By Robert Cribb, Toronto Star, December 11. 2010
Shelburne's (an Ontario town of 5500, about one hour north of Toronto) mayor said Thursday he is calling for a public meeting with Hockey Canada next month to account for rigid rules that outlaw the Red Wings and the league they play in — the Greater Metro Hockey League — for having foreign players.
The town of 5,500 north of Orangeville has become a crucible for an unprecedented hockey experiment, the first foreign junior hockey team based on Canadian soil.
But it hasn't been easy for some.
Gavrilov's parents, whom the Star interviewed in Chekhov, Russia, about an hour's drive south of Moscow, have directed the bulk of their incomes to support his dream.
What remains for them can only finance a modest, three-room cottage at the end of a dirt road (in a town about one hour south of Moscow), with a metal roof, exposed cinder block walls and bubbling wallpaper.
If you sometimes reject the notion that the world is getting smaller, here is a story that will help you to think again.
A whole team of Russian kids is playing in Canada in a hockey league that is not operating under the rules of Hockey Canada, and yet, when the story of scarcity of funds and human hardship resulting from the lack of public support surfaces, the southern Ontario community responds with dollars, mostly anonymously, and a public request for a meeting with Hockey Canada, to pave the road to legitimacy for the team.
The tension is between an established "way of doing things" in a world of nationalism and rules and public tax dollars directed to the development of home-grown "Canadian" hockey players, and a new "innovative" approach to importing a whole team of enthusiastic players from Russia (in this case) who hope someday to crack the line-up of an NHL hockey team and send the money from their newly acquired lucrative contract back to Russia so their parents can enjoy some of the benefits of their dream, now realized. The players are billeted in local homes and, without the pressure of unpaid debts, are happily learning English and fitting into the community quite well.
There is still a strong vein of parochialism, provincialism and "national pride" that resides in most small towns and even cities in Canada. It is especially strong among hockey enthusiasts, like the narrow-minded Don Cherry, who believe that Canada produces the best hockey players in the world, and players from other countries can't measure up to Canadian performance standards. Of course, Cherry and his ilk are daily proven quite simply, wrong, by the evidence of international players whose achievements frequently outshine that of Canadian-born players.
Shelburne is a very small town out in the rural part of southern Ontario, and few Canadians have even heard of this story, until the Toronto Star reporter made it public. Hosting a whole team of Russian athletes is an unusual way of bringing hockey to a town. Nevertheless, it illustrates the country's and the little town's passion for a glimpse of hockey action, and in so doing, also demonstrates some other Canadian values, like hospitality, a global vision, courage in the face of 'establishment' rules and regulations, a belief that unconventionality of this variety will eventually trump the "rules and regulations". Even the alumni association of the Detroit Red Wings, a team that has scored many Stanley Cups on the backs and legs and strong arms of Russian-born players, has offered to conduct hockey skills training for the Shelburne Red Wings team.
On a bleak December Saturday morning, this is a heart-warming story of bridging cultures and dreams and hopes in a Canadian setting of manageable, yet ground-breaking proportions.
When the Russian television network that is planning a special on the transplanted team arrives, lets hope they find a story worthy of the best that is Canada, although they will certainily be a trifle bemused at our bureaucratic and slightly anal adherence to a former world now breaking away and leaving everyone with new options.