Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and IIHF President René Fasel held a press conference in downtown Bratislava this afternoon just moments after the IIHF’s Congress awarded the 2016 IIHF World Championship to Russia (Moscow/St. Petersburg).
The questions directed at Putin ranged in the extreme, from economic and environmental concerns to the resolution of the Libyan conflict. In the case of the latter, he replied diplomatically, “I came here for different reasons.”
When things turned to hockey Putin was both passionate and knowledgeable, speaking from the heart as much as from the head. “My best memories of hockey when I was young were of the Soviet Union teams playing Canada,” he said with a smile. “This was in the early 1970s, and I remember very clearly my parents were very excited when we won, and very disappointed when we lost.”
“Unfortunately,” he revealed, “I never skated very much when I was a boy. I went one time to a camp in Kazakhstan. I fell down, and I never skated again. Recently, though, I tried again. It’s very difficult, but I enjoy it a great deal. I just don’t have much time for it.”
When asked about the KHL’s role in the development of the game in Europe, Putin was both opinionated and emphatic. “Just as I talked about those great games in the ‘70s between the Soviet Union and Canada, I believe it is important to have a strong KHL. What is the benefit to have all of our best players in the NHL? We need an efficient and competitive league in Europe that can compete with the NHL. Maybe President Fasel can help create games between the two leagues. This would be very good for the game, I think. This is why the KHL is so important. I fully encourage new teams from other countries to join, so long as they have the finances to stand on their own.”
Putin is not an elitist. While he loves sports at the highest level, he understands the role of athletics and fitness to society as a whole. He himself swims or goes to the gym every day and sees “big” events such as the Olympics and World Championship as ways to, “help promote the game among young people so that they might lead healthy lifestyles. We love hockey in Russia,” he said.
As for the team here in Slovakia, Putin was unable to attend last night’s classic Russia-Canada game in person but instead watched it on television with friends. He was impressed by the high level of play last night when his Russian team overcame a 1-0 deficit in the third period to beat Canada 2-1. “Judging by yesterday,” he offered, “our team fights to the end and is dedicated to our country.” He even admitted that when the game got tense in the final minutes, he was on his knees hoping for victory.
Now that’s a true hockey fan.