Friday, December 12, 2008

In Russia, Ray Emery gets the all-star treatment

Ray Emery, of the Atlant MystishchiWhen troubled former Ottawa Senators' goaltender Ray Emery went to play for Moscow's Atlant Mystishchi of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), many expected that much of his time there would be spent trying to adjust to a different lifestyle and playing style.

However, it turns out Emery had little trouble in either respect. As a sign of his ability to adjust to the Russian style of play, one needs only looks at his statistics: A goals-against average of 1.97 and a save-percentage of .932--good for eleventh and sixth in the league, respectively. His playing time is limited by regulations mandating that Russian-born players must start a specific number of games, but Emery has compiled a 13-5 record on a Mystshchi squad that is third overall in the league.

About the lifestyle, interviews with the Hamilton, Ontario-born goaltender indicated that--at first--he didn't quite know what to expect. "On my way to the airport, I was like, 'What's going on here?' It sunk in there. 'Oh man, this could be something.' It's gone way better than I thought it would so far," Emery told Scott Burnside of ESPN. And just as he was pleasantly surprised by the ease of his transition into Russian society, he's also found that, in the end, the game he loves is pretty much the same thing wherever it's played. "Hockey's hockey is what I'm kind of realizing," Emery said.

Not only are his teammates happy to have him, the fans seem to be embracing Emery, athletic goaltending style and unapologetic attitude as part of his package. With 11,370 fan-cast votes, he is the leading non-Russian goaltender for the KHL All-Star Game. In all likelihood, he will be the starting goaltender in the historic outdoor KHL All-Star Game in Red Square for Team Jagr--named for Jaromir Jagr, the Czech-born captain of the non-Russian squad in the All-Star Game, and the most groundbreaking free-agent signing any KHL squad made this past summer.

When Emery signed a two-year contract for a reported $2M (all terms U.S.) per season to play in the KHL over the summer, many believed it was simply an opportunity for him to resurrect his career in the hopes of regaining respect amongst National Hockey League (NHL) general managers. However, given the success that Emery has enjoyed and the big city lifestyle available to him in Moscow, he's stated that a priority of his is honouring the terms of the contract that he's signed with the Atlant. By all accounts, his teammates and fans of the KHL wouldn't have a problem with that at all.

(P.S. This post was my attempt at writing in the epic, oft-overstated style of the New York Times. Any comments?)
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