Ice hockey and me have had something of an on and off relationship for quite some time now. It actually stretches back almost 20 years, as I’m pretty sure I attended my first Manchester Storm game at the age of six years old. Back then the sport was probably going through its most popular phase in the UK and it became something of a regular event for my family.
Since the dwindling popularity of British ice hockey in the late 1990s, I’ve tried my best to keep up to date with the sport but not really taken much of an active role as a fan. I follow the NHL – and specifically the New York Rangers – as closely as possible, and when I was at university attended a few Sheffield Steelers games but that’s really about as far as my involvement in the sport goes. All this is quite a shame really, as when I do watch hockey I absolutely love it and remember why I was such a keen fan in my childhood.
Whilst I do keep up to date with the NHL and the EIHL, my knowledge of Russia’s KHL is practically non-existent apart from the names of a few ex-NHL players. As a result, I was completely unaware that I would be visiting Russia during the KHL playoffs – the most important part of the season; a very nice coincidence indeed.
An even nicer coincidence was the fact that I only really thought to look in to this on my final day in Moscow; this just happened to be the first night of the playoffs and the local team – CSKA Moscow – were at home to Sochi that night. Lovely stuff.
With a little help from the guy on reception at my hostel I figured out that there were still tickets remaining, which was a nice surprise, so I headed on down to the arena to get myself one for the night’s match.
As I had suspected, the ticket office staff only spoke Russian so I flashed a note that the hostel receptionist had written for me in the hope that it would make things a little easier. At this point I was approached by a couple of middle-aged local ladies smoking cigarettes who, in all honesty, looked to be making nuisances of themselves. One of the ladies started talking to me in Russian and upon hearing me say my favourite phrase (ja ne govorju po-Russki; I don’t speak Russian) and reading my note, pulled out a reel of tickets from her handbag.
I was initially dubious and, to be perfectly honest, bloody confused. Why was this woman stood outside the ticket office selling tickets at face value? And why did the ticket office not seem to mind? It’s time like this I’d love to be able to hold a conversation in Russian. Anyway, seeing as the lady working behind the ticket office didn’t seem to mind, I handed over my 500 rubles to the tout and away I went.
By the time face off came around later that evening I was joined by Steven and Craig – two friends who I’d met on a walking tour of the city the previous day. As a side note, if you’re ever in Moscow then definitely check out this free walking tour as it’s an awesome introduction to the city. Steven – who was able to speak fluent Russian – tried to rearrange our tickets so that I was sat with them but we had no luck and they were to be seated in the upper tier whilst I was on my own in the lower level. After the rather shocking revelation that there was no beer on sale at the arena we took our seats and awaited the game.
The game got off to a flying start as CSKA took the lead within the first 30 seconds or so; in fact, many people were still getting to their seats and missed the goal. The first period was a really fast-paced end to end game but there were to be no more goals and the buzzer went after 20 minutes with the score at 1-0.
There was to be a bit of intense action off the ice as well as it transpired that a few people on our row – me included – were sat in the wrong seats. When a very large bearded man and his family turned up around 10 minutes in to the game and realised his seat was taken, it was like one big game of musical chairs. No points for guessing who was in the rather scary looking bearded man’s seat; my bad.
I shuffled down the row until I found my allocated seat, in turn turfing out a couple of guys who seemed oblivious to what was happening and – quite frankly – didn’t look too impressed with me. Things only got worse from here on in, as their seat had also been taken by another supporter. Their situation happened to be a little more awkward than mine however, as the offender that they needed to politely move turned out to be a deaf man who was – shall we say – of very, very slight stature indeed. No, I’m not making this up.
After quite a lot of gesturing and these fellas being made to look like the bad guys, it seemed everyone finally found their rightful place. I still couldn’t help think that I was getting some funny looks though; thank god for the interval!
As you may have expected, the action both on and off the ice didn’t quite live up to the first period for the remainder of the game. The goalless second period was a particularly frustrating watch, as both teams took a number of penalties which really interrupted the flow of the game and it never really got going. The same could have been said for the third period too, save for a couple of very late goals for the home team which meant the game finished 3-0.
The 5,000 or so fans in attendance saluted their team as they left the ice with the job done and filtered out on to the streets. As for me, this experience made me remember just how much I enjoy watching hockey and reminded me that I really should make more of an effort to catch more games – both on and off screen.