Well it’s official. We have been in the great country of Russia for two weeks! (We = Kelley and my teammate Cherie.. or Cherry as she is known in Russia). But we will get to that later. We are playing for a team called the Moscow Region Tornado and we play in a town about an hour north of Moscow in a small town called Dmitrov.
For those of you that told us we couldn’t learn the language, wouldn’t like the food, and would dominate the hockey realm.. YOU’RE WRONG. The first thing we learned upon landing in Moscow was that the way we were saying "hello" (as learned from a language book) was actually "hello hunny bunny." Thank you to the nice Russian man on the plane who told us we were saying it wrong. He saved us a lot of embarrassment. Imagine walking into a locker room full of 20 Russian girls you have never met and who don’t speak the same language as you.. and then saying "Hello hunny bunny." Yikes.
In two weeks, we not only can say hello correctly, but we can say most simple phrases (thank you, please, etc) and can even order our own food at the cafe in the rink! Learning everyone’s name was a bit more of a challenge but we did pretty well! Our teammates had some trouble with Cherie’s name.. and they call her Cherry.. or the Russian word for cherry the fruit (Vishna). During a long break in one of our games (confusion with a penalty), we tried to explain how to say Cherie’s name correctly to one of our teammates. She proceeded to skate around in circles saying "Cherie.. no no no.. Cherry!" over and over. It was hilarious. So.. Cherie.. is now Cherry.
Speaking of cherries, the food here.. is great. There are some differences in how things are prepared and the fact that there are like 20 different kinds of ketchup here (which is awesome). But other than that, pretty much anything you can find in the grocery store in the US, is in the grocery store here. On top of that, all of the Russian dishes we have tried, have been awesome.. including the well known soup called borscht. Needless to say.. we might be gaining a few pounds while we are here because we like the food so much. It’s funny because so many people told us it would be so different here, but it’s really not that different. It shows you just how similar most cultures are and how we can all find common ground. And here, a lot of that common ground is found in…..
The hockey. The first couple practices with the team were definitely rough. THANK YOU jetlag. Looking back on our first day.. I’m surprised we weren’t cut from the team immediately. After a 24 hour travel day.. we had about 5 hours of sleep and then practiced the next day and the only person we had met was our awesome Slovakian roommate who was definitely our Mom for the first week or so (we love her). We walked into the locker room.. and probably looked like we weren’t very friendly because we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Most of the girls came over and said hello (in Russian, but some in English). We got on the ice.. and struggled through a good practice consisting of some flow drills, 2 on 1s, etc. Our team has about 10 Russian national team players and a couple U18 national team players as well, so the talent level is great. We are constantly pushed to compete at a high level which is awesome. There are definitely some differences in how the game is played.. as far as systems (forechecks, breakouts, etc) between the Russian game and the North American game which took us some time to adjust to. But between the coaches and the girls, everyone has been great and has been trying to help us as much as they can. We have had 6 games since we arrived and have beaten every opponent. Some of the teams here are weaker than others, but we have very competitive games with UFA and SKIF. We played UFA about a week after we arrived and we are traveling about 7 hours northeast to play SKIF at the beginning of November. The games against these teams are face paced, very physical, and hard fought. All of the games that we play are within our Russian league, but we have a couple games in December against other European Hockey League teams in order to qualify for the European Championships at the end of March. These will also be great games and we are really excited to be able to travel and see some different places. We may have only been here for two weeks, but we feel settled, happy, and ready for the rest of the season!
One of the coolest things is that though most of the girls on the team don’t speak English (only about 3 speak fluently), we have found ways of communicating with all of them and are able to laugh and joke all the time. For example, two of the younger players love dancing and singing to any song. So probably on the fourth or fifth day we were here, they came up to us in the locker room (with Miley Cyrus playing the background) and started dancing and screaming "I love Hannah Montana." We communicate a lot through music and dancing and acting like little kids.. which is fun! Another thing that I think is so cool is that all the girls listen to a ton of English music and can sing every word without knowing what they mean! So sometimes, we will walk by someone singing Justin Bieber or Flo Rida as loud as they can.. but they have no idea what the words mean. And I won’t lie.. there are a couple Russian songs that I find myself singing without having any idea what I’m saying.
On one of our off days we also go the opportunity to go into the city of Moscow (we live about an hour north) and explore with a couple teammates, which was so cool. The city is beautiful, with tons of history and culture. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe I’m so far from home, seeing a completely different part of the world and being able to play hockey. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to live and play here. We got to walk around the Kremlin, which houses a lot of the Russian government buildings (similar to our Washington D.C.) and the Red Square. We also got to meet some pretty cool characters.. Spongebob, the squirrel from Ice Age, and scary dudes with swords. Obviously we got pictures with all of them. There is definitely a lot more to see in Moscow and we will be going back as much as we can.
A lot has happened in the last two weeks and we know there is so much more left in store for us the rest of the season. Including lots of snow! 🙂