Hello again from Riga, Latvia.
Since my first post I have played tournaments in Tampere, Finland and Moscow. Going to Finland was pretty cool because I got to travel through Estonia to catch a huge ferry that took us into Helsinki. Never thought I would be through Estonia or cross the Baltic Sea on a ferry; it was an experience.
We placed second at the tourney in Moscow, earning everyone a $600 bonus. I really enjoyed that part (ha, ha). Moscow is a historical city with an absurd amount of traffic. They use every inch of the road and the shoulder acts as two additional lanes.
After returning home from Moscow, we had a few days to relax with our families before our big nine-day road trip to Khabarovsk (on the other side of Russia). While at home in Riga, my family enjoyed more of the downtown, especially ‘Old Town.’ It is more than 800 years old, but all the action is there; shopping, restaurants, hotels, banks, bars and, most importantly, people watching. There are many beautiful, old historical churches. On the outskirts of Old Town are beautiful parks and little rivers, which make it welcoming for families and romantic walks.
But let’s get back to the start of our nine-day road trip. I’m in Khabarovsk now, so I’ll tell you how we got here:
We left Riga at noon on a chartered plane. We flew six hours to Novosibirsk, fueled up and went back up in the air for another six hours to Khabarovsk. Little did we know there were weather problems just before we were supposed to land, so we had to divert 400 km away from Khabarovsk. So that meant another hour in the air. We landed somewhere near the Chinese border.
There is an eight-hour time difference between Riga and Khabarovsk. It was already 10 a.m. on Sept. 2 when we were delayed and we had a game at 7 p.m. At this point, the players switched seats with management (first class) to get more comfortable for our pre-game nap as we waited for the weather to improve. The last thing I remember is landing in Khabarovsk at 2 p.m. and making it to the hotel an hour later. We had 45 minutes to ourselves to grab a nap before our pre-game meal at 4 p.m., our 4:30 team meeting and then the bus to the rink at 5:00. The best part of the whole story is we actually won that night. It was just the first game of five in seven nights in three cities. Overall it was not that bad of a trip, but a great experience I would have never had if it was not for the game of hockey.
Now a little about the style of game play: I play for Dinamo Riga and so far we have started the season with a 1-2-2 record. The hockey is quite fast with a lot of skilled forwards and puck-moving defensemen. There is not as much hitting or fighting; the Kontinental League promotes more of a skill game. We have our first home game on Sept. 11 and it’d be great to play a little better for our fans. From what I have heard, it’ll be a full house with a lot of Latvians who really love their hockey.
Until next time, keep your head up and your stick on the ice!
Mark Hartigan won the past two Stanley Cups with Anaheim and Detroit and has also played for Atlanta and Columbus in his NHL career. He is beginning his first season in the KHL with Dinamo Riga.