Football fanatics weep when a beloved player leaves or retires. I am a hockey fanatic, and I am weeping because free agent Sergei Zubov has signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL league in his native Russia. He was signed as a defenseman for the Dallas Stars for 12 seasons. Prior to that, he was a member of the New York Rangers and had a brief stint as a Pittsburgh Penguin. He helped both teams to win two Stanley Cups in 1994 and 1999. He also took home a gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics playing for the Commonwealth of Independent States (after the U.S.S.R. was dissolved).
The thing about Zubie is that he has always been underrated. Most of the time, you didn’t know he was around until he zinged the puck away and/or into the net. He was not afraid to get physical, either, although he preferred to play well by positioning himself to get pucks out of tight spots (like in the corners). By all acoounts, he was fairly quiet in dressing room. Unfortunately, in his last season with the Dallas Stars, he played only 10 games and recorded 4 assists. He had a hip which required surgery and a lengthy recuperation.
He was what some called the ‘stereotypical Russian’ because he did not draw attention to himself and he was a collective team player, rather than an individual. He very seldom made mention of wants or desires. Zubie was a mainstay on the penalty-killing unit, and had several high-scoring seasons. He earned three trips to the NHL All-Star game while he was a Dallas Star. Unfortunately, he flew under the radar enough that he was only nominated for an NHL award – the Norris Trophy, awarded to the top defensive player demonstating the greatest all-around ability – only once; he did not win that award.
Besides his stealth on the ice, the thing I will always remember about Zubie came from an article in our local newspaper. The reporter talked about the music the guys liked to hear in the ‘room’ while preparing for game. The responses were the typical mix of metal, hard rock, etc., except for one player who loved Toby Keith. The reporter also mentioned that when this song (I think it was Beer for My Horses) was played, everyone sang along with it, including Zubie. The mental picture of this quiet, reserved Russian singing along to a country song is funny. I would have paid good money to see that.
So, Zubov, his wife and two kids are headed back to their native Russia. I wish them the best; I am certain they will be glad to be back. On a personal level, I will miss seeing him on the ice digging out pucks from the corners. I am certain that the rest of Dallas will miss him, too. Nostrovia, Zubie!