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Dan's Thought of the Day - 2/18/2014

Wednesday, 02.19.2014 / 9:00 AM
By Dan Rusanowsky - Sharks Broadcaster / Great White Bites
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Dan\'s Thought of the Day - 2\/18\/2014
A TALE OF TWO LETTERS --

I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying the hockey competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Once every four years, it’s worth it to see the best players in the world represent their countries on one of the largest stages in sports.

Both the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena have seen some great action, with inspiring play, excellent goaltending, world leaders in attendance, and some old fashioned drama. But the best is yet to come, starting with Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups between the United States and the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland, Canada and Latvia, and Sweden and Slovenia. Just about anything can happen, and if you’re not tuned in, make sure you either DVR it, record it, listen to it, or stream it on the internet when you get the opportunity.

Some observations of what’s happening so far:
  • Latvia, with 41-year-old ex-Shark Sandis Ozolinsh captaining the team and with Buffalo Sabres’ coach Ted Nolan directing the action from behind the bench, has been one of the great stories of the tournament. With their victory in the preliminary playoff round against favored Switzerland, 3-1, the Latvians advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in that nation’s history.
  • The Latvians now will face powerhouse Canada in quarterfinal action. It’s the first meeting of these nations in Olympic play in 78 years. Back in 1936, Canada beat Latvia, 11-0, but given the way that the Latvians are grinding it out, don’t expect that kind of game in the quarters.
  • Latvia has Ozolinsh (875 NHL games), Oskars Bartulis (66), Herbert Vasiljevs (51), Martins Karsums (24), Kaspars Daugavins (91), Zemgus Girgensons (51 games w/Buffalo this year) among players with NHL experience.
  • Slovenia, with only LA’s Anze Kopitar (581) and former Red Wing prospect Jan Mursak (46) on the roster, have put together a solid team effort. They qualified for the preliminary round by virtue of their victory against Slovakia, and then, with a 4-0 win against Austria, earned the chance to reach the quarterfinal round against Sweden.
  • Slovenia, which has a population of about 2 million, counts Kopitar among its biggest sports heroes. If the Slovenians are able to use their solid team game against Sweden and advance, they’ll be just as popular as current double gold medal winner Tina Maze, the Lindsey Vonn of her country.
  • Sticking with Slovenia, they have two players with the last name “Rodman” and one with the last name “Kuralt” on the roster. I wonder if they have any interest in either basketball or the evening news?
  • One more Slovenian note: did you know that former Shark Todd Elik played two seasons in Ljubuljana, the capital of the country, just before he retired at the age of 44?
  • It’s also interesting to see how some of the names have changed on the backs of the players’ jerseys in this tournament. For instance, note that Ozolinsh’s last name is spelled “OZOLINS,” without the “H.” Back in the early days, the “h” was added to ensure its pronunciation by the unknowing North American crowd, but nowadays, as in the case of pronouncing Tomas Hertl’s first name “toe-mash,” we are getting used to simply pronouncing the names in the way that the player and his family want them pronounced.
  • Of course, that isn’t ALWAYS true. For instance, the technically correct pronunciation of Teemu Selanne’s last name is like most Finnish names, with the stress on the first syllable. That would be “SELL-uh-nay,” which differs from the North Americanized “suh-LAHN-ee.” It simply became “suh-LAHN-ee,” and so it remains, an uncontrollable force of nature in the hockey pronunciation world.
That little note of pronunciation oddities in the hockey world brings us to the title of today’s missive, namely, the Tale of Two Letters:

When you watch the Russia-Finland quarterfinal on Wednesday, you may notice a few players on the Russian team that you recognize, but who possess strange name spellings when you consult the backs of their respective jerseys. Here are the ones that you should check out:

No.
Pos.
As NHL Spells It
As NHL Says It
As IOC Spells It
As IOC Says It
72
G
Sergei BOBROVSKY
Bob-ROV-skee
BOBROVSKI
Bob-ROV-skee
51
D
FEDOR Tyutin
FEHD-uhr
FYODOR
FYO-duhr
28
F
Alexander SEMIN
SYEH-min or SEH-min
SYOMIN
SYO-min
41
F
Nikolai KULEMIN
KOOL-uh-min
KULYOMIN
kool-YOH-min


What in the knick-knack-paddywhack-give-a-dog-a-bone is going on here?

Well, first things first: yes, these are the same players, but the reason why these players have different spellings to their last names, with different pronunciations, is due to several factors:
  1. The fact that the Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet while English uses the Roman alphabet, and one must be transliterated to the other.
  2. The fact that Russian publications confuse everyone when they identify two separate letters of their alphabet in one way instead of two.
  3. The fact that the hockey world has relied more on the publications and not the official rules of transliterating the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet. But like the U.S. State Department, the International Olympic Committee relies on the official rules of transliteration.
  4. The fact that, unlike Tomas Hertl this year, many players don’t care how you pronounce their name, as long as they’re on the team and in the NHL.
So, nobody asked me, but: here is the “Tale of Two Letters,” which turns the pronunciation of Russian players’ names into a situation that is the best of times, and the worst of times, to all on the North American side of things:

In the Russian language, the two letters are written and pronounced as follows:

E, e -- “Ye,” soft e pronunciation is used, as in, “Yeh.”
Ё, ё -- “Yo,” stress is always on this letter

To borrow from my German friends, there is an umlaut over the second letter that indicates its difference from the first letter. So, that’s why when these letters are translated into English, the first one is written as “ye,” and the second is written as “yo.”

Here is where the problems start. For reasons known to only those who wish to save typeface and ink, Russians virtually never write or print the umlaut, thereby confusing the situation entirely! You’re simply supposed to know the difference, usually by osmosis, and similar to some of our crazy rules in English.

All of this, of course, causes many mispronunciations that live on in hockey. Some of these names can be saved , but some simply fall victim to the masses, similar to the Brett Hull-toe-in-crease-moment-that-was-illegal-all-season-turning –into-a-Cup-winning-goal-that-could-not-be-called-back-when-all-of-the-media-and-families-were-streaming-onto-the ice, and the Selanne example already cited.

If you’re a Dallas Stars fan, relax. Your team would have won the Cup anyway had the goal been called back. Sorry, Buffalo. But I digress.

So, yes, Alexander Semin, Nikolai Kulemin, and Fedor Tyutin technically should have the names in question pronounced as “SYO-min,” “kool-YO-min,” and “FYO-duhr.” Don’t forget to roll your r’s.

It’s also why the Sharks’ 219th overall selection in the 1994 Entry Draft had his name spelled “YEVGENY Nabokov” (or YEVGENI, in some cases) instead of the “EVGENI” that we see today.

It’s also why you saw the State Department refer to Russian economist and diplomat as “Boris FYODOROV” in the mid-1990’s, and why the NHL referred to one of their top stars as “Sergei FEDOROV,” with different pronunciations, even though they had the same last name. Just check their Wikipedia pages and you’ll see that the umlaut is printed in each of their Cyrillic last names.

Of course, when I met Sergei Fedorov and introduced myself, he said, “Hi, I’m Sergei Fedorov (FEHD-uh-roff),” thereby indicating that he was fine with the pronunciation change. So, it has stood the test of time.

Well, that’s the Tale of Two Letters. It’s the biggest conundrum in the broadcasting world since brothers Tomas and Frantisek Kaberle told their respective teams that they wanted to pronounce their last names differently (KAB-uhr-lay and KAB-uhr-luh). Or perhaps, since some broadcasters said “MAK-uh-rov” and others said “muh-KAR-ov” for former Shark Sergei Makarov. Or, perhaps, since some called Islanders goaltender Roland Melanson as “MELON-suhn,” while most others called him “mel-ON-suhn.”

George and Ira Gershwin wrote a song about it in 1937: “Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off.”

Enjoy the rest of the great Olympic hockey tournament, and let’s get everyone back healthy and raring to go for what will surely be a great run to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.

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