I’m slowly approaching three years abroad now, as well as four of the last five years outside of Canada. While amazing in so many regards, living abroad can be difficult for a Canadian hockey fan. I love the game of hockey and time zones are a cruel thing for a guy like me.
For longer than I care to remember, if I wanted to watch a hockey game, I’d have to stay up awfully late to do so. For example, last June I saw Jeff Carter end Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals as the sun was rising outside my window – it felt odd.
If you have a full-time job, this kind of schedule is really only feasible on the weekend, yet it’s still painfully easy to mess up your body clock for a few days afterward. That’s especially true if you enjoy having a pop or two during the game.
Sadly, Sunday NBC matinees and the quarterfinals are the only opportunities I have to watch hockey at a reasonable time. And in the absence of a TV, I might have to spend the first part of the night engaged in some furious googling to find a working stream.
That’s not to say I haven’t gotten to experience some interesting hockey while abroad. I went to a handful of SM-liiga matches during my time in Finland. It was there I got to see Mikael Granlund score two goals on opening night in 2010, kicking off a season that would culminate in a championship. That same year I took a train to St. Petersburg to see my first KHL match. That night I started chatting with the Russian kid next to me, who was about my age, and we spent the evening comparing notes on our countries’ respective passions for the game and drinking way too much beer in the process. Even this year I was fortunate enough to see the mighty Jágr play in front of a home crowd.
While these moments were nice, they still weren’t as big as what the NHL can deliver.
Though initially disappointed about the potential for yet another lockout, my excitement was unrivaled when I heard that the KHL was coming to Prague. My first reaction was to run around the house doing this for ten straight minutes. After calming down I immediately checked the season schedule to see when the Big 3 teams (Dynamo Moscow, CSKA Moscow, and SKA St. Petersburg) would be in town. Then I checked to see where the top Russian snipers (Ovi, Kovalchuk, Malkin, Datsyuk) played during the last lockout. Sure enough, there was a lot of crossover.
As the lockout drew near, and eventually began, more and more players started jumping overseas to play. Every week another superstar would sign abroad. I was ecstatic.
Although the first month of KHL action in Prague has been nice, it hasn’t exactly brought the marquee names I’d been expecting. That is, until this week.
For the first time in lord knows how long, I’ll get to see some Saturday night hockey at a normal time, keep my Sunday in tact, and just Canadian-out – sorry, Canadian-oot – for a couple hours. That’s because SKA St. Petersburg is coming to town.
St. Petersburg boasts some of the best fire-power in the league. Ilya Kovalchuk, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Patrick Thoresen have been combining for some highlight reel goals as of late. On top of that, their squad has scored more goals per game than anyone else in the KHL. With former-Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, it will take everything I have not to go native and shout at him, effectively removing him from the case for good.
Prague has found some early season success with a strong defensive game. That approach was unquestionably fortified this week. In a school-yard switch that any kid worth his weight in hockey cards would make, the Lions released the injured Jiří Hudler to make room for Boston Bruins captain, and human Sequoia tree, Zdeno Chara. Big Z is expected to make his debut on Saturday night.
The game will be played at the O2 Arena in Prague, a first for the Lions this season, and is expected to draw nearly 17,000 fans, ensuring an unbeatable vibe in the building.
Big names? Check. Story-lines? Check. Playoff-like atmosphere? Check. Check. Check.
Better still, on Tuesday night Alexander Ovechkin will lead Dynamo Moscow into town and I get to do it all again. Same place, same crowd, only this time a Chara/Ovi matchup – a re-match from the 2011 playoffs, no less – that will undoubtedly be a beauty to witness.
After years of watching from abroad, the best hockey on the planet will be right down the street, for only ten bucks a ticket, while those I love at home have to watch it on TV at odd hours of the day.
The hockey gods, while mysterious in their actions at times, are often just in the end.