It was an experience of a lifetime that two Quesnel residents will never forget. Jason Skerratt and Robert Weremy recently returned from Russia after attending the 2016 World Hockey Championship, where Canada took home gold for a second year, defeating Finland 1-0. Weremy says the hockey was amazing and the Russian people treated them very well.
“The Russian people were very friendly and always came up to talk to us,” Weremy said.
“They don’t see many Canadians, so we were almost like a novelty.”
During their stay they visited Saint Petersburg for 16 days, where Canada’s round robin games were played and two days in Moscow for the medal round.
Weremy said the reason for the trip was to experience what Russia was all about.
“That was the highlight and having the tournament there just added to it,” Weremy said.
“Every day was incredible and we will never forget it. The sights were just phenomenal and we also learned about the history of the country.”
Of the two cities they visited both of them without hesitation said they preferred Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
“The people weren’t as friendly in Moscow and the people didn’t seem to speak as much English as they did in Saint Petersburg,” Skerratt said.
“Everybody tried to talk with you in any kind of broken English they could. There was so many people who just wanted to meet you and exchange pins because we had a lot of Canadian flag and City of Quesnel pins.”
While in Russia they became celebrities, as they were a big hit and were even interviewed by local television stations and had photos taken of them.
“We were getting a ton of photos taken of us and we missed the Canada versus U.S.A warm up because we were in the fan zone,” Weremy said.
“There was a man who wanted his boy to get a picture with us and as soon as we did that, it was like a flood gate with people coming around asking for pictures. For an hour and a half we sat there and took pictures and it was our first day.”
Skerratt echoed those same sentiments about the celebrity status they seemed to acquire.
“What was really cool was I got interviewed by a Saint Petersburg sports centre television station and the next night people would run up to me saying they saw me on television,” Skerratt said.
In Saint Petersburg there were two separate fan zones, which they thought was amazing.
“One was at the rink and the other was downtown in the city centre and it was huge,” Skerratt said.
“There was an entire city block that was blocked off for the 18 days and they had a massive television screen, so fans could watch the games. They had a huge area to play floor hockey and another area where you could shoot pucks on a net. Once we got in there to play floor hockey the entire place wanted to play with us.”
For them, Saint Petersburg was a better environment to watch the games and compared it to a junior hockey game atmosphere, as it was not the big city lifestyle of Moscow.
Other people attending the tournament also agreed with that assessment.
“We were talking to some fans who came for the quarter-finals, who told us that Moscow is pretty spread out and Saint Petersburg is a bit more cosy and a little better atmosphere for fans,” Weremy said.
During the trip there were many highlights but Skerratt said his most memorable moments were when Hungary won against Belarus, which was their first win at a World Championship in the history of the country and of course Canada winning gold.
He added seeing the players live was amazing.
“It was really exciting to see those Canadian players be on the ice surface and see the speed those guys play the game at,” Skerratt said.
“People don’t have a clue the speed they play at and it looks slow on television, but it’s so fast live. There was a couple times the guys would stop right in front of the boards and the snow from their skates would come up and over the glass, two rows up into the bleachers. That just showed how much power and strength they have.”
During their trip a lot of people wanted the Canadian perspective on Russia.
“A lot of young people asked about political views and what they thought of them and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin,” Skerratt said.
“They would give us their take on what they thought about our side of the political spectrum and a few people even asked me if it was true we thought bears roam the streets in Russia. We started laughing because it was like the same idea of Americans thinking Canadians live in igloos.”
Surprisingly they didn’t have a big language barrier as some would expect.
“There were a few places that didn’t speak a word of english but they ran over to that door and ushered us in and tried to make us feel welcome,” Skerratt said.
There was a moment during the trip they didn’t get any service, which ended up to be a misunderstanding.
“We didn’t get any service at one place because they thought we were American and once we explained to them we were Canadians the entire world changed instantly,” Skerratt said.
Even thought there was only around 24 to 25 Canadians for the entire tournament and six that stayed from beginning to end, both noticed how liked the Canadian fans were.
“Being Canadian you don’t realize how well liked you are at the World Cup,” Weremy said. “We are a rarity and very few of us go. A lot of Russian people bought Canadian jerseys which made it look like there was more Canadians, but there really wasn’t.”
Weremy said he didn’t see much difference between Russians and Canadians.
“I think the biggest thing when you travel is showing respect to each country you go to because they are proud of their country just like we are,” Weremy said. “There was not much difference besides the language, but the people were just like anyone else.”
At the end of the gold medal game Putin came out to talk to the crowd and players, which they thought was a surreal experience to have one of the world leaders in the same arena they were in.
“For him to come out and shake all the guys hands when the gold confetti came out showed what a good sport he was about it,” Skerratt said. “He was really happy for the Canadian boys and you could tell he just wanted to be a part of it.”