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MIGHTY DUCKS / ’94-'95 PREVIEW : Eastern Europe Keeps NHL Talent Pool Well Stocked

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Starting at center, Anatoli Semenov . . . at right wing, Valeri Karpov . . . at right defense, Oleg Tverdovsky . . . and starting in goal, Mikhail Shtalenkov.”

On certain nights this season, the Mighty Ducks’ lineup will probably include four Russians, and before the season ends, maybe as many as five on occasion.

“We’re open to the best players wherever they come from,” said Pierre Gauthier, assistant general manager. “That’s the philosophy of our draft and our organization.”

In some corners of the NHL, that is not the philosophy at all. In Winnipeg, Mike Smith was fired as general manager last season after widespread criticism that the Jets had “too many Europeans.” On Canadian television, commentator Don Cherry routinely goes on xenophobic tirades.

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Gauthier shrugs it off.

“There’s bigots everywhere,” he said.

“Some of the better players in the league, whether you like it or not, are Europeans. You have Sergei Fedorov in Detroit, Pavel Bure in Vancouver, Alexander Mogilny in Buffalo. Every team, you can go through, some of the best players are from Europe.

“You don’t think of Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov as Russians, or Mats Sundin as a Swede once they’ve been around and speak the same language.”

The San Jose Sharks made their playoff run with a line of Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov--both Russian--and Johan Garpenlov, a Swede. In goal? Arturs Irbe, a Latvian.

One concern that is real, Gauthier says, is leadership, at least until newly arrived European players become fluent in English.

“Sometimes it’s tougher for Europeans to bring leadership to the club. That changes now that they come a lot younger. They learn the language a lot quicker, they’re not set in their ways like when they were coming at 26, 27, 28. You talk to people around the league, we’re all saying, ‘Geez, we can’t stay away from these guys. They’re good players.’

“You look at teams’ drafts and it’s certainly not a factor. I don’t think think there’s a team in the league now that will discriminate.”

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Without that influx, expansion--five new teams in the past four years--might have diluted the NHL’s quality.

“There’s no question if we had 26 teams and didn’t have the increased influx from Europe, the talent level in the league would just not be there,” Gauthier said. “It would not be strong around the league.”

Within the next decade it could be routine for six European players to be in a team’s lineup--and the only people who have a problem with it might be public address announcers.


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