August 10, 2009
Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. It will run every weekday through August. Enjoy.
Dmitry Chesnokov is a Puck Daddy contributor who you might remember passed along the Alexander Semin(notes) interview from last season. He's a writer for Sovietsky Sport and brings us interviews all-season long with top Russian NHL players and even Don Cherry!
Here are 5 Reasons Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy Loves Hockey:
CHESNOKOV: It was a cold December morning in 1985. Looking out of the window I saw it was snowing. I asked my dad if we could go cross country skiing later that day. But my dad said, "How about if I take you to a hockey game?" A hockey game? I knew that my friends spent most of their time playing hockey at a local pond, but I never really showed any interest because I couldn't understand how they could skate and hold balance on these thin blades. But of course I readily agreed to go.
Later that day we hopped on a bus and took the metro to Luzhniki. Boy, there were a lot of people walking towards the arena. Posters splattered along the way read ‘CCCP-Canada. Izvestiya Cup hockey tournament." CCCP against Canada? If you want to start watching hockey, this was the way!
I was so anxious that I jumped up and down in my seat every time the Soviets had the puck. Here comes a shot on goal. I jump up and scream ‘Gooooaaaal!' It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my entire life. There was no goal. And everyone looked at me with a smile. I sat down and tried not to show emotions anymore. Bit literally a minute later the entire arena roared. I was the only one still in my seat because I couldn't believe that CCCP just went ahead by a goal. I didn't miss any of the seven scored by the Soviets that followed. The elation of beating the Canadians 8-2 that day is still in my memory. There has probably not been a moment in my life that can compare to the feelings I felt that December evening almost 25 years ago. And the song, which was playing after the win is still ringing in my head (the song is known to every Russian fan): "Real men play hockey. A coward does not!" I fell in love with the game, the emotions it brings.
I was glad that I could sort of return the favor. I took my dad (and my mom) to his first NHL game last year when the Capitals played the Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was the first time in many years when I saw my dad and mom just let go, wave the towel, clap and chant.
2. Dynamo Moscow
CHESNOKOV: After the CCCP-Canada game I asked my dad if he could take me to more games. That's how my love affair with the game really started. A few weeks later we once again made the trip to Luzhniki. But it was not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. When we got to the arena I asked my dad which team we were supporting. He told me ‘The guys in blue and white.' The guys in blue and white were Dynamo Moscow. They were playing the Red Army team, their bitter rival. Little did I know at the time, but CSKA was the base for the national team and virtually all the best players played there. Dynamo Moscow was virtually always the second best. That day Dynamo was beat 6-2. I left the game in tears and for the next four years the pain of not winning a championship was unbearable. But it was my team. It was my dad's team. I had to support them no matter what.
Three years after that "memorable" loss (and still without a championship but a bunch of "silver medals") I was at school writing an essay on ‘Who I want to become when I grow up.' Most of my classmates wrote how they wanted to become doctors, teachers, cosmonauts and even farmers. I wrote: "I want to become a professional hockey player, play for Dynamo Moscow and the national team." Little did I know, our third grade teacher held on to our essays and presented them to us 7 years later at the high school graduation ceremony. Most, if not all, of my classmates laughed really hard about choices they wanted to make when they were young. I was the only one who almost shed a tear for the dream that would never come true for me. Maybe for my child?
One year after writing that essay (and after a mass exodus of the best players from CSKA to the NHL), Dynamo Moscow did what they couldn't do for 36 years. They won the Soviet championship! It was a historic one, because it was the last Soviet championship ever won by any club. The Soviet Union broke up a year later. But Dynamo did not. And they became the first club to win the Russian championship. There were also games against NHL clubs that visited the Soviet Union and Russia in the late 80s-early 90s. Funny how during the cold war we were still wise not to allow politics get in the way of sports (most of the time). The NHL now is a different place with the commissioner too proud to even sit down and talk with the "adversary" for the good of the game.
In the later years I had a privilege to see a lot of future NHL stars develop in the Dynamo system and play for the first team like Alexei Kovalev, Alexei Yashin(notes), Maxim Afinogenov(notes), Andrei Markov(notes), Evgeni Nabokov(notes), and the most recent export, the best hockey in the world Alex Ovechkin.
Regardless of where I live or where my life is taking me, I always follow my beloved Dynamo Moscow.
3. Frozen ponds
CHESNOKOV: It is just so easy to love hockey when you can actually play the game and get to experience it. After that memorable Izvestiya Cup game I decided to try it myself. My parents bought me a stick, some pucks and a helmet (it was red with CCCP written on it). The rest of the gear? I had my grandfather's skates from before World War II probably, heavy duty Siberian style warm thick gloves, army style sheepskin coat, and half a dozen sweatpants to protect from the puck. But who cares? I learned to skate and was spending so much time out on the pond with my friends playing hockey that one day I didn't even realize that I had a sore on my foot because my skates were too small. But what a feeling you get when you get to the pond with your friends, take a shovel and clear enough ice to play the game. It is just difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it. I love frozen ponds.
4. Fans and players
CHESNOKOV: Just like that commercial: ‘Hockey fans aren't like other fans.' Growing up after the break up of the Soviet Union, I witnessed a lot of changes in the society, which I don't wish anyone to witness. Some scary times. The rise of violence and intolerance was most notable at football (soccer) games. But I always felt safe when I was with my hockey buddies. I did not see the spirit of unity and love of the game in fans of other sports. It is still the same. Hockey fans are crazy about the game, which always makes me feel at ease when I am in such company, where I can be myself and feel the passion for the sport we all love.
A hockey game is like a cartoon: everything is so dynamic and changes really fast. It doesn't let anyone take a breather (apart from the kiss cam and a gazillion TV commercials). That's why fans are always passionate, always on the edge.
And hockey players are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They are (mostly) not spoiled little brats. Guys like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Jagr, Litstrom, Malkin, Kovalev... I can go on forever. Because they are nice people, you just cannot help but love what they do - play hockey.
5. The Summit Series
CHESNOKOV: I was not even born when the Series took place. But the legend of it will live on forever. Two of the greatest hockey powers ever (EVER!) met on the ice in a battle. I envy those who got to witness the games first hand. I wish I was there. Speaking from the Russian perspective, the myth of "invincibility" of Canadian professionals was gone. The Series gave so many young boys a dream.
I am sad that I never got to see Valeri Kharlamov play. He is probably the greatest player ever to lace them up. And one moment that stands up from the Series is the cowardly deliberate slash against Kharlamov by Bobby Clarke in the second period of Game 6. Clarke broke Kharlamov's ankle taking him out of the game.