“This Is Russia”

In Books by Brock Bourgase

Dave King wrote King of Russia during the 2004-05 season when he coached Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League. The diary contrasts the professional hockey systems in Russia and North America and records observations about daily life in Russia. In post-Communist Russia, the country is modernizing from Moscow outwards but it is not quite there. Despite all best intentions, transportation and distributions quandaries occasionally arise and corruption remains a problem. King encounters some bizarre situations where it is best not to ask questions because “this is Russia.” Unfortunately, King is also able to chronicle how the Russian economy is distilling into two classes: the very rich and the destitute (a problem occurring in other cities and countries, including Toronto).

King often admires the work ethic of players at all levels of the club program (echoing Gladwell’s 10,000 horus theory) and the Russian/Soviet ability to mesh different sport tactics and training methods together in order to better their teams (Lloyd Percival’s The Hockey Handbook receives a shout-out). Russian players work on physical conditioning (especially quadriceps muscles) from a very young age and skill is developed over thousands of repetitions. An hour practice might be divided into only three drills. Despite this work ethic, King finds that the team finally hits its stride after Russians with N.H.L. experience model the way and lead by example on the ice.

Questions abound at first about how the Canadian will survive in the Super League but King successfully introduces North American ideas such as power-plays and penalty killing systems and line match-ups. Even in the K-League there is not a single answer to every problem.