If you have heard about the game of hockey, you probably know it is popular in Russia. The KHL is considered the second-best league in the world after the NHL and by far the best league in Europe. Chances are you catch a game here and there. But for most people outside of Russia, the teams remain quite anonymous and obscure. Luckily, ABNT is here to make things clear on the Moscow side of things. With a fan’s perspective, we are going to discover who the Moscow teams are and who they represent. Disclaimer: the author might be biased due to supporting the third team in this article.
Being a fan of a club in Russia is much more than a hobby, it is a lifestyle. In Soviet Moscow, you are a fan, based on mainly two things. The first thing was your occupation. Different teams were supported by different parts of Soviet society, giving games a very exciting flavour due to the societal aspect of the game. The second factor is your neighbourhood. A neighbourhood located close to an arena would usually cheer for that team. Today the teams are not financed by society in the same way. Instead, you inherit your club from your family or go for the neighbourhood team. Safe to say, all the Moscow teams have enthusiastic support from their fans.
However, as a non-native fan, you have the luxury of choosing a team that you feel connected to the most! So let’s dive into the Moscow KHL teams!
Without a doubt the most famous club in Russia. This very club represents the crème de la crème of Soviet hockey. The full name is “Central Sports Club of the Army, Moscow”. CSKA was in Soviet times supported by the army, thus gaining the nickname “Red Army” in the west. In Russia however, both the team and their fans call them selfs “Armeitsy”, meaning Army Men. Their success was due to being a part of the Soviet Army and thereby having an unlimited pool of talented players. Since all Soviet men had to serve in the army, CSKA collected most of the talent regardless of the former team by employing them as officers in the army.
In today’s world, CSKA no longer has this draft advantage. Instead, they have a similar advantage in that they are by far the richest club in the country. The reputation from the old times still hangs on, and sometimes the competition feels as uneven as before. CSKA can give the most money to the best players. It even fields a farm team that could beat many KHL teams. This abundance of money and the many championships has made them see themselves a little bit better and higher class than the other Moscow teams. In addition to excellent finances and on-ice product, they often get support from high profile people, making it a bit more relatable to those who support the current government of Russia.
There are too many former superstars to name for CSKA. Honestly, just pick a name from any USSR national team and there is a big chance he played there. Among the current players, you find the incredibly skilled Kirill Kaprizov, who at any given moment can score a highlight-reel goal. There are also many former NHLers here, such as Nikita Nesterov and Mikhail Grigorenko. But beware, their lack of success over in the NHL is not indicative of their play in the KHL. For CSKA they are key players to making this the powerhouse of the second-best league in the world
With CSKA you get a great hockey team with an impressive history and the possibility to win in any given year. No doubt, you should also be positive towards the military, and be in the company of both old-time supporters and the current wielders of power in Russia.
Certainly one of the most iconic clubs in the former Soviet Union. There seemed to be a Dynamo in just about every capital in the former East bloc. But in regards to hockey, this was the most iconic of them all. The Greek and Latin inspired name was supposed to be a symbol of both the strength and movement of the new Soviet state. Just like CSKA did, Dynamo represented a certain part of Soviet society. But instead of the army, Dynamo represented the secret police. In fact, the founder was the same person who founded the secret police of the USSR: Felix Dzerzhinsky.
Dynamo won the first-ever Soviet Championship and lifted the cup in each of the last three seasons of its existence. The in-between period saw fewer wins, only one, but they were consistently at the top. Even if Dynamo had considerably less impressive rosters, they still managed to produce some world-class talents. The most famous of these are Alexander Maltsev, the Soviet superstar who won two Olympic gold medals and a staggering nine World Cup gold medals. They even managed to win the Gagarin Cup in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013, unexpectedly, since their rosters were mediocre at best. Well, if you do not count the NHL lockout when both Ovechkin and Bäckström came over to dominate for a while.
The game Dynamo plays is exciting, to say the least. They tend to focus on big and skilled skaters such as Shipachyov, Jaskin, and Indrasis. As of late, they have also gained a reputation for being a place where old veterans of the game still perform at a high level. Perhaps you remember Maxim Afinogenov? He is currently playing for Dynamo at the age of 40. With him is Alexander Yeryomenko, a 39-year old goalie who was with the team when they last won in 2012 and 2013.
Today the team is no longer sponsored by the secret police. However, the cultural ties still hang on. Today’s Dynamo fans are close to both the regular police and the FSB. If you intend to adopt Dynamo as a team, a positive view of these organizations is a plus. Hockeywise you get a team in the middle to top range of the division, who can always compete with the best. On top of great history, fascinating social ties and entertaining hockey- a brand new arena!
Sort of the antithesis to the two teams above, Spartak claims to be the people’s team. It’s less known to the non-Russian fans, but it is the most popular team in Russia. The name is a nod to the slave rebel leader Spartacus in ancient Rome. While CSKA and Dynamo had their support among military and police circles, the civil society in the form of unions supported Spartak. The initial supporter was the meat packaging industry, which in combination with the team’s colours gave them the nickname “Meat”. In Spartak’s fan’s eyes, CSKA and Dynamo represented the worst parts of Soviet society, leading to a fierce rivalry. Outside of sports, supporting Spartak was a way to express discontent with parts of the Soviet state.
Spartak, along with Dynamo and other Moscow teams, were the only ones who could realistically challenge CSKA. Winning the Soviet title four times between 1962 and 1976 marked the peak of the red-white club. Since then the club has only had spurts of success, but not enough to win the grand title. Despite being in CSKA’s shade, they managed to contribute a lot to the Soviet national team. The main figure of the team, Alexander Yakushev, was famed for playing with a North American style with great success. It is also the youth club of a certain Ilya Kovalchuk. However, after 1991 the club has seen lots of financial troubles.
At first, Spartak seemed a relic of Soviet times, but in the last few years, they have seen a resurgence. Now financial stability is back, and the fans are as many and as enthusiastic as during the glamour days. Most importantly the rivalries with the other Moscow teams are as fierce as ever. While Spartak can offer the loudest and most intensive fans, there is still room for improvement on the ice. Oleg Znarok, the team’s coach, is probably the most famous name. Famous for winning titles in both the KHL and on the international stage, he prefers a physical style of play. The roster is hardworking and closely knit together, but very light. It also lacks star power. Goalie Julius Hudacek is spectacular and a top goalie in the KHL, but is more known for his HudaShow than anything else.
Spartak is probably one of the more interesting teams in the league. While the product on the ice is not world-class, the fans make up for the difference. If you are looking to call yourself a Spartakovets, then you should be appreciative of fanatical fans, worker’s culture, and a hard-working team. Even if unions are not the main sponsors anymore, the working-class identity lives both on and off the ice.
Is it Moscow, really? It depends on who you ask. Technically Podolsk is in the Moscow region, and they feast on representing the Moscow region. The town of Podolsk has just under 200,000 inhabitants and is located just outside the city of Moscow. In comparison to the other Moscow teams they are quite young, founded in just 1996. They have been a part of the KHL for every year they have existed but have consistently failed to reach the playoffs, until the first of two appearances so far, the 2016-17 season.
Despite being a quite obscure team, they have been a peculiar element in the KHL. They made their name by playing like they do in North America. Perhaps a bit too much, as they gained a reputation of being overly physical. But now Vityas are more interesting than ever, especially in regards to them having reached playoffs twice in recent years. Do not be surprised if this trend continues. Even with the change to a more conventional playing style, they have found success while keeping some of their gritty play. Leading the charge is Alexander Semin who captains the team. The team often trusts him to be the difference-maker, as Vityaz’s games tend to be low scoring.
Vityaz Podolsk is the ultimate choice of team for the hipsters of hockey fans. They have never been near success, but play a different style and come from a place most people have never heard from. Even better – they are having an upward trend. And who doesn’t like an underdog?
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Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Valery Sharifulin/Getty Images)