The National Hockey League is a melting pot of different nationalities and on Wednesday, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan wrote about how certain players bridge the language barrier. According to Kaplan, at the start of the 2017-18 season, 16 countries were represented on NHL rosters including 109 players from Sweden, 66 from Russia, 44 from the Czech Republic, and 30 from Finland. With so many different languages spoken on an NHL team, teammates must learn how to communicate to be successful and blend in with their teammates.
Kaplan shared several anecdotes about the Capitals, who boast a large contingent of Russian and Swedish players.
Consider the Capitals, who have several Russian players, many of whom are linemates. “On the ice, they’re talking in Russian about a play,” Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn says. “And you kind of wonder what they have going on.”
The Capitals also have a Swedish faction. Last season, Washington’s top power-play unit often featured Swedes Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. Winger T.J. Oshie, an American, was on the ice too.
“They spoke in Swedish when they were running their little plays,” Oshie says. “So before the faceoff, they didn’t tell me at all what’s going on. I’d just stand there and wait for them to make their plays. I’ll just go to the same spot. I’m like, ‘I’ll just be ready when it comes to my stick.'”
Evgeny Kuznetsov, who struggled to put sentences together in English when he first arrived in DC, can now articulate himself and make jokes with the press five seasons later.
While NHL players are expected to speak English during hockey situations, they are not expected to have an expansive vocabulary according to Braden Holtby.
“We’re not Ernest Hemingway out there,” Holtby said to Kaplan. “We’re like cavemen, really, with one-word answers. We’re really dumbing things down here.”
But off the ice, foreign players of the same nationalities will bond, allowing them to open up and feel closer to home.
“You have to respect the fact that a lot of times it’s just easier for them to communicate that way,” former Capital Kevin Shattenkirk said. “But it also goes outside the rink. You’ll see them going to dinner together on the road. There’s a comfortability factor — being able to speak their language gives them a sense of home. You can’t take it as them not wanting to hang out with you.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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