With first place on the line, there are several story lines to anticipate heading into Canada and Russia's New Year's Eve clash. One is shaping up to be this: For quite possibly the first time in the history of the tournament, Team Canada will play in front of a hostile crowd during an IIHF U-20 world championship game.
The world juniors have been somewhat of a Canadian holiday tradition over the last 20 years, with hundreds of Canadian fans packing to European locales in the Czech Republic and Sweden or Finland to cheer their team. Even across oceans, the pockets of fans in the stands tend to be decked out in red and white, even while playing against host teams. Conversely, Russia's games this tournament have seen dedicated, loud fans pack the stands, creating an atmosphere that never existed prior to this season. International hockey has made its way back into national importance in Russia with the recent success of the men's National Team at the IIHF world championships and the junior success of the program developing NHL stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and, hopefully Nail Yakupov.
So Canada will have to face that. On TV it seems as if Canada has brought a good packet of fans to fill up one side of the ice, but they'll be shouted down by a more boisterous, less passive Russian fan base, who may even be rowdier than usual in response to a bizarre comment made by Canadian coach Steve Spott a month ago about the city of Ufa, where the tournament is taking place.
Imagine if last season, say, United States head coach Dean Blais suggested to his American team that the City of Edmonton, where USA played all their games at the 2012 tournament, was a remote northern town with 24 hours of darkness. Essentially, that's what Spott did. From the Waterloo Record via Neate:
Hockey Canada is pulling out all the stops to make sure the focus remains on the ice. Team chefs are tagging along to prepare familiar food while the outfit has even hired sleep experts and purchased special tanning lamps to help players adjust to the climate in the southern Russian city, near the Kazakhstan border.
"We're probably dealing with 24 hours of darkness," said Spott. "Our bodies are motivated by light. We have a pretty detailed plan on how we will deal with that, with some artificial light during the day." (Waterloo Record)
Those comments faced a little more scrutiny among the Russian online community than the Canadian one. Our own Russian correspondent for Buzzing the Net, Andrey Osadchenko, tweeted out the comment back on December 12. A KHL-TV correspondent in Ufa, Andrey Yurtaev, picked up on the quote and wrote about it on his personal blog:
My friends! As you all know the World Junior Championship begins in Ufa December the 26. It is also a common knowledge that Americans have some serious problems with geography and everything that is not located outside of their comfort zone. There are no real stereotypes about Canadians except for those that we get from South Park and How I Met Your Mother, but then again – these are American shows. Nevertheless, everything we were told about Canada is true!!!
For example, here’s a quote of junior Team Canada’s head-coach Steve Spott: “We're probably dealing with 24 hours of darkness. Our bodies are motivated by light. We have a pretty detailed plan on how we will deal with that, with some artificial light during the day".
That says that Canadians are sure they’re going to a town with 24 hours of darkness, so they’re bringing special lamps overseas to address this issue. More hilarious stuff about our town located on Kazakhstan border you can read here.
Anyway, there’s an idea to do a flashmob because of this. It is not my idea and, unfortunately, I won’t be able to join you for this, but I would like you to know about it. Russia plays Canada on the 31st. Come to the rink with flashlights! You know, so you could light the way to visually-impaired Canadians and they could see through Ufa’s hellish darkness!
I mean, it’s New Year’s, right? Let’s flash those lights, dance and celebrate. It’s gonna be fun!
How I Met Your Mother isn't the American show that I'd turn to looking for good Canadian stereotypes, but I'd say the portrayal of Canadians in South Park is a fairly accurate depiction.
Yurtaev popularized the idea that Russian fans ought to bring flashlights to the game, to help Steve Spott see in the 24-hour darkness of Southern Russia. Anybody watching one of the television broadcasts can see the exposition shots outside the Ufa arena. On a geographical scale, Ufa is about as far north as Edmonton, and will see 7.21 hours of daylight on December 31st, just two hours less than Spott's familiar surroundings of Kitchener. While it certainly isn't a tropical paradise, I found that nobody challenged Spott on the basic geography somewhat puzzling.
At first I thought Spott was kidding. 24 hours of darkness? Really? Where does he think Ufa is? North Pole?
However, then I learned that Team Canada hired sleep experts, chefs who would cook them meals they’re used to (Hamburgers? Coca-cola?)… And he did take halogen lamps with him to defeat the darkness, to deal with acclimatization, to increase photosynthesis in their bodies.
I mean, these are grown men we’re talking about. And yet I find the picture on the Internet a few days after where Team Canada is having a dinner at home in complete darkness, only using their lamps. They’re practicing.
I understand Spott’s last name comes from ‘Spotlight’. It runs in the family. If he was from the East, his name would have been Aladdin.
So what kind of atmosphere can the Canadians expect?
The ‘Maple Leafs’ will be shocked when they will step outside after the game against Team Russia. It’s going to be freezing, firecrackers all around, grown men wandering around with grey beards and red noses, some weird-looking women with braids and furry coats are accompanying them… There are bottles of vodka sticking out from people’s coats. Darkness, snowdrifts, alcohol, extensive yelling. Can’t deal with all of this without lamps, seriously. You need them like you need a candle to protect yourself from the Devil.
It will make it a little more fun. I can't remember a game where Canada has faced a loud opposing crowd. When games are in the United States, the majority of fans in the building travel down from North of the border to catch Canadian games versus the host Americans are decked in red and white maple leafs.
As an added bonus, here's a video with the response of a few Russian players including Nail Yakupov:
Clearly, Canada was already going to face a hostile atmosphere in Ufa. Spott's comment may have accentuated that, and his team will face an atmosphere I'm betting none of his players have ever faced in their lives, and will certainly provide an interesting contrast to the more reserved crowds that Canadian players face in their major junior games.
(s/t to Andrey for the translations.)