Alexander Svitov: Making Noise at 2002 WJC

By Brandon LeBourveau
Everything was going well for Alexander Svitov, a 6-3 199 lbs. center from Russia, as the feisty forward was selected 3rd Overall in 2001 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Desperate for a center that could eventually shut down the other team’s top line each and every night, the Lightning and GM Rick Dudley were quick to almost guarantee Svitov a roster spot shortly after being drafted. However, the high spirits centered on the young Russian on that day, June 23rd 2001, now seemed to have dwindled at the very least.

It all started when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Alexander Svitov thought they were doing the right thing. The two agreed on a three year, entry-level contract before the deadline to sign European players passed. However, afraid that Svitov’s former team in Russia, Avangard Omsk, would get extremely upset with the player’s decision and possibly take some sort of action, the two sides figured it was best to wait a short while before announcing the deal. Out of the blue, Omsk announced that Svitov could not jump ship to the NHL and must serve time in the military. At first the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t worry too much about Omsk’s decision, since they already had Svitov under contract. What they didn’t know, and they found this out eventually, was that Svitov was inducted into the Russian military back in December 2000. Unfortunately for both parties, Tampa Bay fans won’t be seeing Svitov in the NHL until December 2002 as he needs to serve his two year military obligation.

Fast forward to this year’s World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. This has been one of the few times that Svitov has actually seen the ice at all this season, and now because of his actions, he may not see the ice again during this tournament.

One of the biggest rivalries among teams in this tournament, Canada squared off against Russia a few days ago. The game was an exciting, hard-fought, penalty filled match right from the start. It didn’t take long for Alexander Svitov to get under the skin of the opposition. He was doing his best to draw penalties and punish people along the boards. When Svitov took a dive to draw a penalty, the Canadians and there fans were furious. Late in the game, Canadian defenseman Dan Hamhuis was viciously checked from behind, causing the defenseman to eventually have to sit out the next game. At this point, the Canadians were almost ready to step. Remember that guy Svitov? Well, he wasn’t done just yet. With the Ilya Kovalchuk fist-pumping incident still fresh in the Canadians memory from the year before, a bigger incident happened this time around. Svitov spat on Canadian forward Brian Sutherby late in the game, an eventual 5-2 win by Canada. Sutherby, trying to keep his cool, skated away from the incident.

“That’s probably the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my life,” Sutherby told reporters after the game.

“They were better in all aspects,” said Russian coach Vladimir Plyuschev to reporters. “Especially in spitting at our players.”

While there has been no proof that any Canadian players spat on the Russians, what Svitov did was a disgrace to the game of hockey and an embarrassment to not only himself, but to his teammates as well. Svitov did not share his side of the story after the game, so no one really knows what caused him to spit on Sutherby. Some have suggested that Svitov came to a point where he just snapped. After all that has gone on with the military incident and not being able to play hockey, and then down late in the game to the Canadians, something like that probably could have been expected of the 19 year old Russian. You would think that after this incident, Svitov would realize he was wrong and not do anything like that again. However, it gets worse.

The next day, the Russians squared off against the Swiss. The Swiss, not known as a physical team, had two brawls in the past with the Russians, one at last year’s World Junior Championships that took place in Russia and at the Under-18 Championship last spring. Russia had a commanding 4-0 lead late in the game, but there was Svitov starting trouble again. Beat Forster, a 2nd round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes and one of the Swiss’ best players, was already being held by two Russians when Svitov started punching the defenseman repeatedly in the back of the head. Svitov did not suffer any further disciplinary action for spitting on Brian Sutherby, but he got a two game suspension for this incident against the Swiss. Russia’s coach, Vladimir Plyuschev, was also tagged with a one game suspension as well.

When hearing of the suspensions, most fans back in Canada were outraged, saying that Svitov deserved to be suspended for the entire tournament. while such action may be reasonable for Svitov’s two disrespectful incidents, the Russian team will now have a hard time advancing in the medal around without the help of on of their best players in Svitov. The Russians, who face a tough task today against team USA, will be lucky if they can win the next two games. If Russia somehow does find a way to advance, they will get Svitov back for the gold medal game.

The Svitov spitting incident was the talk of the Washington Capitals dressing room over the weekend. Brian Sutherby was a 1st round pick of the Capitals in 2000, and played 7 games with the team early this season before being returned to the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. It’s hard to believe that there was not much of a retaliation from either the Canadians or the Swiss after both of Svitov’s incidents. However, if Svitov tries to pull those stunts in the NHL, I can almost guarantee that he won’t get away with it. No one’s opinion has changed about Svitov’s high-skill level and sure-fire future in the NHL, but he has lost the respect of many people following his actions this weekend.

In other quarterfinal action today, the Canadians, coming off a beating by Finland, face Sweden. Canada hopes to get defenseman Dan Hamhuis back in the lineup after sitting out the game against Finland with an injured shoulder. Russia, without Svitov, will face team USA, while Switzerland squares off against Slovakia and Finland takes on the two-time defending gold medalists, the Czech Republic. It will certainly be an interesting and exciting day of hockey to say the least.