Canadian’s View on KHL: Small Arenas, Good Hockey, Wild Fans
1,126 views   /  10 Sep 2015
As a Canadian and avid hockey fan, the idea to go and watch a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game during my time in Moscow seemed like an obvious thing to do. The Russian-based league’s eighth season had begun the day before I arrived, and with four teams based in the Moscow area, it was easy enough to find a game during my few days in Russia. I was curious to see the differences between the KHL and the NHL, not just the way the game itself was played, but the entire experience of attending a hockey game in Russia as compared to Canada.
By Matthew Lerner
At my urging my friend from university who was back living in Russia, and I decided to go watch a match between Spartak and CSKA, a merciless derby between these two Moscow-based rivals. The choice really was easy; CSKA was the most legendary team in Russian hockey history, and the chance to watch them play in their home arena was too good to pass up.
For any fan of an NHL team, the prices for the tickets would probably be the first thing they noticed. We purchased some in a corner section not too far from the ice for 750 rubles, which was about $15 CAD. Considering the price of a beer can approach that in some NHL arenas, let alone the tickets, I was quite pleased. The very size and scope of the arena was also a bit of a shock, as it held probably no more than 5,000 spectators, a far cry from the nearly 20,000 most NHL arenas hold; indeed it looked like the type of arena a junior team would play in, with hard plastic seats and a limited concourse.
The concourse again brought unexpected surprises, as when I went with my friend to find somewhere to buy a beer, we found that they didn’t sell any in the arena, only pop and water. This was one of my biggest shocks, considering it was a staple at any Canadian hockey game to find expensive, yet poor-quality beer. I suspected that this was probably done in order to lessen the chance of a riot or any other violence to break out between the fans, as there was a whole section of Spartak fans, numbering at least a couple hundred, who were blocked off from the rest of the spectators.
Back in our seats for the start of the game, it began to look a little more familiar to what I was used to. As it was the opening game, there was a small ceremony at the start and past CSKA, and NHL, greats Sergei Fedorov (who is now the general manager of the team) and Pavel Bure spoke, though as it was in Russian I have no idea what about. The national anthem was played, with the added touch of a live military band and singer, and the game began. Taking the place of the band, which was situated on a stage overlooking the ice was a group of cheerleaders, who would spend the entire night silently dancing around in support of the home club.
As I expected the action was a lot more faced-paced than that in North America, with a lot more flow and less hitting, even with numerous North Americans on the ice. It was clear from the outset that CSKA was the superior team, and they spent most of the first period, and indeed game, on Spartak’s end of the ice. Even so, a few hundred dedicated Spartak fans, confined to one corner of the stands, made sure that they were heard; they never quieted once during the entire game, shouting curses and slurs at their opponents, with the only thing I understood being a “We love Spartak” chant in English. This too, differed from North America in every regards: from the fact that opposition supporters had their own section to the constant chanting and swearing, most of which would have had fans expelled at an NHL game in minutes.
During the intermission I set out to try and find myself a souvenir of the event, mainly a CSKA shirt, or if the price was right, a jersey of the team. As I scoured the concourse I noted that along the inner wall was a glass display showcasing the history of the CSKA club: photos and jerseys of previous great players adorned the exhibition, as well as just some of the multitude of awards collected by the club over the previous seven decades. This would have fit in well at any arena across North America, as no team is too shy to show off their prior successes and noted alumni. The only thing that stuck out in this regard was at one point the display was broken up by a 10 foot (3 metre) high photo of Vladimir Putin, with slightly smaller images of Dmitry Medvedev and some Russian military official (being the “Central Sports Club of the Army” had some logic to it) flanking him. It was a nice touch to remind me that I was indeed still in Russia.
I was surprised, and a little disappointed, to find that there was not really a proper shop within the arena to purchase what I was looking for. I did see a small stand selling shirts and scarves, and I nearly did buy one (and for the price of 700 roubles, or about US$10, quite cheap; I however did not like the style of it). However the only other shop there was barely big enough for 20 people and sold unusual items one wouldn’t expect at a hockey game: rather than being able to buy a CSKA jersey, instead one could purchase a CSKA shot-glass set, as in not a single glass but a collection of four, or a lighter with the club’s logo emblazoned on it. Seeing how arena merchandise is a key factor in drawing in revenue for teams in Canada, I found it curious that such a service did not exist in Moscow. I was also further intrigued as to where the fans walking around in CSKA jerseys had gotten theirs then, as I almost certainly would have purchased one were they for sale there.
The game ended with CSKA handily defeating Spartak by a score of 5 – 2 thus ending my first experience of Russian hockey. It was certainly a different experience than what I had ever seen in Canada, though I would not say that was a bad thing. Though I did not feel that I was watching a match in what is arguably the second strongest hockey league in the world, it had its own uniqueness to it that made the entire thing memorable, even if I was not able to find myself a proper souvenir of the night.
The views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Russian Accent.
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