With the second half of the season rapidly approaching I think it is finally time to describe the ins and outs of the Russian league. There are currently six teams but there is talk about expanding to eight next season. The teams are located in Dmitrov, Chelyabinsk, Ekaterinaberg, Ufa and Krasnayarsk. Our team typically travels by bus but we have also made a two day train trip to Krasnayarsk and plan to fly to Moscow later this month.
We play a 30 game regular season schedule which runs from September to March as well as two additional tournaments. The first tournament is a pre-season warm-up and this year was in the Czech Republic. We also had a Christmas tournament in Ekaterinaberg after the first half of the season concluded. One very interesting and unusual aspect of the Russian Championship is that there are no playoffs at the end of the season. A team’s placement in the league is completely dependent on the regular season, so each game carries a lot of pressure. There is also a great incentive to finish in the top three as the Russian Hockey Federation doles out the most financial support to the top teams.
As there are six teams, each team will play two three game series against each other. The first two games of the series are back to back and there is one rest day in between the second and third games. Much like college, teams also have pre-game skates and practices on the rest day. Unlike the college game however, there is no maximum to how long a team can go without a day off. As there are three games in a series, road trips are typically a week long although back to back away games will mean living out of a suitcase for a minimum of two weeks. The set-up is definitely a grind and not for the faint of heart.
When we are not having games our team practices on-ice and off-ice daily. On-ice practices consist of a lot of passing and individual skills work. The Russian game is centered around playmaking rather than garbage goals, so our coach’s focus is largely on finesse. Off-ice practices vary depending on the week but can consist of: running, plyometrics, soccer or weightlifting.
In terms of recruiting, each team has a three player import rule. Teams can sign as many foreigners as they wish but only three can dress per game. Currently, only three of the six teams employ foreigners which means that there are very few spots available. With so few spots open, the teams will only consider National Team or stand out college players. Once in Russia, if a player does not perform to the standard the team expects, their contract can be terminated. Much like men’s professional hockey, the Russian league requires a lot out of its players especially its import players as transfer fees and visas are very costly.
If you are interested in playing in the Russian league then I would suggest compiling a hockey resume and contacting teams individually. Your best friend for finding places to play in Europe really is Google. You have to be your best advocate and be willing to pick up the phone and make the initial contact with teams and continue to follow-up as needed.
Until next time,