From Rinks in Almaty to the NHL, Kazakhstan’s Growing Hockey Tradition
As the remaining teams in the National Hockey League battle for playoff survival, it seems as good a time as any to explore the great sport of hockey in Kazakhstan. In both the Olympics and international play, the West tends to set their sights on the Russians, however, the Kazakh national team is growing to be a force on the ice. Many Kazakhs play in premier hockey leagues and a few are hoping to raise the Stanley Cup as NHL champions in a few weeks.
Kazakhstan’s national hockey team made their debut in 1992 when they were admitted to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Much to the surprise of the international community, right out the gate the men’s national ice hockey team proved they could play with the elite teams from Russia, Canada, Sweden and the United States. In their debut at the 1993 men’s World Ice Hockey Championship, the Kazakhs placed third in Group C, which for a young team representing a two-year old country was pretty good. But in 1998, the men’s national team took 8th place overall at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, eliminated by the Canadians. For a country that had no definitive hockey tradition, that’s pretty good! Currently, the men’s national team is ranked 16th in the world while the women’s national team is ranked 7th.
Since Kazakhstan’s independence twenty years ago many hockey players have gone on to play professionally in Russia, Canada, and the United States. The NHL has had about 25 players play from Kazakhstan, and three of them are currently in the NHL. Nik Antropov has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and the Atlanta Thrashers, which became the Winnpeg Jets at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. Evgeni Nabokov, was drafted in 1994 and has played in the NHL for the San Jose Sharks until this recent season when he became the new goalie for the New York Islanders. Finally, the most successful NHL player from Kazakhstan currently is goalie Anton Khudobin. He had played for the Minnesota Wild until this season before being traded to the Boston Bruins, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions. Unfortunately, Anton won’t get to hoist the Stanley Cup this year. The Bruins have been eliminated by the Washington Capitals.
Kazakhstanis are showing the world that they can compete with world-class hockey players in leagues around the world and in the Olympics. The Kazakh National team is on its way to becoming a worthy hockey adversary in the near future. In addition to hockey, basketball is very popular in Kazakhstan. We look forward to writing about the first Kazakhstan-born NBA player.
For more on ice hockey in Kazakhstan visit http://www.icehockey.kz/
Thanks for exploring Kazakhstan,