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TravelBlog

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
May 12, 2007

by Mike Rucki

Moscow–In addition to the wonderful U.S. Embassy folks we've been fortunate enough to meet, we encountered two other U.S. citizens who made the long trip to Moscow to watch the World Championships.

Alan Houseman is a Washington, D.C., resident and self-described loyal Caps fan. He's here in Moscow to work with the Russian Rule of Law Consortium; his trip fortunately (ore perhaps by design) coincided with the Worlds, so when we met he was happily ensconced in the lower bowl for USA versus Finland. Houseman said is looking forward to the Caps'' return to red white and blue uniforms, but on this day he and his companions breathlessly watch the red white and blue-clad Team USA in a hard-fought battle against the Finns.

Another traveling American, one whose dedication to international hockey is truly impressive, also made the trip to Moscow. Chuck, originally from Minnesota but now living in Nevada, is here for the Worlds with friends and family. He heard our English-language hockey talk and approached us late night at the hotel bar. A former college hockey player and WCHA fan, he proudly noted that Team USA has twelve current or former WCHA players, while two skate for Team Canada.

He first went overseas to watch international hockey at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer with his parents, then to Stockholm the following year for the IIHF World Championships. In 2000 he began his annual treks around the globe to watch the Worlds. "Vienna was the most beautiful," he said, "but St. Petersburg and Moscow have been the greatest adventures."

Moscow, an adventure? The four of us on this trip certainly agree.

May 8, 2007
by Mike Rucki

Moscow–An IKEA By Any Other Name–While Moscow's culture is distinctly, well, Russian, Western influence pops up now and then in its signage: identifiable logos and fonts, but completely different characters. Seeing these familiar icons are more than just reminders of home, but can also act as informal Russian language lessons.   Sean Parker and I have found these signs helpful in figuring out which Russian letters make what sounds -- for example, a "P" is an "R" sound, while a "B" is a "V" sound.   If you''d like, take this as a rudimentary lesson in pronouncing Cyrillic letters—the words sound just like the English company names. 
 alt
 Swedish Invasion
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 Thank God It's ...
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 You Deserve a Break Today
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 Still Better than Dominos
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 Life in the Citi

May 5, 2007
Sean Parker and Mike Rucki
Moscow

Spike:
Noon. No one is quite sure who called whom. I am just glad the phone rang.

“I just got up and Keeley is still out.” Mike Rucki’s gravely morning voice informed me.
   
I looked over at my roommate and let Rucki know the same was true on my end of the line. One up, one down. That is about all I remember from the conversation. I still swear Rucki called our room.

Noon, just seven hours after my head hit the pillow. Seven hours after I entered the deepest, darkest and possibly the best sleep of my life. Another  40 minutes later and I yell from the bathroom for Vogs to pick up the ringing phone. Vogs groggily answers. I hear a “Solid!” and figure something good is up. After a quick shine of the pearly whites I inquire as to the exultation. We have a ride to the arena in Mytischi. This is good news. Mytischi is just outside of Moscow, about the same distance as Columbia, Md. to DC .

By the time Vogs is out of the shower and dressed we find out the car is going to be a little crowded and two of us are going to have to hoof it out to the ’burbs on our own. Vogs and I volunteer. Mistake? Possibly. Adventure, definitely.

Mike:
Our agenda today: USA vs. Germany at 4:15, and the great Czech Republic vs. Slovakia rivalry. Both games are in Mytischi Arena, in the northeast suburbs of Moscow.

Kim from the U.S. Embassy offered us a ride, though only two could fit in her car. So John Keeley and I awaited her arrival at the hotel while Mike Vogel & Spike Parker caught the Metro to the in-town arena, where they planned to catch the press shuttle to Mytischi.

Neither plan worked out quite as we''d hoped.

The reputation of its roads as some of the most congested in the world was  sadly verified first-hand today. We left for Mytischi arena at 2:50 PM for a 4:15 start. The roughly 30-mile journey often takes about an hour, so we anticipated no problem arriving in time for the first game.

We were sadly mistaken. The traffic on this journey was stunning, even by D.C. standards. The journey took two and a half hours, much of which included the Russians’ liberal interpretation of traffic lanes—the lines in the road are mere suggestions, to be heeded when convenient. We didn't arrive at the arena until the second period was underway, our jaunt to the suburbs having swelled to Ulyssean proportions.

Spike and Mike's journey went no better.

Spike:
Sixty seconds. The time it takes to misread a sign written in Cyrillic and almost get on the blue line of the Metro instead of the green. It is also the time it takes to watch the shuttle bus to Mytischi leave from the Khodynka Arena in Moscow while waiting for the light to change. Yep, gone in sixty-seconds. The adventure begins.

We head to the press center in the arena to see if some of our Russian contacts are about and check the time for the next bus. No luck in either case. Six p.m. is the next shuttle, nearly two hours after the start of the USA-Germany match. We mull over watching the Denmark-Switzerland match or finding a way out of town. We start looking for a taxi. It is Saturday, and there are lots of police but very few cabs, official or otherwise.

I spy the accreditation building and suggest we inquire about cabs there. A short, cold walk later we enter a warm building with a slightly chilled reception. As we inquire about the possibility of a cab and extend our appreciation we are told “We don’t normally do this.” And after we mention how much we appreciate it we get, “I don’t need your appreciation.” Vogs and I give each other a quick glance and smirk. Twenty minutes later we are sitting in the back of a gypsy cab on our way to the outskirts of Moscow.

About halfway there we remind ourselves we did a very stupid thing; we never negotiated a price. By the time we get to Mytischi we fear we may have to hand over our first-born. The driver, an elder gentleman with a worn face, holds up nine thick fingers. Another glance, and I say it out loud, “Nine hundred rubles?” Vogs smiles and hands the guy a 1000-ruble note and jumps out. We both agree it was well worth it; we figured it might cost twice that much. We enter the arena and find that we’ve only missed the first period.

Mike:
Mytischi Arena becomes a discotheque during intermissions (as well as during stoppages in play). The between-period screens show game highlights, IIHF promos, and advertisements, all accompanied by a thumping club beat and strobe lights. The only on-ice entertainment is the twin Zambonis, with one notable exception I''ll share in a moment. Though watching the Zams glide across the ice is soothing, it by no means offsets the droning music and flashing lights. Epileptics would not fare well here.

The exception? Even 4,500 miles from home, we could not escape the Kiss Cam. The song was the familiar “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer, though the text on-screen was Russian (I can only assume it exhorted the participants to smooch). The jump-back reaction when someone appears on the big screen is universal as well: “Hey, we're on TV!” followed by a kiss.

Some arena concourse entertainment was familiar like table hockey; some had a different twist, such face painting by Nivea for Men—one side of the face with your team's logo, the other painted with Nivea's logo, not the most intimidating of visages; and a bizarre combination of bubbles, basketball hoops, and balloon animals. I could make little sense of the game, though the children lined up to excitedly do whatever it was they were supposed to do.

Mike Vogel wrote about the USA-Germany (U.S. domination) and Czech Republic-Slovakia (thrilling match) games, so I suggest you check out his analyses. But here we are again, the clock's hands whizzing by 5:00 A.M. as we wrap up our files. Exhausted, yes, but it's a happy exhaustion, one we're likely to welcome again tomorrow with open arms.

Back to the WashingtonCaps.com IIHF World Championship Coverage


May 4, 2007
by Mike Vogel


MOSCOW–
I just finished my 12th season of covering the Caps on a daily basis and my eighth of chronicling the team’s doings for their official Web site, washingtoncaps.com. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in that period of time, but nothing like the journey/adventure I am undertaking with my three comrades in travel at the moment.

I wouldn’t call myself a world traveler, but I am halfway around the world from where I live, here in Moscow at the IIHF World Championships with Sean Parker of washingtoncaps.com, and John Keeley and Mike Rucki of onfrozenblog.com.

This whole thing came together so fast that it’s still really hard to believe we were sitting at JFK Airport in New York getting ready to board our flight to Russia. Lots of pulling and pushing and red tape wrangling and cutting involved, and thanks are due to many, many people as a result. I’ll save that for the end of the trip, because I know the list will be even longer by then.

We hope to bring you lots of stories, color, pageantry, humor, drama, pictures, audio, video, and whatever else we can transmit back from Moscow. We arrived here at noon on Friday, and after quickly checking into our hotel, headed directly to the arena. We’ll see dozens of hockey games over a 10-day span and try to capture the essence of what we’ve seen (on and off the ice) and give a vastly underrated (in the United States, anyway) tournament its due.

Glen Hanlon taught me the Russian word for “beer.” And Alex Ovechkin has schooled me in some of the finer points of the more, shall we say, colorful parts of the language. But that’s it. I’m here with an open mind and a closed mouth. Except for when I need to eat.

A few years ago, I sat in on the Capitals’ player interviews in the days leading up to the NHL draft. As a way of getting the kids to relax, most of the players were asked to look around the room of scouts (and one interloper) and identify the one native Russian in the room. The correct answer was Gleb Chistyakov, one of Washington’s European scouts. But over the two days of interviews, not a single player guessed that Chistyakov was the man they were looking for. The votes were split between Czech native Vojtech Kucera and yours truly as the Russian.

That was the first time I was mistaken for a Russian. Last night on the flight from New York to Moscow was the second.

I was sitting in my seat next to Mike, and we were watching Angelina Jolie cavort on the screen in the in-flight movie, sans sound. Suddenly, the gentleman next to me tapped me on the shoulder. I looked over. He smiled and opened a bag to display a New York Yankees’ t-shirt. He pointed to the slogan on the front.

“Got Rings?” it read.

He began speaking in Russian and from his pointing at the shirt, I deduced that he was asking me to explain it.

That wasn’t going to happen. Talking about beer and profanity wasn’t going to help him understand. I told him I was American and didn’t speak Russian. And I had Spike pull out his dictionary so we could look up words that might help him understand, but to no avail. This dictionary wasn’t comprehensive, and it didn’t contain words like “ring,” and “champion” and “win.”

A few minutes later, a friend of his appeared. He was also Russian, but had a better grasp of English. With his help, we were able to explain. Showing them a picture of Ovechkin helped, too.

It turned out our new friends were musicians returning from a short concert tour in the States. They played three shows in five days, going from New York to Miami to Jacksonville and then back to Moscow. In between, they picked up a few shirts.

After dinner on the flight, we tried to get some much-needed shut-eye. It didn’t work out like we’d hoped. It’s tough sleeping in economy class, and the four of us had an awful time trying to get comfortable enough to doze off. We tried masks, soothing iPod music, vodka, some Tylenol PM and counting pucks. None of it worked.

Fortunately, the flight was half-empty. So sometime in the dark of night, Rucki vacated the seat next to me and went off in search of an empty two-spot. When he didn’t return after five minutes, I spread out in that two-spot and got some fitful sleep for a few hours. None of my three companions were able to report the same when the flight attendants brought breakfast around.

With the sun up and our flight nearly at an end, we couldn’t sleep if we wanted to. We looked out the window excitedly until we could finally see Russian soil below. Soon we were gathering our carry-on luggage, getting through customs and collecting our checked bags. Spike checked his e-mail, at which point we learned from USA Hockey that we would be the only media traveling from the U.S. traveling from the States to the tournament.

Ovie has always extolled the merits of the women from Moscow. When we got a look at one of the customs agents and then the woman who changed dollars into rubles at the airport, we began to believe that he might have been understating his case.

Spike and I grabbed one cab, and Rucki and Keeley another and off we went to the hotel. Spike and I did a double-take when we heard the voice of the dispatcher over the cab’s radio. It sure sounded like Ovie had taken a second job.

After we checked in and dropped our bags in our rooms, our friend Dmitry Chesnokov met us in the hotel lobby. Dmitry’s counsel and advice has been invaluable throughout the planning of our journey, and now he was here to show us around the city. He showed us how to get to and use the Metro, and we went off to get our credentials.

There was a slight snafu there, but we got it rectified and headed over to the beautiful new Khodynka Arena. Dmitry introduced us to some of his peers who could help us after he returned to the States on Sunday. We then took in a bit of the waning moments of the third period of the Canada-Belarus game. (It was really great to see the stern, glaring countenance of former Thrashers coach Curt Fraser, who is now the head coach of Team Belarus.) As much as we would have liked to stay longer, we had a date elsewhere.

Dmitry helped us flag down a “gypsy cab” and we agreed on a price for driving us to the U.S. Embassy where the U.S. Marines were hosting a Cinco de Mayo party for Team USA. Our “cabbie” dropped us at the appointed place, and we waited for our host to come to the gate and escort us inside.

While we waited, we saw that it was almost 11 a.m. in Washington. That meant our odyssey had stretched to 24 hours, but we all agreed that it felt like at least 48. Sleep was still far off in the distance, too.

We had some food and good conversation with lots of players and other folks at the soiree, and then grabbed another gypsy cab back to Khodynka for the Russia-Italy contest. This guy was something else; he took hard right turns while accelerating.

During the course of that cab ride, the conversation among the four of us from Washington was lively. We talked about how hard it would be to be an expatriate American living in Moscow. We did a very impromptu a cappella version of They Might Be Giants’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and laughed and howled on a few other topics.

During a short lull, our driver, whom we assumed was Russian, suddenly blurted, “Do you mind if I smoke?”

We were taken aback, even more so after we learned that he was an expatriate Indian living in Moscow. We thanked him in Russian, and he responded, “It was nothing.”

The four of us have already become very comfortable with each other, and our banter and conversational exchange are laced with jokes, sarcasm and cultural references both common and obscure. It’s a healthy and heady mix; we seem to fuel each other’s thoughts and supply ideas and inspiration.

Or maybe we’re all just tired as hell.

We settled into our seats just as Russia took a 1-0 second period lead over Italy. We’re surprised the game is so close, and we were also impressed by Caps prospect Ivan Nepryayev. He’s big and he moves quickly and effortlessly, and he had a key role in killing a two-man Russian disadvantage soon after we sat down.

Besides the wider international ice surface, there is no behind-the-net-trapezoid. We take notice of Italian winger Patrice Lefebvre, who is nearly 40. You might remember him from his brief cup of coffee with the Caps nearly a decade ago.

The Russians did not impress on this night. Ovechkin and Nepryayev played well, as did the line of Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Frolov with Evgeni Malkin. The Italians did a good job of neutralizing Russia’s superior speed and skill by keeping them out of the middle of the ice. Former NHL netminder Jason Muzzati was in goal for Italy, and he played a big part in keeping the game close.

Russia broke through with a pair of late goals to take a 3-0 victory. We headed downstairs to have a brief chat with the personable Lefebvre, and then looked for the bread crumbs as we tried to retrace our steps to the hotel without Dmitry.

Soon after we got back, we assembled in the lobby to generate some work for the widget. A guy in the lobby heard us talking in English and asked us where we’re from. We tell him our story and ask him where he’s from.

“Pennsylvania.”

“Oh yeah, where in Pennsylvania?”

“Hershey.”

I’m not making this up.

At this point, we were reminded that the Bears were about to drop the puck for Game 2 of the East Division final series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The only thing to do was to turn the game on. And so, as I sit here shorn of sleep typing the final words of this laborious missive at 4 a.m. Moscow time, the four of us are accompanied by the dulcet tones of John Walton as he describes the Bears’ efforts to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the second period.

It’s all hockey, all the time.

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