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Whether Canada likes hearing this or not, vilifying Nail Yakupov for not mastering English Canada's hockey euphemisms is dirty.
The Russia captain might not have meant anything by it when he made his instantly infamous "these guys play dirty" comment about Team Canada. (Whatever he meant by it, the quote will get around the hockey world twice before the context can tie its skates.) Since it is a world junior championship and Canada and Russia are rivals for the gold medal, it is easier for the Canadian media to fit him for the black hat. (Teammate Maxim Shalunov getting a four-minute high-sticking minor in the Slovakia-Russia game likely didn't help.) Far be it to point out that he was talking about his own game — it is not always about us, eh — or that the over-the-top overreaction by Mr. Irrelevant, CBC Hockey Night In Canada commentator Don Cherry, makes Yakupov look like the good guy.
Yakupov's comment, honestly, was not that bad. There has never been a Canadian hockey team worth a whit which did not staff a few roster spots with players versed in chirping and getting opponents off their games. Yakupov dealt with that on a lower level for two seasons in the OHL; now the Edmonton Oilers first overall pick knows he will be a marked man in the Dec. 31 showdown in Ufa.
"I understand that I will have to keep a cool head and ignore provocations. Especially against the Canadians. These guys play dirty. We got used to that, we played a few games in the North America, so our team is ready." (R-Sport)
That is all he said. "Dirty" was not the most diplomatic word, but considering what a 19-year-old Russian's impressions are of Canadian hockey, both firsthand and related (all the way back to Bobby Clarke busting Valeri Kharlamov's ankle in 1972), it's hardly scandalous. Canadians are just as quick to point out the alleged softness of overseas players. Call it a wash.
There is apparently no telling that to Cherry, who saw red after hearing of Yakupov's comments. What followed was pretty jingoistic, as he claimed Yakupov took a spot in the Ontario Hockey League from a Canadian and that this country "let him learn his hockey in our program." Never mind that some would think it took maturity to pursue a hockey dream in a new country and a foreign culture. Or that the Sarnia Sting obviously didn't have a Canadian player who was any better than Yakupov. Or that Cherry has never said a word against Sarnia for having American players (five this season, seven the season prior) take the spot of good Canadian boys.
It just goes on like this:
Would that Cherry could just be ignored; chances are the people who favourite that vitriol might not watch a lot of major junior hockey. The import system is not perfect, especially because it favours big-market teams, but it enriches the CHL. Yakupov coming to Sarnia benefited North American hockey and the perception of the CHL. Last year was an aberration, but there were zero Canadian-born forwards taken in the first 15 picks of last year's NHL draft and just five in the entire 30-pick first round (four from major junior and Calgary Flames choice Mark Jankowski, now at Providence College).
There could have been some egg on the face for the CHL had it not been for the league being the attractive place for foreigners Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Radek Faksa to showcase their skills for the NHL draft.
Cherry does not appreciate that. That is his problem. He's banking on you not knowing that, which makes him everyone's problem. Jingo bells, jingo bells, Canada all the way.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.