About four years ago, Kevin Dallman, a Niagara Falls, Ont., native and former junior hockey star, looked set for the kind of journeyman career common to players not quite good enough to be permanent pros.
Dallman, who once scored 86 points in a single Ontario Hockey League season, had spent six years bouncing between the NHL and hockey’s minor leagues. By 2008, he seemed destined for another six of the same. But rather than settle, Dallman took a risk. Instead of signing another two-way contract with an NHL team that would have allowed management to send him back to the minors, he moved to Kazakhstan, where he has since become the unlikely face of professional hockey in Astana, the capital.
But now the honeymoon between Dallman and the Kazakhs looks like it’s over. After four years as captain of the country’s best professional team—Barys Astana of the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)—Dallman is back in Canada now, waiting for his agent to find him a new deal.
The story of Dallman’s fall—which may or may not involve his wife’s blog and accusations of corruption—is almost as unlikely as that of his rise. His original plan was to go to Astana for a year, excel there and impress the scouts back home. It didn’t work out that way. In his first season in the KHL, he broke the old Soviet record for scoring by a defenceman and earned the league’s prize for best blueliner. He was such a hit, and so fast, that the team made him captain barely 15 games into his first season. (Although the way that honour was bestowed was a little unconventional. “One day I came in for a game and I had a ‘K’ on my jersey,” he told Yahoo! Sports in 2009. “The coach came over to me and said ‘cap-tain’ and everyone started clapping. And that was it.”)
So rather than go back to North America, Dallman signed a new deal and brought his family over from Canada. In the years since, he’s been nothing but positive about his adopted home. He has also continued to dominate on the ice. He earned four consecutive all-star spots and has been so good the Kazahks once asked him to join their national team. Earlier this year, he signed a new deal with Barys that would have taken him through the 2014-2015 season.
At some point, however, things soured. Last month, the local press began reporting that Dallman would not return next season, says Dmitry Chesnokov, a Russian hockey reporter in Washington. Then, on April 8, Dallman’s wife, Stacy, wrote on her blog, “Adventures in Kaziland,” that she’d been tossed from Astana. “I’m done,” she wrote. “No more blogs about Kazakhstan. My expulsion from the country only verifies each and every point that I have witnessed over the past four years.” Local fans reacted with horror. “You are with Captain leave us? This is the end?” one wrote on Stacy’s blog. “Kevin don’t leave,” another added. “You are the best captain. All my friends shocked. The son cried all evening.”
Many felt Stacy Dallman had been expelled, and her husband’s contract cancelled, because of her blog. Though mostly full of typical expat-in-a-strange-land stories, Stacy’s site has been occasionally political, something the local press has repeatedly picked up on. In one March post, she railed against local corruption. In others she has complained about traffic police looking for bribes.
Whether she was actually banned from the country, however, isn’t entirely clear. Kevin Dallman’s agent, Scott Norton, says she wasn’t. And this week she updated her blog to say her expulsion was “unofficial, yet obvious.” In an email to Maclean’s, Stacy Dallman said she couldn’t talk about what happened until her husband finds a new contract.
As for the old contract, Norton says there was a three-year deal in place. But when asked if it was still valid, he would only say: “That’s a grey-area question.” In any case, Chesnokov, for one, doesn’t think this is the end for Dallman. “Obviously he won’t be without a job, but it won’t be in Kazakhstan,” he says. “It’s just an unfortunate thing that happened, it’s so political.”