post-Soviet era – the last team to do so was the Soviet Union in 1989. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, political borders nullified the possibility of regular East-West hockey collaborations. The post-Soviet era marked a reorientation of both the NHL and Eastern Leagues.

The 2012 World Hockey Championship provides insight into the interrelationship between the Western Hemisphere's NHL and post-Soviet Russia. The example of Alexander Semin illuminates an occasion where a Russian player has faced opposition within his NHL team, but is highly valued by Russian coaches.

Mr. Semin Released from NHL Obligations

When Alexander Semin left to join the Russian national team after he was released from his obligations to the Washington Capitals, both Russian- and English-language news outlets reported that, as a result of conflicts between Semin and the Capitals’ coaching staff, he was not expected to renew his contract.

Mark Gandler, Mr. Semin's agent, made a statement contextualizing the interests of the parties concerned:

“It was good while it lasted. With the lack of playoff success, with the direction they are going. They decided to change directions. That's within their rights. Alex doesn't fit into that system obviously. It just doesn't make any sense to him. He plays, he did the best he could under the circumstances and he earned his right to be a free agent.

“I think the issue is with the organization, not necessarily with the coach,” Gandler said. “They told us Alex is not going to play short-handed, he's not going to play in the last minute. He's going to get the same icetime as everybody else … Alex is not ready to be a role player. He wants to be a full-time player. It's important to him.”


A comment to an English-language On Frozen Blog post titled, “Pride, Regret, and Questions” suggested that the Capitals’ coaching staff was in fact responsible for the team's playoff performance:

[Why] does it not surprise me that Caps “fans” are blaming Ovechkin & Semin for the playoff failure? These so-called “fans” are an embarrassment to the whole Washington DC area! The team’s superstars bought into Hunter’s system wholeheartedly. That system put a major leash on their offensive freedom. Also, on most nights, the Caps 4th liners got more ice time than the 1st liners. Why is no one asking why that 4th line didn’t put out more on offense? Someone has to score and someone on the ice that much HAS to do more! Hunter’s system was a failure.


Mr. Semin Joins Russian National Team

RuNet Echo discussed in a post titled “NHL Stars Return to 2012 World Hockey Championship” that, in addition to discussing Mr. Semin's future in the NHL, the Russian-language internet was filled with eager tweets, status updates, and mainstream articles pertaining to Mr. Semin's role on the Russian national team.

A article was quoted in the publication's LiveJournal blog, which discussed how the Russian national team's coaching staff was eager to add Mr. Semin to the lineup – specifically, he was to join superstars Alexander Ovechkin's and Pavel Datsyuk's line:

Овечкин сыграет с Семиным и Дацюком – Тренерский штаб определился с партнерами для российского суперфорварда.

Ovechkin will play with Semin and Datsyuk – Training staff determined partnering for the Russian superforward

Mr. Semin then made headlines all over the internet when he scored two goals and earned an assist in the Gold Medal Match of the tournament.

LJ user chipstone captured the Russian reaction to Russia's 2012 Gold Medal:

Я не являюсь ни хоккейным фанатом в частности, ни любителем занятия спортом по телевизору в принципе. Но вчерашняя игра нашей сборной поразил. Это был просто фантастический хоккей. Корректный, на огромных скоростях. Комбинационный. Это действительно была не игра отдельных звезд, но звездной команды, жившей на поле единым организмом. Слава нашим ребятам!

I'm not a hockey fan in particular, nor do I enjoy doing sports via TV in principle. But our team's yesterday's game was astonishing. It was simply fantastic hockey. Correct, at tremendous speeds. Combinational. It wasn't a game of individual stars, but of a star team that lived on the field as a single organism. Kudos to our guys!

Aware of the apparent contradiction, RuNet Twitter users passed around a Russian-language article titled, “Semin – not the [Stanley Cup], but the Gold,” which discussed how Washington Capitals’ management allegedly perceived Mr. Semin's play as inconsistent, whereas Russian coaches seemed to view his style as dynamic. The article went on to speculate that Mr. Semin's character might be more compatible with another NHL team, such as the Detroit Red Wings.

Hockey World Blog quoted Mr. Semin himself upon his arrival in Europe to participate in the World Hockey Championship:

“This is all just talk. Words can get twisted,” Semin said. “There was no talk at all that I am not going to sign with the Capitals for sure. I have not talked to them [the Capitals] about leaving. And please don’t ask me questions about the next season anymore.”


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