LOS ANGELES - There are words for "goal" and "offside" and "gross misconduct" in Norwegian, Swedish, Slovenian and many other native languages of National Hockey League players. You just never hear them because if there is anything a hockey player can do on the fly as well as change line shifts, it is learn English.
Perhaps it is because they come from countries that teach English in schools. Maybe it is because there is no room for a translator on a hockey bench. In any case, the Stanley Cup Final rosters are packed with guys who have quickly picked up on a tough language. They know "there" from "their" and "bear" from "bare."
"Obviously, you're more comfortable now than you were in the first couple of years," said Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, from Oslo, who laughed when bilingual teammate Martin St. Louis heard the line of questioning and yelled, "He's still learning!"
"You learn from the guys on the team, you learn from watching TV," Zuccarello said. "The 'ground' English you learn in school, from when you're 6 or 7 through high school, that helps."
Carl Hagelin, from Sodertalje, Sweden, speaks as if he spent all his life in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he went to college.
"I was fortunate that my dad has got some relatives in the U.S., so we always came over every summer for a week or two to visit them. They actually lived in Ann Arbor. We traveled to Florida a couple times, too," said the left wing who scored the Rangers' second goal in Game 1 Wednesday. "But it wasn't until my second or third year of college that I maybe got a stronger American accent."
Some of that came from TV. "But most of it," he said, "was from coming to a team where there wasn't one European player. I had to adapt. They were making fun of my accent. I tried to talk as American as I could, I guess."
Benoit Pouliot, from Alfred, Ontario, who had the first Rangers goal in Game 1, said: "I grew up French until I went to high school, then my high school was English, so I learned that way. I think it's harder if you're English [speaking], trying to learn French."
He conceded that during the conference finals against the Canadiens, when he was interviewed by the Reseau des sports network, "I was trying to find my French" and betrayed an English accent.
Anze Kopitar, who is from Jesenice, Slovenia, does many interviews as a star for the Kings, often impromptu on the ice right after a game. He always handles them smoothly. In front of one of the bigger groups of reporters on media day Tuesday, he said: "I learned English in school just like every other kid in Slovenia. It's a mandatory language."
But as a teenager, he chose the deep water of leaving home and playing junior hockey in Sweden. "I didn't think the Swedish language was hard to understand, but I was having a little harder time getting the words out," he said. "At that point, I just wanted to be in the [locker] room. Even though I jumped in in English, I think the guys really appreciated that I tried to understand."
Now Swedish is one of the five languages (along with Slovenian, English, Serbian and German) in which he is fluent.
The bottom line is, it sure is helpful in hockey if you can communicate. Chris Kreider agrees. Any time the Rangers have a Russian player, he holds a conversation in the latter's tongue, thanks to two-plus years of studying the language at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He said (in English), "It's just something I like doing."