My dinner at La Troïka with Oleg Petrov and his wife Natasha in 1993
This is a fascinating dossier prepared by Jean-Nicolas Blanchet on the tragedies that seem to befall dozens of Russian hockey players. Including Matvei Michkov, the one who could be the hidden ace in the hoped-for reconstruction of the Canadian.
What seems even more important to me in this matter is that my colleague has never forgotten the person, the human, in the tortuous relations of the Soviets and the Russians with hockey.
Their names are not Tremblay, Simard, Smith or Forsberg but they are sensitive and pressured men who would crack any city councillor.
These men, I got to know them and to be honest, some of them became friends. Even though they were bad Russians. But entering their world has never been easy…
Oleg Petrov and the Russian mafia
The omnipresence of the Russian mafia after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was in December 1993, at the restaurant La Troïka, that I became aware of it. Thirty years have passed, so I can reveal the secret details of this story.
I was eating with Oleg Petrov from the Canadian and Natasha, his young wife, to write a report on the holiday season in Russia. They are Orthodox and celebrate January 6.
Petrov didn't speak English and we met up with my old friend Richard Chartier… and especially his wife Elena Botchorichvili who had been a journalist in the Soviet Union in dailySoviet Sport. It is the same Elena who became a great novelist published in Europe as well as in America.
At dessert, I had asked Petrov if he intended to return to Russia during the summer. He hesitated before answering. And it was then that Elena, a former journalist, quickly grasped the story. Oleg had told him how the Russian mafia ransomed players in America by threatening families who remained in Russia. Fascinating story…and Petrov gave names on the condition that he be protected.
Help from New York Times… and others
But how do you get the story out without Petrov's parents paying the price? The next day, I called my friends from the hockey beat days. Joe LaPointe at the New York Times, Ellen Elliott at the Los Angeles Times and Alan Abel at the Globe in Toronto. I had told them the story of Petrov. Asking them to investigate Russian players from the Rangers, Devils and Islanders in New York, the Kings in L.A and the Maple Leafs in Toronto. We would put together the information unearthed and we could thus cover our tracks. The only condition being that the second paragraph in the NY Times, the LA Times and the Globe point out that “according to a story in Montreal paper…“. Myself, in Montreal, I had written the story of Slava Fetisov of the Devils who paid an amount of money to the Russian mafia to leave his parents alone. Joe LaPointe gave me the info. Oleg Petrov ended up in the Los Angeles Timesand since all four newspapers had published on the same day, it was impossible to link the source.
In the months that followed, everything broke. The FBI got involved in the United States and CSIS in Canada and the stories had tumbled out. Like that of the Detroit Red Wings who had waited to announce the signing of a big contract with Igor Larionov that his whole family was returned to the United States or the exchange of Pavel Bure from Vancouver to Miami. Look on a map which is the farthest city from Vancouver in North America.
I will not dwell on cases that you have already read. How Vladislav Tretiak, even in the greatest years of the Communist Party in Moscow, was kindness incarnate. How he became a true friend over the decades. How I found him with pleasure in his office as President of the Russian Hockey Federation four years ago during a series of reports.
I want to come back to a paragraph from Blanchet's texts. When he writes about the state of mind of young Matvei Michkov since the death of his father. It's right on target. They are not bad Russians. They are men (and women) who live in a different society. They like Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Georgian red wine and Russian pop groups. But they have Vladimir Putin as president, not Justin Trudeau as prime minister. Let's say it changes the outlook.
But I want to give you one last example to make it clear. In my last tour in Russia, I found myself in the great offices of the KHL in the heart of Moscow.
Interviewing with Valeri Kamensky, the vice-president of marketing and development of the KHL.
Do you think it was stuffy? That I felt the eye of the police on us?
Not to mention. Kamensky, I had known him when he played with the Quebec Nordiques. Rumor has it that he was even forced to try to obtain a visa for a mobster. It was precisely in the years of Oleg Petrov.
But we talked about hockey, of course. From the KHL, it is also obvious. But also Marcel Aubut and his extravagances with the Nordiques, his house in New Jersey, not far from New York and his residence in Florida in West Palm Beach.
Kamensky was the same smiling man that he was with Claude Cadorette and Albert Ladouceur who covered the Nordiques. We reconnected very steeply.
But what's going on here? Did Kamensky become a villain because Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine for some very mysterious reason? Did he lose his home in Florida? And the one in New Jersey? And how does he deal with this war situation with his friends in the United States?
And if I dialed his mobile number, would he answer?
And Vladislav Tretiak? Does he answer the call when you try to reach him from Canada?
Read Blanchet's texts carefully, it's all this human tension that underlies them…