Former Islander Alexei Yashin is in town this weekend to take part in the "Global Hockey Legends For Sandy Relief" game as part of the Russian Legends team. The game will be today, Saturday April 13, at 1 p.m. at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. Ticket information can be found here for anyone interested in contributing to a great cause and seeing some outstanding former local players.
Other ex-Islanders in the event include Darius Kasparaitis, Vladimir Malakhov, Benoit Hogue and Bill Guerin. The full roster can be found here and includes a ton of former New Jersey Devils as well. The game was put together by KHL president Alexander Medvedev after contacting Devils management, according to Yashin, who stated "I'm glad I could be a part of this."
I spoke with Yashin about his current work with Russian women's hockey and his time as an Islander, including Islanders-Rangers games, a memorable fight (and hat trick), and his most famous on-ice fashion choice:
On his current role in Russian Women's hockey
Keith Quinn: How is everything going with the Russian Women's National Team?
Alexei Yashin: Well, very good. We got a bronze medal in the world championships which is very exciting to me personally and to a lot of Russian hockey fans because the women's hockey is not so popular in Russia. So hopefully, it will give it a little spike so people can know about this sport more. It's a big thing to get results so maybe we can get some confidence towards the Olympics.
KQ: Which pool are you guys in now?
AY: Still in the same pool, Sweden Japan, Germany. The lower division.
Alexei went on to note that this starting in this pool is preferable to build up some confidence heading into the medal games.
KQ: So, are you the coach and the GM for this team? (In which he sounds mostly like a coach but denies it as a title)
AY: No, I'm just the general manager. It's for a while confusing because I skate with the girls, so I'm part of their routine. Yeah, I put my gear on and I skate with them, I do some drills, I do some skating, I try to keep myself in shape because I play some exhibition games like the Sandy relief game. And plus, you know, I can help them with videos of technical stuff and skating ability so I can work with them very closely on the coaching staff.
And then, my position as general manager, I look kind of, more after the business part like to work with the sponsors, do some work to make sure the girls everything and stuff from equipment, make sure the environment is proper for them to be better so they can compete at a high level.
On the current Islanders
KQ: Not sure if you have been paying attention, but the Islanders are very close to the playoffs and have a big game against the Rangers tomorrow night. They haven't been to the playoffs since you were on the team. Will you be attending?
AY: Yeah, no problem because the [Sandy relief game] is in the afternoon, so hopefully we can make it to tomorrow night's game. I would like to go because it's always Rangers/Islanders a special game. It's my priority, so hopefully I can do it.
KQ: Can you describe what those games are like? What was the environment like in the playoff games like the Toronto series in 2002?
AY: It was one of the, I mean, greatest experiences in hockey I had. You know, because the games were just unbelievable from every point; from skill level, from physicality, from fan support, it was great. It was unbelievable so, hopefully...I'm sure it's not hopefully, I'm sure it's going to happen that if Islanders will make the playoffs, which they're very close, so I'm sure they will support the team the same way.
I watched the game last night against Boson and the team looks very fresh, they have a lot of energy, they created a lot of scoring chances and Nabby playing very good in there in the nets. That gives them confidence defensively and in goaltending. This team looks good but again, it's not over yet so they have to stay composed every game and it's a big game on Saturday and hopefully they can win.
On his fight with former Rangers defenseman Tomas Klouchek
At this point, I brought up a game in the Islanders/Rangers rivalry that stood out in my mind and is the one in which Alexei had his only listed fighting major on Hockeyfights.com. It was January 30, 2002, and the box score can be found here. Alexei seemed a little reluctant to discuss the fight (in which he broke Thomas Kloucek's nose with the help of linemate Mariusz Czekawski), but remembered the game pretty vividly.
This was particularly embarrassing to me, because I completely neglected the fact that Yash had a first period hat-trick in that game. It may have been his best game as an Islander upon viewing the actual highlights, and statistically, it was his best season as an Islander.
In any event, the game was intense and emblematic of the strength of the rivalry at the time. It featured 172 minutes in penalties and a bunch of Theo Fleury antics, including him snatching current Islander player development guru Eric Cairns' stick and smashing it. Quite the cast of clowns on that Ranger squad. It also included probably one of the craziest and brutal fights I remember seeing between Dale Purinton and Jim Cummins. Footage of the line brawl that Yashin was involved in is here, and began with the Rangers taking exception to an 'after the whistle' shot by Czerkawski.
Highlights from the game (minus the fight):
AY: I've never been a fighter, so I haven't been involved in a lot of fights over my career, but these things happen. The emotions get very high and especially when the Rangers play the Islanders, but the biggest thing I remember [bad job Keith] with this game was because I scored three goals in the first period and we were up by 5-1 [Ed. note, looks like it was 4-1] and because the fights broke in, and what happened, I was benched by the end of the game (laughs) so I didn't play.
KQ: Wait, you had a hat trick in the first period and were benched?
AY: Yes, I didn't play after the first period [Ed note: looks like mid-second period] because we were up 5-1 and they didn't want something to happen.
KQ: Who was coaching that season?
AY: Peter, Peter Laviolette was coach. We got a win, so everybody was very happy. And I had my hat trick in the first period so, very cool.
On the Burning Question of Turtlenecks
AY: It's very, actually simple and I think it was 1994 or 1995. I have several good luck chains on my neck and a T-shirt was used before and they are very loose in the collar. So my chains would come out during the game on every shot I made, you know? So it was very uncomfortable.
I asked the guys, I said, listen, do you have anything I can wear to make sure my chain stays kind of safe and not distract me from my hockey game? And they come up with a little bit higher neck, and eventually, came up with the turtleneck which I've been wearing it for my entire career since.
It's not an image thing. It's not something which I create for better look. It just was functional to me and it stayed with me for my whole career.
And I think it looks cool, you know like a lot of people say it looks cool so...and I see a lot of guys wearing it like high collar now.
So, there you have it. The guy has been with a supermodel for a pretty long time, so he knows the scoop.
Lighthouse Hockey thanks Alexei for his time.