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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hockey Youths Leave Russia for NHL

Alexander Volchkov used to spend the 45-minute trolley ride from his suburban apartment to Moscow's downtown ice rink stitching up worn hockey equipment.

At 17, the star of Moscow's junior Red Army team had enough and leaped at the chance to play hockey for a Canadian junior team, taking the most direct line to the riches of the National Hockey League.

Since relations with the West warmed, the NHL has been the promised land for established Russian stars. More recently, players such as the youthful Volchkov have been leaving the economic turmoil of their homeland for North America at a rate that is alarming to some in Russian hockey.

"Good players leaving at the age of 18 hurt the country, but can you call them a traitor? I don't think so," said Volchkov, who arrived in Canada in 1995. "The players are just looking out for their own development."

Hockey isn't the priority it once was to Russia. With even the military sometimes not getting paid during the nation's bumpy conversion from communism, junior and developmental hockey have a hard time getting attention, a prominent Russian agent said.

"There is a huge talent pool in [Russia] and it's not being developed," said Anna Goruven, who returns to Russia each year to recruit clients. "Without the funding, the players are going to remain undiscovered. There won't be any more players who start at the grass-roots level in Russia."

Volchkov had immediate success in Canada. He scored 68 goals in two seasons with Ontario Hockey's Barrie Colts before the Washington Capitals selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 1996 draft.

This season, Volchkov has often been sidelined with a concussion and a subsequent knee injury. In 20 games, he has two goals and three assists.

Russia has been good to the NHL since forward Sergei Priakin joined the Calgary Flames in 1989, the first Soviet player in the league.

About 70 Russians play in the NHL now, including the Detroit Red Wings' Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov and the Vancouver Canucks' Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny. Sergei Fedorov, who won the 1994 Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, hasn't played this year because of a contract dispute with Detroit.

More Russians play in the NHL's two top minor leagues, the International and American hockey leagues, and Canada's three junior leagues. In the past three years, even though teams are limited to two import players a team, Canadian junior teams have drafted 63 players from the former Soviet Union in the CHL's import player draft.

Talented Russian teenagers don't have to pay to come to North America. Junior teams and agents often split the transfer fee and moving expenses. While Russian hockey officials once demanded $50,000 a player, an Ontario Court General Division judge recently ruled junior teams must pay $1,400 to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation for each junior player that comes to Canada from Russia.

The movement to North America is being felt in Russia.

Today, the typical Russian hockey emigrant isn't the 26-year-old former Dynamo Moscow star.

He's a 17-year-old playing with poor equipment that is enticed by the promise of someday playing in the NHL.