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Mike Bossy Does It Well, Alex Ovechkin Doesn’t May 17, 2008

Watching Henrik Lundqvist get yanked in Sweden’s 5-4 loss to Canada in the World Hockey Championship reminded me of something. Lundqvist speaks English with no accent whatsoever. At least that’s what my ears have heard in the couple of interviews I’ve seen of the Ranger goalie on TV.

Speaking perfect English is an amazing thing when it’s not your mother tongue. It’s very admirable. Some European NHL players have mastered it. For most, of course, it’s impossible.

Detroit’s Swedish star Nick Lidstrom speaks English almost perfectly, but you can detect that Swedish tongue in there just slightly. And it’s a little more so with Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson. You can definitely here the Swedish way of talking in their speech, although their English is excellent.

But not at all with Lundqvist. In those two interviews I heard, he could’ve been the guy in the pool hall, Or the Canadian goalie in the beer league. I need to hear more from Lundqvist. I’m curious about this.

The NHL Russian guys’ English is basically all the same, ranging from pretty good to lousy.  Alex Kovalev speaks English pretty well, with the obvious Russian accent,  but Alex Ovechkin is still a work in progress, and Evgeny Malkin is only beginning. Igor Larionov, on the other hand, spoke excellent English back in the days when Soviet players couldn’t play over here, and so had very little exposure to English. Somehow, though, he got great at it.

Larionov even snuck away from the Russian camp to Wayne Gretzky’s parent’s house in Brantford during the 1987 Canada Cup and partied with all the Canadian guys.

Remember the 1972 Summit Series? We got the odd interview with some of the Russian players including Valeri Kharlamov, and they were interviews using an interpreter. But at the end, the few Russian players managed a meek “thank you” in English, and it was both surprising and wonderful.

The Finnish players pick it up pretty well, like Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, but you can hear the Finnish accent in there, even though their words and grammar are perfect.

The Czechs, it seems, have a little bit of a harder time of it. Jaromir Jagr’s English is terrrible, after all these years in North America. Tomas Plekanec, however, looks promising as a speaker of English. But the Czechs, like the Russians, use their throats and tongues differently, so there’s many English words they’ll never master properly.

Some of the English guys speak French really well. I can’t learn French, but they speak it with almost no accent. Mike Bossy wins by a landslide on this front.

Henri Richard was so quiet in the early days of his career, that when Toe Blake was once asked if Henri could speak English, Blake replied, “I don’t even know if he can speak French.”

French guys like Daniel Briere, Martin Biron, Vincent Lecavalier, Mario Lemieux, and Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault speak English with only a trace of an accent. It’s very impressive.

It’s just a good thing there’s no heavy-duty Scotsmen in the NHL. Their accent can be thicker than lumpy gravy. I worked with a Scottish guy in Calgary who had been in Canada for years, but he could talk to me for fifteen minutes and I wouldn’t have a clue what he was saying.

Compared to this guy, Alex Ovechkin sounds perfect.



8 Responses to “Mike Bossy Does It Well, Alex Ovechkin Doesn’t”

  1. der Habinator Says:


    First, thanx for the compliment. Nice to be appreciated. Hehe, it’s so, well, rare.

    What la P, no token of appreciation for me! Hmm, I wonder why? Oh yeah, a laptop is a computer … hehehe. And get rid of that dorky pic!

    DK, your article was particularly interesting for me today simply because I’m a linguistic major. Yup, got a few pretty much useless degrees studying theories of language. Eh voila! An occasion presents itself for me to actually put some of what I learned to work.

    In the past 100 150 yrs or so English has supplanted French as the `international’ language – it is now the language of politics, of commerce, of technology, of industry. of entertainment including sport. In a sense, this is good for us native English speakers because everybody else must learn how to function in the language that we learn at our mother’s knee. However, the downside is the same thing, to wit, we don’t have any incentive to learn another language which means the vast majority of native English speakers never learn another language which in my opinion is a great loss in that I believe that the challenge and effort entailed in doing so can greatly enhance one’s intellectual capabilities, definitely does expand one’s awareness and appreciation of difference and complexity in cultures, in effect, it enriches one’s experience in all ways.

    With the exception of Finland, the other languages you mentioned – Swedish, French, Russian, Czech – all belong to the same family of languages as English called Indo-
    European which also includes languages such as Persian and Sanskrit. Finnish belongs to another completely different group of languages called Finno-Ugric and therefore, for them, linguistically speaking, English is much more exotic and divorced from their native language than the others which I think requires a much greater effort on the part of Finns to learn English. So, kudos to Saku and Kurri and the rest of those `flying Finns’. Hehehe, maybe their affinity for our style of hockey helps them when it comes to learning English?

    French Canadians often are perfectly bilingual simply because they have been exposed to English from birth, especially in the pop culture. As well, Quebec is a French island in a sea of English and it is therefore imperative for a quebecois/e to learn English if he or she has any ambition to come out of their linguistic/cultural/social milieu and join in the far vaster global culture that is fast morphing into being. An interesting linguistic factoid is the difference in the english accent displayed by quebecois vis-a-vis euro French, for example, the former will stereotypically say `duh/dis/dat’ for `the/this/that’ whereas the latter say `zee/zees/zaat’. Yup, language is a marvelously complex infinitely fascinating subject.

    The Swedes, indeed all the Norse countries and Germany as well put great emphasis on learning English as a second language and, again, because it is the international lingo, learning it enables people to travel throughout Europe without any trouble. I would venture to say that for these peoples English occupies a place in their cultures akin to what it does in Quebec – it is ubiquitous, lots of people learn it but then lots don’t, it is necessary in order to move about in the larger world.

    And yes, I agree with you DK, that the fact that anybody who makes the effort to be able to converse with me in my native language is worthy of respect regardless of accent. Heheheh, I’ve been told that my french accent is many things, all good: jolie, seduisant, tres sexy, etc etc. So, hey, if you’re a hockey player, it’s in your best interests not to become too fluent, not to sound like everybody else. After all, Shakespeare said it best when he said that boyz fall in luuv with their eyes, but girlz fall in luuuv with their ears.

    So, once again, we see that hockey is much much more than a mere `brute sport’ practiced by a select few dumb jocks. On the contrary, players are becoming increasingly sophisticated and cosmopolitan and the activity itself in all it’s amplitude provides us with a means of insight and understanding into our respective cultures – it’s a picture window looking onto the marvellous landscape of our collective self.

    Moral? For example, hehehe, even la P can see that, in the natural order of the hockey world, Sabre fans are well beneath Habbers and it therefore follows that she deserves to be baffed around – it’s all for the greater good.

  2. Dennis Says:

    I just reread this and found four spelling mistakes caused by me rushing and hitting the key next to the right key.
    I’ve got to be more careful about this.

  3. der Habinator Says:


    Finished up here so I’ll tack on a bit more to this topic. A standard linguistic joke is: a language is a dialect with an army and a navy … nowadays, add to this air force and nuclear strike capacity. In other words, there a myriad of varieties of each major language out there and the standard English we hear here in North America sounds the way it does in part because the North and not the South won the civil war. In
    England, BBC English is simply that of a dialect that became dominant. That said, there has been an amazing proliferation of English`dialects’ such that it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine which one is preeminent … hmmm, perhaps in another 100 yrs or so we’ll all be speaking `Hindi English’ … Of course, standard Canadian English is the norm for Hockey which fact explains why, even linguistically, the punky Sabres and their equally punky fans are so, well, shall we say, somewhat less than grammatical … hehehehe.

    Just learned that we lost in overtime to the Russkies who won for the first time in 15 years. Sounds like it was a great game, fast and exciting. I suspect we did the same old stooooopid thing: came out leading in the third and tried to protect the lead. Hmmm, if this keeps up will we all soon be saying `shibu’ instead of `puck’, `da/nyet’ rather than `yes/no’, & etc etc? Of course, not all shall be lost, for example, `eff U’ is immutable, maybe even eternal.

  4. der Habinator Says:


    Just read your entry – not to worry, that’s what editors are for. Besides, a good typo can be fun, cf. Maggie’s entry.

  5. der Habinator Says:


    Oh yeah, WHEN I win the lotto I shall buy myself a laptop and a vehicle that will run for more than six months. Dk, I shall send you a customized fan sweater, two bottles of wine – one red, one white, flowers & Calibaut chocs for your wife and a case maybe even two of the finest cheap beer money can buy as well as a bag of munchies of your choice – nachos? doritos? cheesies? chips? As for la P, to show you what a great guy I truly am, I shall send you an autographed copy of English grammar.

  6. Michel Says:

    BTW, Mike Bossy is English who learned French, not the other way around. If I remember correctly, he married a woman from Laval.
    Years ago, his accent was horrendous, but it’s almost indistinguishable now.

  7. Dennis Says:

    Thanks Michel. All these years I thought Bossy was French Canadian. I’ve revised a couple of sentences in the story. Thanks again.

  8. danielleia Says:

    Devil Hab: A lap top is different from a computer. Lap tops are better (and portable!). And I already have a dictionary. Thanks, for the thought though. No flowers for me?!

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