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Vincent Riendeau
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Vincent Riendeau
in Russia

Goalie Vincent Riendeau played 8 years in the NHL before moving on to Manitoba for a season in the IHL and then leaving to play in Europe. He now plays in Russia, where he became the first Canadian to join a Russian team. In mid-November 1999, he was interviewed by François Coulombe of HockeyZonePlus on his experience in Russia.

HockeyZonePlusHow long have you been playing in Russia?
Vincent Riendeau - I started playing in Russia in mid-January 1999.

HockeyZonePlusWhat league is the team in and where is the team based?
Vincent Riendeau - I play for a team called HC Lada (the owner of the team is the Lada car company) in a city called Togliatti which is 1,000 km east of Moscow. We play in Russia’s 1st league.

Togliatti Lada

Vincent Riendeau
Vincent Riendeau in Russia.

 

STATS
Season  Team         League   GP   GAA
1986-87 Sherbrooke  AHL      41  2,89
1987-88 Sherbrooke  AHL      44  2,67
1987-88 Montréal    NHL       1   na
1988-89 St.Louis    NHL      32  3,52

1989-90 St.Louis    NHL      43  3,50
1990-91 St.Louis    NHL      44  3,01
1991-92 STL/Detroit NHL       5  3,20
1991-92 Adirondack  AHL       3  2,68
1992-93 Detroit     NHL      22  3,22

1993-94 Adirondack  AHL      10  3,09
1993-94 Det./Boston NHL      26  3,31
1994-95 Boston      NHL      11  2,87
1996-97 Manitoba    IHL      41  3,49

1997-98 Revier      Germany  14   na
1997-98 Lugano      Switz.    1   na

1998-99 Ayr         England  18  3,11
1998-99 Togliatti   Russia   na   na
1999-00 Togliatti   Russia        
Birthdate: April 20, 1966
Birthplace: St.Hyacinthe, Québec  

HockeyZonePlusCan you give us an overview of the league and how it operates?
Vincent Riendeau -
There are 20 teams in the league and we play twice against each one for a season of 38 games. 16 teams participate in the playoffs, with 3 best-of-5 series and a best-of-7 final.

HockeyZonePlusCan you tell us a little bit about Togliatti?
Vincent Riendeau - The city of Togliatti is split into two parts : the old city and new city, separated by about 20 km. My hotel is in the newest part of the city where the arena is (an arena with 4,000 seats). The downtown of the old city is quite nice but we rarely go there. There’s not much to see in the newest part – it’s mostly lots of apartments. The old town was built along the Volga River. We are at the same parallel as Sept-Iles, Québec, which gives you an idea of the climate. Most people here work directly or indirectly for Lada. Togliatti also has a soccer team in the second league.

Map of Russia - Togliatti
Yellow star = Togliatti
Mapquest

HockeyZonePlusTell us about your hockey career after you left the NHL?
Vincent Riendeau - I played in Manitoba, in the IHL, for one season which was very difficult. I lost all confidence in my abilities and thought that my career was over. My father started his fight against cancer that year (a fight which he lost in September 1997) so that was a terrible year in every possible way. During the summer of 1997, I got an offer to return to Germany (Rivier Lowen) and returning to Europe was an idea I liked. I was doing very well when the team started to have financial problems which caused my departure for Lugano in Switzerland in the middle of the season. In 1998-99, I ended up in a league in England until my departure for Russia in January 1999.

HockeyZonePlusHow did you end up in Russia?
Vincent Riendeau - My team in the England league (Ayr Scottish Eagles) was participating in the EuroCup tournament (tournament in which the champion of each European country competes against each other) and we were in the same group as a Russian team (AK Bars Kazan). We played two games against them and, to the surprise of all hockey experts in Europe, we won them both (4-2, 3-1). During the tournament, I was impressed with the way they played and practiced. I had a clause in my contract saying that in January 1999, it was time to negociate a new contract. The team wasn’t ready to commit and since I knew, through my agent, that a Russian team was looking for a goalie, we asked the general manager if we could terminate my contract to allow me to go play in Russia. I felt that their caliber of play would be a great challenge for me. The GM told us that if I wanted to go, I could (later, he changed his mind and requested compensation, otherwise he would suspend me for the remainder of the season). We finally came to an agreement and I moved to Russia.

HockeyZonePlusWhy did you want to play in Russia?
Vincent Riendeau - Many factors made me decide to go play in Russia.

The most important factor was the caliber of play and the challenge it represented for me. When I arrived in Russia at age 32, I decided to change my position to a butterfly style, which I thought would improve my performance. When I moved to Russia, I decided that until the end of my hockey career (no matter how many years I had left), I would try to get better than I had ever been before. Up until now, after 4 months of competition in Russia, I sincerely believe that I am better than in my NHL days. One of the reasons is that Russians practice as if it was an actual game. So, I can test my new style every day, even twice a day.

Another factor that made me want to play here is the 1972 Canada-Russia Series. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important sports event ever organized. I met people, here who played in that series, and hockey-wise there’s a big mutual respect between Russia and Canada. I was the first Canadian (and first former NHLer) to come to play in Russia, and Russians are very proud of my presence.

Obviously, there was also a financial aspect that convinced me to come here because to leave one’s family, and to be alone in Russia for the season there has to be some incentive.

HockeyZonePlusHow long do you think you’ll stay in Russia?
Vincent Riendeau - I don’t know how long I want to keep playing hockey. It’s very difficult to be so far from my family (I have 3 kids, including 2 going to school). I would like to have them with me here but that would be too difficult for them. We practice twice a day so I wouldn’t see them much anyway. There’s also the school issue. My oldest girl is 11 and she has already changed schools 10 times in her life. It has to stop, so for this year we decided that my family would stay back home in Québec. My wife and I will re-evaluate our plans after the season.

HockeyZonePlusWhat has your relationship with your teammates been like?
Vincent Riendeau - As I said, I am the first Canadian to come here. At first, the players were skeptical, but when they realized that I was here to perform they quickly accepted me as a part of the group. Five or six players speak English. The coaches speak Russian and the goalie coach speaks a little bit of German (like me). To give me the practice schedule, the goalie coach speaks German to me. If they have to tell me or ask me something specific, they do so through one of the players who speaks English or through the team secretary who speaks English well.

Togliatti Lada - Team Picture
Togliatti Lada
Vincent Riendeau - Second goalie from the left

HockeyZonePlus –  How do you deal with the language barrier?
Vincent Riendeau - Hockey-wise, it’s not so bad. The fact that I am a goalie makes things easier since strategy isn’t so important (as long as I stop pucks, they are happy). For every day life, again, it isn’t so bad. We are 5 players living at the hotel and 2 of them speak English well. We eat at the arena’s cafeteria and when we decide to go to restaurants, the players help me. I understand enough basic Russians to deal with basic day-to-day stuff. I often hitchhike to get to the arena and I can tell people where I want to go. My wife is sending me a CD to help me learn Russian, but I know that I won’t have time to master the language. I find the language to be rather difficult because the words have no similarities with any language I know. Also, their alphabet is different so it takes a while to master the different characters.

HockeyZonePlusHow would you compare the caliber of play between your current league and other leagues where you previously played?
Vincent Riendeau - I can’t compare because it’s too different. All I know is that every year, there’s the EuroCup tournament where the champs of different countries compete, and last year two Russian teams (Moscow Dynamo and Magnitagorsk) ended up in the final. I like the way they handle the puck as opposed to our famous « dump-in ». The rinks are bigger here and the « dump-in » is a strategy that pretty much doesn’t exist in Russian hockey.

HockeyZonePlusWhat kind of compensation do you get from the team?
Vincent Riendeau - In Russia, there’s a clause in contracts that prohibits players from divulging salaries, and I don’t have any intention to be the first to break that rule. I live in a hotel provided by the team. They also provide a car, but I decided to refuse it. I find that Russians don’t have much respect for the laws of the road so I prefer to either walk or hitchhike when the weather isn’t too good. Hitchhiking is a common mode of transportation in Russia (rarely more than 5 minutes wait). For 15 roubles (CAN$ 1), you can go anywhere you want. The team also lets me use their computer and Internet connection at the arena. However, this year, I managed to get the Internet in my hotel room. We also get 3 meals a day at the arena.

HockeyZonePlusCan you tell us any anecdotes about your time in Russia?
Vincent Riendeau - Last year during the playoffs we played against the Moscow Dynamo. The first two games were in Moscow (same arena where the 1972 Super Series took place), the first one was Saturday at 1pm and the second was Sunday at the same time. After the first game, at about 4pm, I decided to go visit the Kremlin and Red Square. After asking all my teammates if they wanted to come with me, I realized that if I wanted to visit this place, I’d have to do it by myself (which, for me, is not a problem). As crazy as I am, instead of taking a taxi as most people who don’t understand Russian would have done, I decided to give myself a bit more trouble by taking the subway, a mean of transportation that I like.

Our hotel was right next to a subway station. After figuring out at which station the Kremlin was, I was ready to go for my little adventure.

Once in the subway, I had no problem finding where to go even if everything was in Russian. The subway map is quite simple and I was on a line leading directly to the Kremlin with 8 or 9 stops in between. My problems started when I arrived at the Kremlin subway station and I realize that I didn’t know the words to find the exits (exits, street, boulevard, etc). After a quick brainstorm, I found a solution that seemed logical: I just have to follow the majority of people – they eventually have to get out of the station. So, I started following a group of people and ended up at the same place I previously was (or so I thought). I then followed another group and got the same result. After looking at the subway map, I realized that I was at the central subway station where 5 different lines meet. Every time I followed a group, they would be going to another line! I followed people like that for about an hour before finally following someone who was getting out of the station!

After all that, I went to Red Square but it was now closed. Without all this waste of time, I would have been able to catch the last tour. It still was a good day and I decided to take a cab to get back to the hotel.

Vincent in Moscow
Vincent in Moscow
Vincent in Moscow.
Riendeau

HockeyZonePlusDo you have time to learn some Russian?
Vincent Riendeau - I learn Russian via the players in the lockerroom. I wanted to take a class but our schedule makes it pretty much impossible. Our schedule changes from day to day and it is given to us only one day in advance. I know enough of the language to hitchhike and to know when I have to be at the arena. For everything else (pre-game meetings, for example), I don’t understand much. It becomes difficult when I am tired and am supposed to pay attention but I have enough experience to know when I have to pretend to be listening...

By the way, I just went through a pretty amazing experience. After a knee injury, I had to spend 3 days in the hospital for an operation and nobody could speak English or French. Everything went fine but if the same thing would have happened last year, it would have been enough for me to pack my things and come back home. Imagine what it’s like to spend 3 days alone in a Russian hospital...

HockeyZonePlusAre you being treated differently because you are a foreigner?
Vincent Riendeau - I probably don’t look like a Russian because I feel a lot of people are looking at me. While at home in Togliatti many people recognize me, but when we’re on the road, where nobody knows me, I draw lots of looks. Never in a negative way, though. People are really nice to me and Russians are generally very cordial and helpful (Never waiting more than 3-4 minutes when I hitchhike, for example). Obviously, at first, the players were a bit skeptical about me but they accepted me quickly. The day of my knee operation, my team was playing an exhibition game against Team Canada and when I was back the next day to watch the practice at the arena, they played the Canadian national anthem for me. I really appreciated the thought...

Vincent + Teammates
Vincent with some of his teammates..
Vincent in Russian Magazine
Picture of Vincent in a Russian magazine.

HockeyZonePlusDo some players in your league have hope to play in North America someday?
Vincent Riendeau - In our league, there’s a rule forcing each team to have 2 juniors in uniform. Some play and some don’t. There’s a lot of scouts following our league, and it makes things interesting because the young guys always give their best. As for the older guys, their life is here with their family, so for most of them I don’t think that they want to leave. Some would like to play elsewhere in Europe, but the life of minor leagues in North America doesn’t really interest them.

 

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