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  • Hockey in Kazakhstan ... is nice? Print
    Written by Alessandro Seren Rosso   
    Saturday, 16 October 2010 06:09

    Well, not yet. Barys Astana plays in the KHL, and the nation counts Evegni Nabokov as a native. But Nabokov plays for Russia in international competition, and the development leagues are struggling.

    The hot rumor in the KHL this summer was the addition of teams from former Soviet nations. Ultimately, it didn't happen – the inclusion of Slovak Poprad was put on hold – but teams from Latvia, Belarus and Kazakhstan already dot the KHL landscape.

    This week we will look under the lens the at Kazakhstani entry, Barys Astana. As usual we got some help from a local. This time we had the pleasure to discuss KHL and Kazakhstani hockey with Daryn Kaypbaev, director of the popular site (take note: “shaiba” translates to “puck” in Russian).

    Barys is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference with 23 points in 15 games. “Barys started the season rather well, in spite of the numerous roster changes the team underwent this summer,” Kaypbaev told in Russian. “But the team’s main problem, like in the other seasons, is its inconsistence. They played well with good teams like SKA, Salavat Yulaev and Spartak Moscow, but at the same time they couldn’t defeat CSKA Moscow, Severstal Cherepovets and Dinamo Riga.”

    The team is currently coached by former Soviet star Andrei Khomutov, who was recently appointed the Kazakh national team’s head coach. “I don’t think the coach is responsible for the team’s inconsistence,” Kaypbaev said. “Andrei Khomutov is a very good coach for a team like Barys. In any game you can see the coach’s work. I think that the main reason is the numerous injuries to the team’s main players. Now, foreign defensemen Tom Preissing and Tomas Kloucek are both injured.”

    Some of Barys Astana’s off-season roster changes are working better than others.

    “The best line so far has been the one made up of Lukas Kaspar, Jyri Novotny and Brandon Bochenski,” Kaypbaev said. Novotny is contributing the most offense of the three, with 16 points in 15 games. Kaspar follows with 14 points and the NHL veteran Bochenski with 13.

    “They are playing very well, and get points in almost every game,” Kaypbaev said. “Goalkeeper Vitaly Eremeev is doing well too. I think that Kazakhstani players will have chances to improve their performances.”

    Eremeev, who is outperforming 2009-10 starter Jeff Glass, had the chance to play in North America some 10 years ago but couldn’t latch on in the NHL. “When Eremeev tried to get a spot with the New York Rangers he wasn’t young. He didn’t want to spend his best years in the AHL,” Kaypbaev said.

    Eremeev represented Kazakhstan on the international stage, including the 1998 and 2006 Olympics, but many Kazakhstanis have elected to play for Team Russia. Among them are San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and former Montreal Canadiens first-round draft pick Alexander Perezhogin.

    “It’s hard to give an unequivocal reply to the question about Kazakhstani players playing for team Russia,” Kaypbaev explained. “It depends on many factors. In the ‘90s entire teams from Ust-Kamenogorsk [a city in Eastern Kazakhstan] went to Russia and then players got a spot in the national team. And regarding Nabokov, I think that any player has the right to chose where to play. We must respect this choice.”

    Most North Americans have come to regard Nabokov as a Russian, not a Kazakhstani. So I asked Kaypbaev who was the best player ever produced by the local hockey school.

    “Boris Alexandrov”, he promptly replied. “He’s undoubtedly the greatest player out of a Kazakhstani hockey school.” Alexandrov was a member of CSKA Moscow and the Soviet Union team that won an Olympic gold in 1976. Alexandrov tragically passed away after a car crash in 2002. The arena in Ust-Kamenogorsk now bears his name.

    A couple years ago the Kazakhstani Hockey Federation created the country’s first domestic league, and teams almost withdrew from the different Russian leagues.

    “It’s still early to say if it was a good move,” Kaypbaev said. “More work is needed and the league needs to become better and more interesting. Currently there are only two or three teams that can compete at a good level – also financially. The rest of the teams aren’t as good and play in bad arenas. I don’t think that such teams will have many fans. People are interested in hockey where there is a good arena, good teams and a good league. Like in the KHL or in the Russian High League. I think that Kazakhstan should improve its junior system and maybe add another team in the KHL. Regarding junior players, unfortunately every year there are less and less of them. I think that Konstantin Savenkov and Alexander Kaznacheev from Kazzinc-Torpedo might have what it takes to play in the KHL. Maybe some player born in 1995 can do it as well. But as I said, nowadays there are many problems with junior hockey in Kazakhstan.”

    Barys is captained by former Los Angeles King Kevin Dallman, who recently became a Kazakhstani citizen, making him eligible to skate with Team Kazakhstan in international competition.

    “Dallman is an excellent player. He has such a great shot. Team Kazakhstan doesn’t have players of such level”, explained Kaypbaev. “He’d be a great addition for our national team. But of course, a nation can’t rely on naturalizations only. Kazakhstan needs to develop its own Dallmans. I can’t say much about his play with the national team, Dallman okayed it, but there isn’t a definite reply yet.”

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    Last Updated on Saturday, 16 October 2010 18:01