Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third String Goalie Book Review - This is Russia: Life in the KHL

A perfect gift for the hockey fan in your life, especially fans of international hockey and those like us interested in the world of hockey beyond just the NHL, is Austrian goaltender Bernd Brückler's book "This is Russia: Life in the KHL - Doctors, Bazas and Millions of Air Miles".

Life in Russia photo LifeinRussiacover.jpg

Published a year ago, the book details Brückler's career path around the globe, from Graz in his homeland of Austria, to the junior leagues of the United States and on to the University of Wisconsin. From there he played in the minor leagues of North America for a brief period prior to becoming a full time professional with the Espoo Blues in Finlan's SM-liiga for eight seasons until contract offers from the KHL saw him give the life in Russia a go for three seasons, which is the main focus of his entertaining book.

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Bruckler in goal for the Wisconsin Badgers

His first stop was with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, where he was introduced to the unexplainable daily occurrences of ordinary life there, which the locals simply shrug off and say in resignation "This is Russia."

It's fascinating look at things we take for granted, such as an ordinary hotel room. In Russia, you may have a very nice room. Then again, you may not have working lights. Or a phone. Or a TV. In one memorable occasion, in Nizhnekamsk the hotel was also partly used as a rehabilitation center and there were patients walking around in robes going to and from their treatments. The players didn't mind though, because the rooms were good and had internet access!

Another difference that comes with the territory are the road trips to the far East, as a trip to Khabarovsk is no less than 4,800 miles, a flight so long that the plane needs to refuel on the way! This leads to another sobering part of life in Russia - the state of aviation, as the Lokomotiv Air Disaster happened while Brückler was not only playing in Russia at the time, but his team flew on an identical Yak-42 model that had crashed in Yaroslavl.

Even on the shorter trips where the team took the bus, the onboard toilets naturally didn't work and Brückler describes a scene of 30 men standing on the side of the road all relieving themselves.

A real highlight of the book is Yuri, the driver Brückler hired and the friendship they developed. Yuri knew all the tricks, which of course included occasionally driving on the sidewalk if traffic got to be too much for his liking. He was more than just a driver though, he was a friend and even bodyguard, helping the players assemble their Ikea furniture if needed or pulling gun if the situation called for it!

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There's a lot going on behind the scenes before Brückler
ever takes to the ice for Torpedo

One glaring difference between how the Russian teams are organized and those in North America is the Soviet-era holdover of the baza, the team's combination dormitory/training facility/penal colony. The Baza is also a prime example of the way the Russians do many things "because that's the way it's always been done" regardless of wether it still makes any sense.

To begin with, Torpedo's baza was an hour and fifteen minutes drive from their arena in the middle of a forest. There were two players per room, and two rooms per bathroom, so four men shared one bathroom. At the time of Brückler's arrival in 2009, there was no internet at the baza and the players had only just been allowed to watch TV while there! The players were required to spend the night there the evening before home games, and sometimes the night after a loss. Some team employees and even some players, Russians to be certain, even lived there rent free, despite the lack of heat or air conditioning!

Brückler also covers the world of financial topics, the rise of the KHL fueled by cash, dealing with agents and banking in Russia, including once making a worrisome trip to a bank with a garbage bag full of cash because the team once received their paychecks in stacks of smaller denomination rubles! And you will definitely want to read about the time Brückler hit a pedestrian with his car…

Then of course, there is the hockey. Brückler spends a great deal of the second part of the book discussing the games, coaching philosophy and style of play. He also goes into some detail about some of his teammates, including current NHL star-in-the-making Vladimir Tarasekno of the St. Louis Blues. In addition to the hockey, he also discusses the strange world of the team trainers and doctors, who wanted Brückler on a regimen of 16 pills a day! This was something that bothers him, as Alexi Cherepanov had just passed away with a banned substance in his system a year before Brückler arrived in the KHL.

We really, really enjoy books about how outside players react to living and playing in the Soviet Union and Russia, and this one is no exception. It's a fascinating ride through the many culture clashes and offbeat ways life can be complicated by the smallest things when they are done in ways you never imagined possible, especially when logic seems to have taken a holiday. Any hockey fan on your Christmas list will really enjoy Brückler's book Life in Russia, which is available from Amazon.com


Of course, no story on Third String Goalie would be complete without a featured jersey, and today's is no exception, as today's featured jersey is a 2004 Austria National Team Bernd Brückler jersey. To date, Brückler has made five appearances for Austria at the World Championships, including a promotion from Division I back to the Top Division in 2008.

This style jersey was first used in 1998 and had a long run through 2004 and is notable for it's unusual number font.

After being let go by Sibir, Brückler signed with EC Red Bull Salzburg in his native Austria and is currently in his third season with the club.

Austria 2004 photo Austria2002Fjersey.jpg
 photo Austria2002Bjersey.jpg

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