We give Russian players a lot of shit. Even those of us who realize that the type of Canadian jingoism around Russian and European players that's perpetuated by guys like Don Cherry are guilty of looking down our noses at a lot of guys from overseas. We treat them unfairly. It's an epidemic in hockey.
Joffrey Lupul admitted in a blog post that he's given Russian players in particular their fair share of criticism over the course of his NHL career. He also admitted that he's having a ton of trouble adjusting to the KHL during this NHL lockout, and now he completely understands what it's like for those guys when they hop over the Atlantic into a completely different culture. The adjustment isn't easy.
Quick story: My first NHL road trip included stops in Dallas, Nashville and another city (a six- or seven-day trip). I spent hours packing, not knowing exactly what I should bring. I was a nervous wreck. I showed up at the airport for the charter, and Stanislav Chistov and Alexei Smirnov (two rookie Russian first-round picks) were there with only a shaving kit. I would assume that they had no idea that the trip was six days and lacked the English and/or confidence to ask anyone. The general response from the guys on the team was "what a couple of f*cking idiots," and they were chirped pretty much the whole time to Dallas, whereupon arrival they had to go shopping and buy a week's worth of clothing.
Neither of these "can't miss" prospects are in the NHL anymore, and it's not because they couldn't play hockey. They were ultra-skilled. But they were labeled busts three years later. They just couldn't adapt to a different world at age 19.
I get why now.
It's really important to think about this when it comes to guys like Nikolay Zherdev, Alex Radulov and other super-talented players who haven't lived up to their potential. Remember the Verizon Wireless "The Flyers went 82-0!" commercial from two seasons ago? Remember at the end, when Zherdev was standing in the background and he looked hilariously awkward?
Yeah, we made fun of him. We made fun of him a lot when he was here, period. But in the context that Lupul provides here, I kinda just feel bad for the dude. How much of his struggles in North America were caused by "attitude" or whatever reason we wanted to attach to it, and how much of it was complete and utter culture shock?
And how many players haven't seen their NHL potential realized because we're too harsh on them for not immediately adapting to our culture?