Just like any young lacrosse player, Brock Koczka grew up dreaming of being part of that great rivalry: St. Petersburg vs. Moscow. Okay, maybe that’s not quite how it went, but now that he’s in Russia Koczka is thrilled to get to play for the town he’s calling home against the dreaded Muscovites. Koczka grew up in Ontario and started playing lacrosse when he was 10. He moved to Peterborough in high school and, as he says, “well, everyone plays lacrosse there.” He continued with the game through high school, playing field for Crestwood, before moving on to Trent University, where he played with some guys that NLL fans might recognize, like Josh Wasson and Mack O’Brien.
Koczka was a long pole for the Excalibur and also played box for the Norwood James Gang in Senior B, where he was a defender. But Koczka figured he’d probably left his lacrosse days behind when he found a job teaching kindergarten at a private school in St. Petersburg, a city of almost 5 million people in the far western reaches of Russia, much closer to Finland and Estonia than Moscow. The rivalry between the two cities is real. Perhaps it stems from the fact that St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia for over 200 years before the government decamped for Moscow in 1918.
Whatever the reason, the White Knights of St. Pete want nothing more than to defeat the Rebels in their home and home series, the first game of which this year is next Sunday, May 13. The games are supposed to play on four national television channels, Koczka says. The series has been going for three years and it truly is the most heated lacrosse rivalry in Russia. Of course, it’s the only lacrosse rivalry in Russia, as they are currently the only two teams. That could change next year. “We are trying to organize other teams,” Koczka says. “We are in talks with a team in Latvia and Ukraine. So next year we could be up to 4 teams and 8 games.”
Russian visas can make travel to and from the country tricky, he says. The main problem limiting the sport’s growth in Russia, though, is lack of equipment. “We need donations. All of our gear was given to us. We can use all the old used gear we can get.”
Right now Koczka and his teammates are focused on their game next weekend. They’ve become a close group despite, or maybe because of, a wide divergence of nationalities. “We have Americans, me the lone Canadian, some Ukrainians, a Latvian, Armenians, all of them just love to get out and play. Especially when the soccer players stay to watch us for two hours.”
With so little lacrosse in the country, how did Koczka wind up finding the White Knights to join? “I came here for work in September. Luckily I was on the internet a few weeks ago checking NLL scores [editor's note: and reading IL Indoor, naturally], keeping tabs on my friends from back home in Peterborough. Then it occurred to me to check Google for lacrosse in Russia. I’ve known of buddies going to Prague to play in a tourney so I figured there has to be someone here who plays.”
With a Hungarian family background and some Russian in the family mix, Koczka finds the food familiar and says “It has been great. The Russians are very warm once you meet them.” They also take their sports seriously, so they like to have Canadians teach them how to beat Canadians, he jokes. Okay, it was probably only partly a joke. “It’s amazing going from uni lax to senior B to a Russian team. Never could I have dreamed it. We still can’t imagine lax in the former USSR/CCCP.”
Koczka says he’ll be in St. Petersburg for at least one more year, and his dream has become helping the sport to grow in Russia. As he mentioned, the biggest need is for equipment. If you’d like to help and have some gear you could spare, you can contact him at email@example.com.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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