Where are they now: Brent Sopel
What's life in Siberia when his family is at home, a whole ocean away.
"I'm off to Siberia”
…is what the voice on the other end of the telephone said to Kelly Sopel back in mid-July.
The voice at the other belonged to Kelly’s husband, former Canuck defenseman Brent Sopel who had just accepted a 2 year deal to play for the Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
“It was unexpected. I knew he was looking at it but I didn’t really think it would come to fruition,” says Mrs. Sopel from her home in Chicago.
“With Brent’s age he was getting nervous that there wouldn’t be any takers [in the NHL]. He had multiple offers in the KHL and took this one”
Sopel, 34, was drafted by the Canucks in the 1995 entry draft and played more than 300 games for the NHL club before being dealt to the Islanders in 2005. The hard-nosed defenseman, affectionately known as ‘Sopes’, also played for the Thrashers and Canadiens, and won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
Since joining the Metallurg Novokuznetsk in August, Sopel has had two contract offers to come back to the NHL, but he’s chosen to stay put.
“He’s very happy in the KHL. I don’t anticipate a return,” says Mrs. Sopel.
“He likes that he can be a leader on the team and play a bigger role. I think that’s what he was looking for and he’s really enjoying that.
As one might expect, however, life in Siberia hasn’t been without its challenges.
Learning the language and culture have been the most difficult for him, says Mrs. Sopel who speaks with her husband, via Skype, at least twice a day.
Remarkably, despite the September 7 Russian airline crash that killed most of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yarolsav1 team, the Sopels’ don’t seem too concerned about air travel in Russia.
“When [the crash] happened, flying was a fear of both of ours. Now it’s not. They made changes right away,” she says.
“The league is booking the planes instead of the teams and things like that so we feel very confident that they’ll all be okay.”
So, for the time being, with her husband in Russia, Mrs. Sopel will hold down the fort, and continue life as single mom to their four kids.
“To be honest, I’m used it. It’s been like this his whole career and I just get into my routine and we just all chug along,” she chuckles.
“I have the better end of this deal though. I get to see the kids everyday.”
Even if having her husband in Siberia wasn’t what Kelly Sopel had signed up for, she understands it comes with the territory when you’re a ‘hockey wife’.