Hockey is without question one of the most popular sports in Russia, and Saint Petersburg's team, SKA, is the defending champion and top-ranked team in the league. If you are in Russia between late August and mid-April, be sure to try to catch a match! Whether you're an avid fan or can't tell a puck from a stick, it's an exciting, memorable and inexpensive Russian experience. The next home game is December 19th.
The Kontinental Hockey League (Континентальная хоккейная лига or КХЛ), founded in 2008, is considered the second best professional hockey league in the world, behind only North America's NHL. 22 of the 28 teams in the league are Russian, and there is one team each from Finland, Belarus, Latvia, Slovakia, China, Croatia and Kazakhstan. The league is expected to expand to other countries.
The winner of the annual championship of the league is awarded the Gagarin Cup (Кубок Гагарина), named for the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The playoffs take place in April, around the anniversary of Gagarin's flight into space. In 2017, Saint Petersburg's own SKA won the Gagarin Cup for the second time in three years.
The KHL plays in accordance with the rules of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), that is, the rules of Olympic hockey, which are slightly different from those of the NHL. NHL fans can find a breakdown of the major rule differences here.
Saint Petersburg's Team and Stadium
The local team's history dates back to 1946, when it was established as a club in the Soviet Championship League under the name Kirov LDO (Leningrad's Officers' Club). It changed names several times before getting its current name, Sport Club of the Army (or Спортивный клуб армии or СКА in Russian) in 1959. As the name suggests, it was originally affiliated with the army.
Saint Petersburg's hockey stadium, "Ice Palace" (Ледовый дворец), is located just outside of the orange line metro station Osu Accra (Проспект Большевиков) and has a capacity of 12,300. It is also used for concerts and as a skating rink open to the public. Food (hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, corn, ice cream, etc) and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are sold during the games.
Where to Buy Tickets and Fan Paraphernalia
Tickets are available from SKA's website, from Kassir, and from the Kontinental Hockey League's website. These websites do not always accept foreign credit cards, but if you have trouble purchasing online, you can also buy tickets in person from ticket offices such as Kassir's office on Gorokhovaya St, 6.
Given SKA's popularity, it's a good idea to buy tickets several weeks in advance, as the stadium regularly sells out. Ticket prices for regular season matches range from 350 to 1500 rubles.
There is also a secondary hockey league, Высшая хоккейная лига (ВХЛ), with local Petersburg teams Dinamo SPB (Динамо-СПб) and SKA-Neva (СКА-Нева) currently occupying the number one and number two spots, respectively. Tickets are cheaper than the KHL (170-330 rubles), but because the teams are popular and play at smaller stadiums with a capacity of only about 3000, nearly all the seats are taken by season ticket holders, and remaining tickets are hard to come by. It is possible to watch the matches online.
Enthusiastic fans or those looking for some hockey-related souvenirs can find SKA jerseys, shirts, hats, scarves, flags, umbrellas, etc. at SKA's official store on Nevsky Prospekt (МАГАЗИН СКА «HOCKEY CLUB», Невский пр., д. 23). Many of these products are also sold at matches.
Hockey fans love to cheer for their team. If you go to a game, learn a few phrases so you can join in! Some cheers that you'll be sure to hear at a SKA game include:
- Побеждать! Побеждать! Побеждать! - Simple and to the point: "Win! Win! Win!"
- Гооооооооооооооооооол! - After a goal for the home team, expect the international cheer: "Gooooooal!
- Ничего! Ничего! Ничего! - After a goal for the other team, fans remind their team that it's "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!"
- Шайбу!! - Шайба means puck, and while there is no subject or verb in this cheer, fans should the word puck in the accusative case (шайбу), as in, "hit the puck," especially when they want to see their team score a goal.
- Армейцы с Невы! - A reference to SKA's army history: "Soldiers from the Neva River!"
- Вперёд наш СКА! - "Forward, our SKA!"
Только СКА, только победа! - "Only SKA, only victory!"
- Красно-синий самый сильний! - "Red/dark blue is the strongest" (it sounds better in Russian...)