Day: May 24, 2020

Phil Esposito a hockey hero the world over

It didn’t matter the situation or the game, once Phil Esposito was on the ice, he wasn’t coming off any time soon.

By Kevin Paul Dupont – Boston Globe

Ex-Bruins great Phil Esposito, 78, has been a regular visitor to Russia in recent years, traveling there for speaking gigs and sometimes consulting with the Kontinental Hockey League, the country’s top pro league.

“I was supposed to go back over in March,” said Espo, reached at his home in Tampa, “but obviously . . . that got changed.”

Now, provided the world can achieve a post-pandemic norm, the prolific Esposito will head to Moscow in September at the behest, he said, of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Because I was awarded this highest award they can give a non-Russian civilian,” noted Esposito. “We’re going to do it now in September, and my buddy Rootin’ Tootin’ Putin is going to present it to me.”

The honor, which Esposito did not identify by name, is likely the Hero of the Russian Federation, given for service to Russia. It’s usually associated with a heroic feat of valor. Russian citizenship or acts performed specifically for Russia are not necessary to win the medal, which is a gold star suspended from a red, white, and blue ribbon.

“I go over there and actually skate with some of the old guys, and have some fun,” said Esposito. “I make a couple of speeches, sign some autographs, go to dinner . . . and they pay me for it. I love it.”

The “Hero” medal has been awarded more than 1,000 times, often to cosmonauts, and at least twice to athletes — including Alexander Karelin, the great Greco-Roman wrestler, and Larisa Lazutina, who won five medals, including three golds, in cross-country skiing at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

Putin, an ardent hockey devotee who still plays in pickup games, would have been only 19 years old in September 1972 when Esposito and his Team Canada brethren pulled into Moscow for the completion of the historic Summit Series between the nations.

Russia held a 2-1-1 series lead after the first four games in Canada and stood but 20 minutes from clinching the series when they carried a 5-3 lead into the third period of Game 8 (series deadlocked, 3-3-1).

Esposito, then age 30 and the most dynamic goal scorer the NHL had ever seen (back-to-back seasons of 76 and 66 goals), put on a third-period tour de force that led Canada to a stunning 6-5 win.

Less than three minutes into the third, he connected for his seventh goal of the series. Some 10 minutes later, he set up Yvon Cournoyer for the 5-5 equalizer. And with only 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Paul Henderson knocked home a puck that Espo first landed on legendary netminder Vladislav Tretiak.

Shot. Rebound. Score. Take that, Mother Russia. Henderson forever will be remembered for the GWG, but Canada goes home a loser if not for Espo’s broad shoulders.

Tretiak, by the way, was the starting goalie when the Russians faced Team USA at the 1980 Games at Lake Placid. Russian bench boss Viktor Tikhonov, displeased with what he saw of Tretiak in the early going, pulled him in favor of Vladimir Myshkin, setting the stage for the Yanks’ historic win.

“All I can say is,” Esposito recalled decades later about Game 8 in Russia to NHL.com’s Dave Stubbs, “that when they called my name, I was there. And I wasn’t coming off.”

Esposito had a penchant for, shall we say, extending his shifts. In the Summit Series, his protracted flights of fancy took ice time away from a pair of other decent centers, Bobby Clarke and Jean Ratelle, both of whom, like Esposito, also went on to become enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. When Espo had the hot hand, he knew it. Generally, when he was on a roll, teammates were happy to have him keep throwing the dice.

Reminiscing over the phone about his Bruins days, Esposito recalled he often logged around 35 minutes a game, nearly twice the ice time current Boston coach Bruce Cassidy typically feeds top line members Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. Different game a half-century later. Much shorter shifts for everyone, fourth-liners and superstars alike.

Some of those 35:00 TOI, your faithful puck chronicler reminded Esposito, came because he often turned a deaf ear to calls from the bench to change up on the power play and stayed out there sometimes for the full two minutes.

“Well . . . hey . . . ,” said Esposito, crafting a faux innocence. ”I had great cardiovascular. I looked like [expletive] on the beach, but I had great cardiovascular. Big defensemen with those sticks, they had to go through 2 inches of fat to get to the muscle.”

Esposito was in Russia some eight years ago for the 40th celebration of the Summit Series. The adulation there for the proud son of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, was of nearly Putinesque levels.

“One time, my wife looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t know I was traveling with Brad Pitt,’ ” Esposito, then 70, was quoted in the Toronto Star. “Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed by the admiration, the adulation, whatever it is. It’s overwhelming. I’m 70 years old and, man, it’s wonderful to still be recognized and known. I think I’m more famous [in Russia] than I am [in Canada and the United States]. Does that make any sense?”

Maybe. If so, sounds like there oughta be a medal for it.

Kirill Lodeikin: “I am glad that I play for Estonia”

Kirill Lodeikin in the national team of Estonia under 20 years old at the World Championship in Division IIA

By Maxim Garashchuk – National Teams of Ice Hockey

19-year-old forward of the Estonian and New Jersey Rockets team Kirill Lodeikin, who became the best sniper at the last World junior Under 20 Championship in IB division, spoke about why most Estonian players go to play in Finland, as he received an invitation to the Finland national team and why he didn’t play for them.

Why do many hockey players playing in the Estonian national team go to the Finnish leagues?

Finland is very close to Estonia. Most players go there to gain experience, which in the future will lead them to professionals.

What do you think, which of the current national team players stands out for in this game?

I can’t name specific players, but I’ll say that good youth players is growing now. Definitely, they will be able to raise the level of men’s hockey program in Estonia.

If you compare Estonia with other neighboring countries, then what place do you put Estonia in and why?

In the first place among the Baltic countries I will put Latvia. They still have a very strong team, which has Dynamo Riga club. I will put Estonia in second place, because now we are showing a completely different hockey than before. I do not want to say anything bad about Lithuania. I will put them in last place, although I think that they are on the same level with us.

Tell me why you decided to connect your life with hockey? In which country did you first skate?

I started hockey at 4 years old. Of course, I tried myself in other different sports, but I never caught the buzz from the game, except for hockey. From the first time I went ice skating in my hometown of Narva, Estonia.

What languages ​​do you know?

I speak Finnish, English, Russian and I don’t speak Estonian, but I understand him, because he is very similar to Finnish.

 In Finland, you played not only in one system. How did your transitions to other clubs affect your career?

In fact, the transitions was hard. When I played for Jokerit, I really liked it there and taught me a lot. The transition from “Jokerit,” to another club was not at my request. In general, transitions are always difficult, when you yourself are satisfied where you play, and suddenly you are exchanged.

Last season you spent time in the USA. What difference immediately struck you?

The hardest is the size of the ice rink. All my life I played on big ice and suddenly switched to small, it was inconvenient, but then I got used to it. In America, it’s completely different hockey than in Europe. I like to play with my head, but, unfortunately, they play there at the expense of foot speed, I dumped the puck in and you skate in after it.

If you believe the statistics, then in the USA you have only 6 minutes in penalties in 37 games, given that in past seasons it was much more. What changed?

“I don’t like breaking the rules.” I understand that I’m letting my team down by removing myself from the game and that now the guys will have to take the game on themselves and there is a chance that the opposing team will score. In the USA, I played under different rules of hockey, the refs let a lot things go on the ice.

“Do you know about successful New Jersey Rockets graduates?”

Honestly, who was specific, I don’t know, and somehow there was no interest in this. (As part of the “New Jersey Rockets” in the seasons 2005/06 and 2006/07, performed by John Carlson – Stanley Cup in 2018 as part of “Washington Capitals”) . Now I know that Luke House and Ryan Sorkin, who played in the rink with me, have signed contracts with teams from the NCAA.

Kirill Lodeikin in the USA

At the World Junior Championship division 1B you became the best forward, although there were players with experience in QMJHL on other teams. Did you expect the tournament to be so successful in terms of your individual statistics?

When I went to the World Junior Championship didivision 1B, I realized that I could play to my strength there, so I was ready for this in advance. Hard work always pays off, but at some point it can be a little bit of luck. Of course, I didn’t think much about statistics. The task was to remain in the division, and I tried to help the team with all my might to do this.

 In the game against Italy you scored a hat-trick. Did you score hat-tricks before and how many points did you score in one game?

Yes, before that I also score hat-tricks. It’s hard to say what my best score is in one game, but I remember for sure that I scored five points in one game.

Kirill Lodeikin recognized as the most valuable player in the Estonian national team after the match against the Italian national team in the World Junior Championship division IB

This year you played for the adult team. Did you manage to switch from youth hockey to adult?

The level in adult hockey is much higher than in youth. The game was completely different from what I was used to. I saw a lot of my shortcomings, and got a very huge and positive experience. (Kirill Lodeikin made his debut for the main team at the per-qualification of the Olympic Games 2022, in which the Estonian team suffered three defeats in three games. Kirill Lodeikin scored an abandoned goal against the Hungarian national team).

In the per-qualification for the Olympic Games, the national team included players from the local championship. What can you say about their game?

 I know that Dmitri Kuznetsov was called to the training camp at the last moment. He is a great fellow that came to the team. Each player tried to prove himself, because initially the head coach said that he wanted to see young players. I remember that in addition to him, there were Saveli Novikov – a defender playing for the Tallinn Viking and Harri Koll from his club (Harri Koll & Dmitri Kuznetsov play for Tartu Valk 494) , who also tried.

What was the atmosphere on team outside the rink? Indeed, in the national team there are players who are 20 years old, but there are those who are already over 40.

As I said earlier, the atmosphere was positive. Older players always prompted and taught young players some new things. Respect was there, both from the young to the older guys, and vice versa.

How often do you visit Estonia?

In Estonia, I have many close friends. It turns out that I go there once a year in the summer and even then not always. It all depends on my hockey season.

Who do you consider to be the best player in the history of Estonian hockey?

Many talented players were, are and will be. I don’t want to single out anyone.

How popular is hockey in Estonia? What is needed in order to increase the popularity of this sport in the country?

 In recent years, it has become more popular than it was before, and I am very happy about that. What needs to be done to make hockey even more popular? I think we need to win more medals for the country.

How do you usually spend your free time?

I usually try to spend free time with my family and friends.

“Are you studying somewhere now?” Is it difficult to combine hockey with study?

I study in Finland. This year was very difficult due to the fact that my school refused to give me online education. Because of this, I had to pause my studies, but now I have come back to Finland and am doing it.

“You have dual citizenship.” Can you play for the Finnish national team now?

Regarding the performance for the national team of Finland, it is now too late to speak. When I was 14 years old, I was invited to the training camp in the Finnish national team. It turns out like this: they call the 150 best players in Finland and play a tournament between the teams, the best players go on. Only 150 hockey players, then 100, then 50, and so on they slowly create a team, but at that time I did not have Finnish citizenship and I could not go. Then an invitation was received to the Estonian national team. I am glad that I play for Estonia.

Dmitri Kuznetsov (left), Eduard Slessarevski (center) and Kirill Lodeikin (right) as part of the Estonian U-20 team at the IIA World Junior Championship

What can you say about women’s hockey in Estonia and Finland?

 I do not follow women’s hockey. However, I know that in Finland they are almost as good as the male team, and as for Estonia, I hope that they will soon be playing to a new level.

Where do you plan to conduct pre-season training and is there a chance that we will see you next season in Finland?

 I always spend pre-season training in Finland. There is everything I need here, but I can’t say anything about the next season because of the difficult situation around the world related to the virus.