Nine years on...
Nine years on...
How Moscow changed since 2007
Moscow never sleeps, as the song in every local nightclub went back in 2007, the last time the Worlds came to Russia.
And nine years on, plenty has changed - not least the merciful disappearance of that particular dance anthem.
The 2007 World Championship, played at the Khodynka Arena and Arena Mytishi, was the first time the tournament had come to post-Soviet Moscow. Russia, steadying itself after the shock of the 1990s, was on the cusp of regaining its sporting pre-eminence, but the long, long wait for hockey success was taking its toll. There was a buzz around the championship, there was sincere hope for the Red Machine to ride to glory once more, but there was scepticism as well after so many false dawns and dashed hopes.
Fast forward nine years, and the feeling is very different. Russia missed out on gold on home ice, but retaliated in style the following year to win in Canada, starting a sequence of success that has brought four golds and two silvers in the the years from 2008 to the present day. Hope has become expectation, interest has become obsession - and the 2016 tournament is delivering a fan experience to capitalize on all that.
The change of attitude can be seen in the attendances at the Ice Palace in Moscow. The demand to watch the Russian national team has always been there, but the speed with which tickets sold out this time around has been striking. In 2007 I remember joining friends to join a (surprisingly short) queue to get tickets to watch Russia in the second group stage. Few outlets around town aside from going to the ticket office and buying what was on offer. In 2016, the 'house full' signs are seeing plenty of action. Questions about where to get a priceless ticket to see the Russian team in action are flying around on social media and crop up in any conversation about the championship.
That's had a knock-on effect on the games that don't involve Russia. Last time around it was easy enough to stroll up to the ticket office a few minutes before the puck dropped, buy a ticket and take your pick of the seats on the upper tier. Not so in 2016. For some, it's slightly disappointing that the chances of a spontaneous walk-up ticket are greatly reduced. For most, though, a combination of more user-friendly ticket sales and a resurgent interest in the game means bigger crowds, better atmospheres (compare the spectacle and noise at Denmark vs Latvia this year with, for example, the half-empty Sweden-Latvia game I saw in 2007) and more excitement for spectators and players alike.
The Ice Palace itself also deserves a mention. While Khodynka was also a new-build (so new that it still had that box fresh aroma in the tribunes), it never found a lasting use beyond the championship. This one is already established as the home of Dynamo Moscow and, along with the renovated Yubileiny in St. Petersburg, leaves an enduring legacy after the tournament moves on.
Away from the arena, the championship has also caught the imagination in a way that didn't happen in 2007. Establishing a fanzone downtown in Gorki Park has brought the action to city, something that Khodynka never quite managed to do. With more publicity, from billboard advertising to a lively trade in merchandise (official or otherwise) and success in social media, the tournament has done far more to impose itself on the imagination of this huge city - no easy task with so many counter-attractions competing for attention.
Of course, what happens on the ice will ultimately define whether Moscow regards the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship as a triumph. With Russia looking a good bet for gold, the excitement could reach fever pitch by the weekend. But even if the tournament ends, like 2007, in a near miss for the host nation, Russia's capital can be proud of how much has improved since the previous edition here.
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