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Faraway, So Close

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
MOSCOW–Some reflections on the Russian hockey arena experience at the Worlds:

Let The Music Do The Talking
As expected, Stompin Tom Connor's “The Hockey Song” is not on the standard Russian hockey arena playlist. The song did, however, make a brief appearance during Team Canada games as a play-stoppage snippet.

An extended dance mix of the "Olé, olé olé olé" chant was prominently featured during intermissions. Its accompanying video is an odd combination of old hockey footage from the previous four times Moscow has hosted the Worlds; a voluptuous lead singer wearing strategically-placed pieces of black string; and a rapper in goalie equipment. It's a bizarre collision of disparate images that left this viewer's head spinning. It also firmly lodged the the "Olé" chant in my head for hours, much to my chagrin. Then again it was no worse than the disco remix of Dire Strait's “Money for Nothing” which was, to say the least, unpleasant. A frequently-played bossa nova-ish version of "Smoke On The Water" was just bizarre.

Lest one think that Russian hockey arenas completely eschew the classics, our ears occasionally caught a break with traditional fare like Queen's “We Will Rock You” and several flavors of AC/DC. Bon Jovi rocked the arena a few times, and we caught the dulcet strains of 80s tracks like Survivor's “Eye of the Tiger” and even Opus's "Life Is Life" at one point. For some reason none of us could suss out, the irritating Aerosmith tune "Shut Up And Dance" was played every ten minutes or so; why that lame song was chosen from the band's extensive catalog, we'll never know.

Back in Arena Mytischi, one of my fellow travelers mentioned that some songs sounded like Russian cover tunes, perhaps to avoid copyright issues. But a little research revealed that Mytischi boasts a "house band;" many of the PA songs are performed by a local rock band performing in the bowels of the arena. Apparently they prefer anonymity, however, because no one seemed to know the band's name.

I Wanna Be Sedated
The fan feel at the games was very soccer-like: fans waving large flags; impromptu crowd chants not prompted by the PA system; and team scarves galore. Even The Wave is alive and well in Russia. The Czech and Slovakian fans each had Barra Brava-esque sections, constantly chanting, tooting horns and banging bass drums. Their enthusiasm was undimmed throughout the match, and their energy and enlivened the arena atmosphere... though I honestly could have done without the grating honks of their kazoos.

Most distinctly non-American (again soccer-like) was the derisive whistling fans direct toward referees for bad calls, or toward opposing-team players for… well, for being on the wrong team. Many teams' fans used this heckling tactic, but unsurprisingly the Russian fans' whistles were the loudest, at times almost deafening.

As for sponsors, their ads covered every available surfact. Skoda is omnipresent; the Czech automobile company is a major sponsor, and Skoda tchotchkies abound – little Skoda Fabia die-cast models, paper jerseys, and flags for each team with the nation's flag on one side and the Skoda logo on the other. New orange Skoda Fabia automobiles were displayed on a platform just behind the glass at two corners of each rink, occupying prime real estate that in U.S. arenas would certainly be used for expensive seats instead.

English Beat
English is the common-ground language at the arenas and among those working the games. Obviously Russian is the primary language, but English is a close second. When you see Russian and Swedish reporters speaking, for instance, it's almost invariably in English. Even the game notes and official stats are in English and Russia no matter who's playing.

Most of the arena staff did not speak English beyond a few simple words–the same 10-ish word vocabulary I've developed in Russian (please, thank you, excuse me, etc.). But they were clearly better able to communicate in English than in, say, German. And a few staffers were nearly fluent in English, able to step in when the parties' vocabulary overlap was not enough.

Moscow itself, beyond the confines of the arenas, is much more difficult to handle without basic Russian. But in the arenas, with enough patience – and persistence – the Russian arenas for this event were fairly welcoming to us English-speaking travelers.

Now if only the music selections were as accommodating…
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