Hockey fans in Canada, Russia not that different

Russia's Vyacheslav Fetisov (left) fights for the puck with Canada's Brett Hull (right) and Ken...

Russia's Vyacheslav Fetisov (left) fights for the puck with Canada's Brett Hull (right) and Ken Daneyko during their exhibition game celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 5, 2012. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:27 PM ET

MOSCOW - The desire to go to Russia has always been part of my life.

Maybe it was in my name. Sportak — which is actually Ukrainian — has often been mistaken for Spartak, one of the sporting clubs in Moscow.

Maybe it was watching all those games in the 1970s which featured Team Canada versus the Soviets or when club teams would face the NHLers.

Or maybe it was because my favourite goaltender growing up was Vladislav Tretiak. It's why I wore 20, and certainly not because I was as good as the legendary netminder who is now president of the Russian Hockey Federation.

Either way, a childhood dream came close to true this past week with the trip to what was the Soviet Union.

And it was an interesting hockey experience, watching events in three different cities, all with a difference.

The first introduction came in Moscow during a tour of the Kremlin. It could have had something to do with the fact our group consisted of players who skated in the 1972 Summit Series, but the guide had a couple of points she wanted to make.

One, was to thank us as Canadians, for inventing such a perfect game.

The second was to let us know that "People may think football is the biggest sport in Russia, but hockey is No. 1."

The next night meant attending the KHL season opening match between last year's champion Dynamo Moscow and runners-up Avangard Omsk.

It's interesting to hear the jeering fans do by whistling. They did it when the Omsk team was announced. The same sounds were directed at the officials whenever a penalty wasn't called after a perceived infraction by the opposition or when that same referee had the call to penalize the hosts.

More interesting are the chants and cheers. The Dynamo faithful dutifully had their chants at the right time, before puck drop, during lulls in the action. Any time it seemed best.

It made for a fun atmosphere, even if the crowd was only about half of the capacity of the Megasport Arena.

In St. Petersburg, the crowd at the legends game honouring the 1972 Summit Series was even more disappointing. The Ice Palace Saint Petersburg rink was closer to full compared to Dyanmo for its game against Omsk, but considering Wayne Gretzky was playing his first hockey game in Russia and brought along the likes of Mark Messier and Brett Hull, it's surprising there were empty seats in the 12,300 seat facility.

A big part of the problem could be the fact those stars from North America were a surprise, having been announced on the trip only days before the game.

Therefore, the lack of marketing time likely played a part.

However, it was in St. Petersburg where something else was noticeable. Fans were more than happy to give players, especially those from the 1972 Summit Series team, gifts, usually books or magazines.

Then, we have the Yaroslavl faithful.

It may be because of the plane crash which wiped out the 2011-12 team, but the fans there did more than just pack the 9,070-seat Arena 2000.

It seemed like every car full of fans which entered the parking lot blasted their horn. The love of their team, which obviously is a source of pride came through at every turn.

You could actually hear fans crying when those who died in the plane crash of Sept. 7, 2011, were honoured.

Out of the mourning, those fans showed they're just like fans here -- they want to have fun and they want to be entertained.

There you have it, other than a few traditions, hockey fans in Canada and Russia aren't all that different.

Oh, if only that youngster who dreamed of facing Central Red Army or Moscow Spartak could have made it a reality.

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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