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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.

 

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