Life in the KHL: punishing camps, gruesome travel, shady characters and curious accident settlements

Jason Kay
Metallurg Novokuznetsk v Sibir

A fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2001, Bernd Bruckler is an Austrian-born goalie who spent three adventure-filled seasons in the KHL. In his book, This is Russia: Life in the KHL – Doctors, Bazas and Millions of Air Miles, Bruckler shares stories about punishing training camps, gruesome travel, shady characters and life and hockey in Russia in general. The following is an adapted excerpt from the book, which was co-written with Finnish journalist Risto Pakarinen.

When I got to Nizhny Novgorod, I realized that the coach and I were the only ones with club-provided cars. Just as quickly I realized how horrendous the traffic was, and how difficult it was to get around. The police stopped cars all the time, and they really loved to stop mine, which was plastered with Torpedo logos. It was like having a bulls-eye on the car.

My car was a GAZ (or Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod), a manufacturer that had its factory right there in Nizhny Novgorod. The company was also, as I would later learn, one of my employers. Maybe. You never knew in Russia.

On one beautiful winter’s day in Nizhny, the sun was shining, and I was a little late for lunch. When I slowly turned left onto the restaurant’s street, I pulled the sun shield down and suddenly heard a loud thump!

I had hit a man. He flew over my car.
I immediately moved the car to the side of the road, and as soon as I got out the man’s friend started screaming at me. At the same time, I saw the man I hit sit up, so I was relieved that he was alive. The two men spoke with each other, and I got on the phone with our GM, Vova. He told me he was on his way.

The police and the ambulance arrived before Vova did. But Vova had called the team doctor, who went directly to the hospital where the ambulance was taking the man, to make sure that nothing shady happened there.

The police told me I was free to leave, and that I could play the next game.

“You’ll be ok,” one policeman said and patted me on the shoulder.

I had played 25 games in a row, but our coach realized what a shock the accident had been to me, so he let me sit the next game out.

The man I hit was released from the hospital later that day, so I could breathe a sigh of relief. He had been lucky, and I had been lucky. A few weeks later, the man resurfaced in my life, claiming he had suffered a collapsed lung and some other damages.

Our GM didn’t react well to the man’s claim. He just told me that he’d take care of it.

And that it might cost me something.

In the end, the man wanted 600,000 rubles, or $20,000, which was a lot of money, considering that a bank clerk makes 20,000 rubles a month. Vova told me to bring him 150,000 rubles, a quarter of what the man wanted, and explained how the deal was going to work. Fifty thousand rubles would go to the man I hit with the car, and another 50,000 would go to the policeman who handled the case.

“And 50,000 to a third person,” he said. “Don’t even ask who it is.”

I got the 150,000 rubles to him fast, and I didn’t ask anything.

This is Russia: Life in the KHL is available at Amazon.