Tag Archives: Leningrad

Leningrad ’91

The first time I went to Russia, with my two kids and first wife, was in 1991, when St. Petersburg was still called Leningrad, and when historic changes were underway. Statues of Lenin had been toppled, revolution was in the air, the U.S.S.R. and its communist ways were in the process of collapsing, and although we were warned not to go because it was such dangerous times, we went anyway.

Leningrad was exactly as I had pictured it and wanted it to be – dark, old, strange, just like in books and films, and I was so excited. We came in by train from Helsinki late at night and our Russian friends hadn’t received our letter saying we were coming, so we were alone and more than confused when we stepped onto the train station platform. Eventually, a fellow who spoke English asked if we needed help, and things got sorted out thanks to him. Surprised the heck out of our friends too.

Russia has changed over the years, with fancy cars, mega-movie theatres, high fashion, and serious money being thrown around now, but back then it was the real Russia to me, the one I expected and wasn’t disappointed with. It was also the bargain to end all bargains. Almost everything was dirt-cheap. Eight of us went to a restaurant one night, had chicken or beef meals with all the trimmings, plus a couple of pitchers of Cokes along with dessert, and the entire bill came to the equivalent of seven bucks. Now it would be several hundred at least.

Here’s a few photos from our big trip 21 years ago, when Russian citizens still had to line up for hours to buy a few things in shops, when many ordinary Russians had no choice but to share an apartment with several other families, and it goes without saying, when life wasn’t easy for all but the chosen few. It was also a time when it was very unusual for westerners to see the inside of a Russian home, it rarely happened, and I was very proud that we were able to experience that. (It took some serious red tape). I also attended a meeting of the Leningrad Montreal Canadiens Fan Club, where they made me their first non-Russian member.

When we got back home, I wrote a full-page account of our trip, which was published in the Calgary Herald. It was all very heady times, and I have wonderful memories of this huge trip, which also included Stockholm, Helsinki, and Copenhagen along the way..

Being In “Les Canadiens” Magazine

 If you have number six of Les Canadiens magazine from the 1991-92 season, then you have a small story about me.

I was in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1991, right at the time the Soviet Union was falling apart, a mind-blowing and historic time to be sure, and I was visiting a bunch of serious Habs fans who had their own Montreal Canadiens Fan Club. We were at the president of the fan club’s apartment and we sat around drinking tea and talking hockey.

The fellow in the black San Jose Sharks shirt was my translater, and he was a Russian scout for first, the Sharks, and later the Anaheim Ducks.

That’s me in the middle, clean-shaven, with a serious sunburn. And unfortunately, the magazine made one little mistake. The picture of the fellow in the Habs jacket holding the puck isn’t me, although it says it is in the caption below. (It’s Anatoli Brel, who I went with to the meeting).

The story that accompanies the pictures says that “Dennis Kane is the only foreign member of the Canadiens Fan Club in St. Petersburg. As a boy, Dennis was always writing letters to his heros, Doug Harvey, Bernard Geoffrion and Maurice Richard; he still has their lovingly replies.

And then, one day, he came across a newspaper article about Anatoli Brel, a Russian fellow looking for a Canadiens fan with whom to correspond.

After six years of exchanging letters, Dennis decided to go visit his hockey pen pal and meet the fan club people who met once a month to talk about the Habs and bring their statistics up to date. “It was really weird,” he recalls. “There I was, thousands of miles from Canada, on a street in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and there was this huge Canadiens logo in the window.”

Following that memorable meeting, Dennis received a letter officially confirming his membership in the Canadiens Fan Club…St. Petersburg Chapter! What more could you ask?

You Want A Short Story? Here’s A Beauty

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These are Russian lapel pins. Russians love their pins, and there’s millions of them floating around. This little display I have at home are hockey and 1980 Olympics pins, and of course, there’s a story here.

In 1991, I told my friends, a Russian couple living in Leningrad, which shortly after became St. Petersburg, to start sending me pins and I’ll sell them (three for five bucks) and raise enough money to bring them to Canada to see some hockey. I raised $4000, they came, and we saw two games in Calgary, one in Edmonton, and were invited to a closed practice in Calgary where this husband and wife met all the players, got their picture taken with Theoren Fleury, and at the practice, GM Doug Risebrough came up to our seats to say hello.

Now this is where I hope you keep reading. Just a week before this couple had even landed in Canada, after all the pin selling, after all the preparation, my first wife informed me she wanted a divorce. So the whole month the Russian couple were with us, my wife and I pretended all was well so we wouldn’t ruin their holiday. But I was a hurtin puppy, and when everyone went to bed, I stayed up and drank myself into oblivion.

Now, I hope you’re still reading, because the story takes another twist. Not long after the couple went back to Russia, a letter came saying that they were also getting a divorce.

Ten years later, I married this Russian woman.

Seeing History Unfold, And Getting A Fine Letter

The first time I was in Russia, it was Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in October of 1991, at the time when communism was being dragged down kicking and screaming, and capitalism was about to take hold. It was where statues of Lenin had been toppled only days before, soldiers and tanks were in the streets both there and in Moscow, and history was being made in front of my eyes. It was the beginning of the end of the USSR.

But it wasn’t just history I was seeing. I was also invited to the home of the president of the Leningrad Montreal Canadiens fan club, where he and I and four other Russian hockey fans sat and ate cake, drank tea, and with the help of an interpreter, debated the merits of the Habs, discussed various players around the league, offered opinions on the 1972 Summit Series, and all in all, had a tremendous time.

Then the president gave me this fine letter saying that I was now an official member of the Leningrad Montreal Canadiens fan club. I was the only non-Russian member of the club, and it made me very proud.

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A Mats Sundin Story That Means Nothing To Anybody Except Me

In early September of 1991, my first wife and I and our two kids stopped in Stockholm for a few days on our way to Leningrad, Russia. (St. Petersburg).

 

It was pretty well exactly 17 years ago. Time flies, as they say.

 

We stayed in a nice little hotel in Stockholm which was a converted old prison, so our rooms were prison cells, but of course they were really nice.

 

The 1991 Canada Cup was underway back home, and I was in the lobby of this hotel and I saw a Swedish newspaper with a picture of Mats Sundin and big headlines that mentioned “Canada.” So I asked the girl at the counter if she would please tell me what the headlines said.

 

She looked kind of embarrassed and told me it said that Mats Sundin says Sweden will have no trouble at all with Canada.

 

Canada ended up clobbering Sweden in this semi-final game 4-0 and maybe Sundin learned then that you don’t make predictions like this.

 

The game was Sept. 12, 1991. I know this and the score because I googled it. 

 

 This is the prison-that-became-a-hotel in Stockholm. That’s my kids up there. They’re all grown up now with babies and mortgages and all that. My son’s a Habs fan. My daughter hates hockey. That other person is my ex-wife. She stopped liking me for some reason, and we split up in 1993.