Moscow memories: DL family travels to Russia for hockey, sightseeing opportunities

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Detroit Lakes residents John and Stacey Larson recently had a rare opportunity to travel to Moscow, Russia, along with their son Cole, when he was invited to play on a team representing North America at Moscow's prestigious Tretiak Cup.

"Cole was scouted by coaches at spring tournaments that he has played in, and when this opportunity arose to play internationally, it was one we couldn't refuse," said Stacey Larson, adding that while they were unable to bring their other two kids along for this trip, it's one they would like to repeat at some point — and possibly bring the whole family.

"The memories and friendships made on this trip will last a lifetime," she added, noting that Cole not only had a unique opportunity to develop his hockey skills by playing for Canadian coach Sebastien Fortier, alongside some of the most talented players in the U.S. and Canada — as well as a couple of players from Latvia who were called in as last-minute substitutes on Team North America — but all three of them had a rare chance to see the sights of Moscow, experience Russian culture and make new friends from all over North America and Europe.

"They played six games, against three teams from Russia as well as teams from Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic," she added. "Cole played forward on the team.

"It was a long flight, and the very next day, the boys had one practice and two games with their newly formed team," Larson said. "They were exhausted. You could tell through the first two games that the boys were really jetlagged — the time difference is huge. But after we got caught up on rest, the team played great, and gave (the other teams) a good run! Our boys were definitely able to keep up, and lost a few close games in shootouts."
Their performance was all the more impressive, she added, considering that the North American participants had only one practice together as a team prior to the start of the tournament, while some of the Scandinavian team members had been playing together for six years or more, and the Russian teams typically practiced together for three hours a day, five days a week.

Though hockey was the primary focus of the trip, they still got to see quite a few of the sights in and around Moscow, said John Larson.

"It was great," he added. "It was a lot more cosmopolitan than people might think. Everything was very clean — almost spotless — and safe."

His favorite part of the trip, and Stacey's as well, was a visit to the Moscow Circus — where John was even called up at one point to participate in a skit with the circus clowns.

"They asked if I spoke Russian, and I said no, but the guy still gave me instructions in Russian," said John with a laugh.

"He gestured and made enough faces that you got it (what he was saying)," Stacy said. "Everyone was laughing along. It was fun."

"It was a really old-school circus," John added, "like something out of a children's story."

"There were prancing horses with acrobats on their backs, trapeze artists and tightrope walkers and lions and tigers and bears — they even had a live band!" Stacey said. "It was one of the highlights of our trip, for sure."

Another highlight was the night when Stacey, John and Cole stayed out late, sightseeing in Red Square, after the rest of the group had gone back to the hotel for the night.

"We were up until 1:30 in the morning," John said, noting that they were able to call a taxi to take them back to their hotel.

"We used a taxi cab app so we didn't have to worry about the language barrier," Stacey added. "It was great to have that technology available, so we could pay and give directions online."

One of the most beautiful memories they have, she said, was walking down Arbat Street, where many, many strings of lights were hanging, creating a magical atmosphere.

"They were decorations for the World Cup, which had been there just a couple of weeks earlier," she explained.

John said he was particularly impressed by the sight of St. Basil's Cathedral, which was beautiful both during the day, and at night.

"Part of the reason we stayed up so late was to get some photos of St. Basil's at night," he added.

Other highlights included a Moscow River boat tour, where they saw Gorky Park, Red October — a huge building that was once a massive chocolate factory, but is now slowly being converted into smaller restaurants, retail and entertainment spaces — the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Kremlin (both of which they also saw while walking through the city), and a giant sculpture of Peter the Great, the famed Russian tsar who ruled during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

"We would definitely recommend this trip to anyone," Stacey said. "It was an incredible opportunity to travel to a place that I never thought would be possible."

"We definitely want to go back now," Jon added. "It was every bit as amazing as we had hoped it would be, and more."