The Russia Chronicles, Day 7
August 23, 2019
North American Hockey League Director of Communications, Marketing, and Sales, Alex Kyrias, will be chronicling every day of Team NAHL’s trip to Russia, including stops in Moscow and Sochi for the 2019 Sirius Junior Club World Cup.
The Russia Chronicles, Day 7: Opening Ceremony and final preparations
Friday in Sochi was all about the hockey for Team NAHL. We are less than 24 hours away from our first game against Oulun Karpat from Finland. The morning was filled with team meetings and some off-ice workouts and stretching. The afternoon saw the team practice on one of two practice rinks next to the Shayba Arena. When I got to practice, I saw that someone had already broken the glass with a shot. That may be a good sign.
Practice was again up-tempo and fast. We have very little time to bond as a team on the ice, so every minute counts for us. Practice was over around 5:30pm and when we left the practice rink and headed back to Shayba Arena the parking lot was already starting to fill up for the Opening Ceremony and opening game of the 2019 Sirius Ice Hockey World Cup, which featured Lokomotiv from Russia and Team AJHL from Canada.
I went to the opening press conference in the media center and you could tell it was big deal. No fewer than a dozen TV cameras were affixed on those speaking and while everything said was in Russian, it did not diminish the importance of what was taking place.
The guys got showered up and took their seats in the sold out arena to watch the Opening Ceremony and 1st period of the game. Meanwhile, Team NAHL captain Jake Beaune had to suit up in his full gear and prepare to be a part of the ceremony.
The ceremony itself was incredible. Shayba Arena was already abuzz because Russian President Vladimir Putin had arrived prior to it and he sat right in the middle of the stands with some children that had been brought to the game. Once the show started, organizers took advantage of an incredible light show with some house music.
After the opening spectacle, all 8 team captains were introduced, one by one, as they skated onto the ice in uniform carrying their country’s respective flag. Beaune was introduced third and got a very nice reception from the crowd.
I have been involved in hockey now for close to 40 years as a player and now someone who has made a career out of it and this is the first time I have been a part of the team that has represented the United States on the International stage. Watching Jake come out was inspiring and really gave me a sense of pride to be there representing the NAHL and the USA. Jake didn’t wave the flag or make a grand entrance, he just slowly skated to a face-off dot with a flag in one hand and stoic look on his face.
Putin came down from the stands to address the crowd and drop the ceremonial puck. The fans love him and I think because he is a hockey player and fan in general, there is no better venue for him to be adored than right here. He is in his element.
The only odd moment for me during the evening was the playing of the National Anthems. I think it is traditional in International competition for the anthems of both participating countries to be played, but we only heard the Russian anthem and no Canadian anthem.
As for the game… wow, it was a wild ride. There was so much emotion built up from the hometown crowd and sold out arena that every rush up the ice by Lokomotiv produced a ground swell of cheers and anticipation. However, it was the Canadians who silenced the home audience as they jumped out a 2-0 lead in the opening 39 minutes. However, Lokomotiv scored with just :06 seconds to go in the 2nd period to make it 2-1 and then carried that momentum in the 3rd period, scoring twice to win the game 3-2 to the delight of the fans.
Lokomotiv, who are the defending champs, play fast and big. They don’t slow down and their passes are crisp and they take shots with purpose. If Team NAHL is to see either them or Team AJHL, it will not be until after the round robin, however, the focus is now on us as Game 1 against Finland is on the horizon on Saturday.