No gangsters bothered Khristich

ON THE NHL

December 28, 1993|By SANDRA McKEE

When Washington Capitals left wing Dimitri Khristich went home to Kiev, Ukraine, last summer, he was warned to be on guard for extortionists.

"I had heard Alexei Khristich of the L.A. Kings had had some trouble," said Khristich, who has been told by general manager David Poile to let the Capitals know if he has any trouble. "But no one knew I was in Kiev, and I had no trouble. When I saw Khristich here after our game with Los Angeles, he said it had happened, but it was over."

Khristich told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that he was targeted for extortion last summer in his homeland. The second-year defenseman said the threats from an organized crime group in the former Soviet republic were verbal, rather than physical.

"I have little problem with Russian Mafia," Khristich said. "They say things like, 'Blow up your car.' And different [stuff]."

Khristich, 21, said neither he nor his twin brother, Dmitri, was harmed and he did not pay the gangsters.

"If you pay the first time, the next time you pay much more," he said. "But my friends helped me. Like the police, the cops can't do nothing. No rules. No laws."

When Khristich took his wife, Erin, to Kiev last summer, he was shocked. The beautiful city he remembered was a shambles.

"It was dirty, with trash everywhere," he said. "No one works. There are no jobs. No money."

Given that, Khristich is not surprised by the accusations of a Russian Mafia and extortion threats.

"It doesn't worry me here," he said. "I feel safe. But when you go home, it is different. Crazy stuff can happen."

Khristich's mother and father maintain a home in Kiev, but they are due to arrive here today for an extended visit.

Small-market blues

Last week, the talk was of salaries; this week, of the toll those salaries may be taking on the smaller NHL markets in Canada -- and elsewhere. As the new year rolls in, hockey's roots are feeling pressure to survive.

The Edmonton Oilers may move to Minnesota.

The Winnipeg Jets, if Manitoba voters continue not to approve the building of a new arena, also may be moving south of the border.

And, as the NFL has found out, the NHL may be powerless to stop it, even though it has a bylaw requiring 75 percent of the board of governors to approve any move.

"If costs don't get under control, every city's team is at risk," said NHL vice president Arthur Pincus. "As far as the cities in Canada, they do have specific problems. But the league is doing everything it can to guarantee teams stay where they are."

Commissioner Gary Bettman is on record as saying he is "committed to keeping existing teams in their current markets."

But a lot of people are wondering how far that commitment goes. The mayors of Quebec, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton together have requested a meeting with Bettman to express their concerns and to ascertain how the league intends to help keep teams where they are.

The questions facing the league in the new year: How important are the markets in the country where this sport was born? Is there a real commitment to smaller Canadian markets -- and small markets in general? Should there be such commitments? And if there are, how far is the league prepared to go to save them?

As Pincus says, all cities could be at risk. He says the league's formula for success in every market is a good arena lease, good local television revenue and a strong, faithful fan base.

Problems in those areas are not limited to small Canadian markets.

OC Hartford has been shaky. In Washington, Poile says he considers

his team operates in a small market, given its fan base and financial concerns. He also admits worrying about the team's declining fan support.

"I think it is getting close to where small markets can't exist and compete," said Poile. "Maybe it is getting to the point where the league has to decide if it wants to survive in these smaller markets, and if it does, then we might have to consider sharing more of our revenues and going to the players through the collective bargaining agreement and forming some sort of partnership that will enable us to exist in all these areas.

"The NFL exists in Green Bay, but their great equalizer is a huge television package, which means revenue beyond what you can generate in your own building."

But sharing revenue, even with the best resolve, is a tall order when all 26 owners would have to agree.

Portland answers call

Over the past few weeks, the Capitals have called up center Kevin Kaminski, defensemen Jason Woolley, John Slaney and Brian Curran and goalie Olie Kolzig from their American Hockey League affiliate. The moves may have slowed the Portland Pirates (formerly Baltimore Skipjacks), but it hasn't stopped them.

Sunday, they beat Providence, 5-3, to regain the Northern Division lead by one point over Adirondack. Jeff Nelson leads the Pirates with 41 points, and Randy Pearce leads in goals with 17. Byron Dafoe is tied for the AHL lead in wins (14) and is fourth in goals-against average (3.17) and third in save percentage (.900).

Around the rinks

Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Joe Mullen is the NHL Player of the Week. Mullen led all NHL scorers in three games with five goals and two assists, including a game-winner, as the Penguins went 2-1-0. Mullen edged New York Rangers right wing Mike Gartner, who became the sixth NHL player to score 600 goals.

Isn't it nice what has happened to goalie John Vanbiesbrouck and the expansion Florida Panthers? The Panthers are earning respect around the league, and Vanbiesbrouck, dumped by the Rangers after last season, has a 12-10-4 record and has wound up second to Montreal's Stanley Cup-winning Patrick Roy in Eastern Conference All-Star voting.

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