Just one day before Jeff Glass faces Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar in a Siberian showdown, the Calgary goaltender insists he’s seen nothing but excitement surrounding the influx of NHLers in the KHL.
Not only are the fans over the moon, but so are most of the players.
“I have yet to witness personal resentment for these players, but no one has taken my spot yet,” joked the 26-year-old former Kootenay Ice and world juniors star from his home in Siberia, Russia.
“I understand that this is a job and the person that best fits the position often gets hired. Players here are losing icetime, but the feeling I get is that no one resents the players for coming in and doing what any one of us would’ve done. Certain guys are now playing with stud NHLers and will see their point totals go through the roof, and other guys might not play powerplay anymore. We are all dealing with the lockout.”
Fortunately, it appears Glass’ job is safe for now, since his club, Sibir Novosibirsk, is not one of the wealthy outfits that has taken on any of the 32 NHLers as any of its five imports. Off to the best start in his four years in the KHL, Glass will get his biggest test so far when locals converge Thursday on the 7,500-seat Sibir Sports Complex.
“With Malkin and Gonchar coming, tickets sold out in under two hours after they went on sale, because this may be the only chance people from Novosibirsk get to see these players play here,” said Glass, tied for fourth in the KHL with a 1.85 goals-against average.
“The buzz is very obvious all around the league. The Russian stars, especially, are idols to these people, and to watch them in person is something the fans have never dreamed of. The local people here follow the NHL but live for the world championships when they can watch these players play for their country. Now on a nightly basis, these players are coming to play in the KHL and showcase their skills on the big ice and on home soil.
“I wish I could tell you that the newspaper is all over it as well, but my Russian is sub-par. From the pictures, I can pass along we are front-page news daily.”
As the star goaltender of the 2005 world junior squad many consider Canada’s greatest under-20 team, Glass likely never envisioned himself toiling seven years later in Russia’s frozen outpost.
It’s been four years since the former third-round draft pick of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators left the AHL for a league he’s now fiercely proud to play in.
“Just as the locked-out players feel a responsibility to the fans, I too feel that I should defend the league that has given me a great chance,” said Glass, whose club likely won’t be part of any of the KHL tilts to be aired on ESPN3 as announced Tuesday.
“This league takes a lot of heat for a bunch of things that I admit are ridiculous, but at the end of the day, it sells a brand of hockey that rivals the best in the world. It’s never going to be the NHL, but it shouldn’t be dragged through the mud either for stealing players. I have thoroughly enjoyed how ‘normal’ life is over here and enjoy going to the rink every day to play at the top level.”
Glass said he’s seen several players who are clearly in awe facing off against recently-added NHLers.
“There are always two sides to the coin when I see guys get star-struck — the honest guys that come right out and say, ‘Hey Ovie, can you sign me a stick after the game,’ and the rest of us who will play it cool and hope one finds its way into our stall on the down-low,” joked the 2005 Canadian Hockey League goalie of the year.
“The last couple of years, I have been lucky enough to play against Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Yashin, but these (recently-added NHLers) seem to draw even more attention. Part of it is because you never know when the lockout will end and these guys will be back on a plane to North America.”
Until then, Glass said most of the players will happily adjust to a world infused with international superstars. Well … almost everyone.
“The other night when (goalie) Sergei Bobrovsky made his debut for SKA St. Petersburg and collected two assists in a 5-2 win over Ak Bars Kazan, I caught one of our ‘star’ Russian players talking to himself in the corner after our plane landed,” recalled Glass.
“He was shaking his head, and I didn’t need a translator to interpret him constantly repeating ‘Bobrovsky, (Russian curse), Bobrovsky, (Russian curse) Bobrovsky!’ He is far from star-struck, but this usual point-a-game player now has a bagel next to his name in every category and is chasing a goalie in the scoring race.”