The incredible journey of a Finnish-born Russian to the NHL – an arrest in Russia led to a one-year break from games | Sport

The incredible journey of a Finnish born Russian to the NHL

Born in Lappeenranta, but considers himself completely Russian Ivan Fedotov the journey to the NHL is unparalleled.

Fedotov was supposed to make his debut in the NHL already last season, but after various twists and turns, the opening match was only seen last night.

Fedotov shone with his moves at the 2022 Beijing Olympics and later that spring in the KHL playoffs. After a successful spring, the goalkeeper signed a two-year contract with the NHL club Philadelphia Flyers. Fedotov was supposed to travel to the City of Brotherly Love quickly after the deal was made.

The plans quickly changed when the police department of the St. Petersburg region received an arrest warrant for Fedotov from the military prosecutor’s office. Fedotov allegedly evaded conscription and was ordered to do military service.

In the end, Fedotov did not play a single match in the 2022–2023 season. According to The Athletic, he spent a large part of his service time in the Murmansk region.

Shortly after joining the service, the goalkeeper was rushed to the hospital due to stress-induced catarrh. Russian authorities did not provide information on the goalkeeper’s condition, but a lawyer representing Fedotov did Alexei Ponomariov told RIA Novosti that neither he nor the player’s relatives had been allowed to see Fedotov at the hospital.

– What can a man playing hockey feel when he has to march? Nothing. I counted the days one by one. I waited and hoped it would end sooner or later. You can either leave there with your head held high or collapse there. The law is the law and it must be followed, Fedotov stated according to Championat in July 2023.

An assistant professor at the University of Turku who is familiar with political history Markku Jokisipilä considers Fedotov’s case exceptional.

– This is by no means an ordinary pattern. I have understood that with international level athletes, the system in Russia is flexible under the counter. The lottery won’t hit the spot if you want to organize it that way. There are plenty of players in North America who have been beyond the reach of this grab. They have been allowed to be in peace, and the army has not been interested in them, says Jokisipilä.

Jokisipilä estimates that Russia’s isolation from the international hockey community might play its own role in Fedotov’s case. Russia’s national teams have not been involved in international tournaments since the country invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

– Here, we wanted to see the effort and make one athlete a warning example. Perhaps they wanted to limit the excessive flow from their own league to North America at the point when Russia was completely isolated from international hockey. Russian security authorities tend to send messages through individual people.

Echoes of the past

Fedotov’s dramatic journey towards buck troughs took more turns in the summer of 2023.

The Russian goalkeeper had been advised to make a contract with the army team CSKA Moscow after his release from the army. Fedotov signed a two-year contract. Now, however, the International Hockey Federation intervened, because Fedotov had a valid contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

In August 2023, the International Ice Hockey Federation slapped a four-month ban on the goalkeeper for breach of contract and a one-year ban on the club for international player transfers.

However, TsSKA did not care about the sanctions, but skated Fedotov on the ice in September 2023 in a match against AK Bars. Last season, Fedotov played 44 matches in the Red Army camp. His contract was terminated last month. The reasons for canceling the contract have not been made public.

– Here is a point of comparison with the Soviet Union. At that time, TsSKA, as the army’s central sports club, systematically used its position to recruit the best up-and-coming ice hockey players from different parts of the federal state by means of a draft order. Back then, the motives were above all sporting, although everything in the Soviet Union always had a political aspect, Jokisipilä sees.

Straight to the box

After breaking the contract, Fedotov was finally able to travel to the United States and made his debut somewhat unexpectedly early Tuesday morning in a match against the New York Islanders.

Fedotov replaced the goalkeeper who was in the starting line-up in the middle of the match by Samuel Ersson. The Swedish goalkeeper has not been there to support a team fighting for a playoff spot, so the club seems to have a strong need to quickly bring Fedotov into the team.

Philadelphia lost the match in overtime 3–4. Fedotov saved 19 of 21 shots.

– It can be a good thing to be able to play quickly. You don’t have to think about anything but blocking the puck. A former top goaltender who played in the KHL and NHL himself, he could very well be the deciding factor that allows Philadelphia to reach the playoffs and even make it there Karri Rämö says.

Rämö believes that Fedotov has all the conditions to succeed in the NHL.

– We have also seen Russians who arrive with good statistics from the big KHL clubs, but whose technique has room for improvement. However, Fedotov is not one of them. The game is of course different and it can take a while to adapt. I still don’t see a reason why he can’t do well in the NHL. He is big as hell and technically good enough to play in the NHL.

Philadelphia will next play on Saturday morning when they face Buffalo away from home. It may very well be that the first start of Ivan Fedotov’s NHL career will come already at that time.