Frolov’s Korean year
by Slava Malamud|16 MAR 2019
After 17 years in professional hockey in the NHL and Russia, former Russian world champion Alexander Frolov spent the season with the Daemyung Killer Whales in the Asia League.
photo: Daemyung Killer Whales
Nobody is saying that 36 is ancient in hockey. One might call it an advanced age or, if one were to be inclined towards Russian-style literary euphemisms, an age of wisdom, but certainly playing well past one’s mid-thirties is quite normal in modern professional hockey.

Of course, if you are Alexander Frolov, and you have accumulated just a shade under 600 games in the NHL, plenty of air miles traveling between nine time zones in the KHL, a full compliment of IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medals and a bouquet of injuries, you might be inclined to say you have taken all that hockey had to offer.

In which case you wouldn’t be Alexander Frolov, because he isn’t saying any of that just yet. The venerable veteran of the Los Angeles Kings, Avangard Omsk and the Russian national team, among many others, has added quite an exotic destination to his itinerary this season by signing up with the Daemyung Killer Whales of the Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH).

The Korean squad has joined the Far East circuit with teams from Japan, Korea and the Russian island of Sakhalin only three years ago in anticipation of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Despite the novelty, the Whales, led by ex-NHL coach Kevin Constantine, have had tremendous success in 2018/19, finishing atop the regular-season standings but finishing the post-season in the semi-finals.

Frolov, who with 16 goals in 28 games was tied for third among all snipers in the league, was a big part of the success, proving his surprise decision to head for Korea wasn’t just a search for a cushy retirement gig.

Frolov’s appearance in the Asia League happened thanks to another famous Russian ex-NHLer, Alexander Mogilny, currently the president of Amur Khabarovsk, Frolov’s last KHL team. Drawing on his list of NHL connections, Mogilny contacted Bill Murray, Daemyung’s athletic trainer, and suggested he court Frolov.

“There was nothing worthy of attention coming from KHL teams,” said Frolov. “But I was skeptical [about Daemyung] first. Korea and hockey? Yet Bill and I talked for a long time and he told me about the team and the league in great detail. I got interested and decided to check it out.”

The move may have been short (it’s less than a three-hour flight between Khabaorvsk and Seoul) but it was certainly a bold step which a few men of his stature have tried before. Yet Frolov was instantly impressed with his new workplace.

“Koreans are workaholics. They work a lot, learn a lot, always push themselves to become better,” says Frolov. “This is why Starbucks in Korea have the best cappuccino and latte. It’s always brewed right and the foam is whipped perfectly. One hundred times out of one hundred! Their perfectionism shows itself.”

Frolov doesn’t consider himself too old to try new things, even though in Korea he is actually listed as 37, since Koreans traditionally count age from conception, not from birth, a factoid he doesn’t fail to mention.

“Hockey isn’t as physical here as in the NHL and KHL, and the season is much shorter, only 34 games”, he explained. “But it’s really fast and, with the arrival of a large quantity of Russian players, the level of play has grown hugely.”

The Asia League is also home to a Russian-based team, PSK Sakhalin, which won the playoffs for the first time this week, contributing to its exposure to Russian talent. In fact, the best sniper race was won by a Russian, Kirill Startsev of High1, another Korean team. Startsev’s 21 goals surpassed Frolov’s tally by five, but the 29-year-old benefited greatly from the elder statesman’s lingering health issues. Frolov’s injuries have plagued him for most of his career, including his only stint at the Olympics, in 2006, where he missed all of Russia’s playoff games.

“It’s always great to be among the top snipers”, he says. “Unfortunately, I had health problems. Old age is no fun. I only managed to solve this towards the end of the season. So, all and all, I think, the season went well.”

As for the next year, Frolov will make this decision in due time. Old age is going nowhere, to be sure, but fun still lingers.