|Billy Smith's first trip to Russia was not only memorable for the hockey he played; but also for the spectacular experience and treatment he received throughout his stay.|
Unlike everything Smith had heard, his first trip to Russia was not only memorable for the hockey he played on a makeshift rink in the Red Square; but also for the spectacular experience and treatment he received throughout his stay.
Smith was part of a contingent of former players and Hall of Famers from around the globe who descended on Moscow’s Red Square for a game last December against some Russia’s hockey legends.
“All the stories I heard about (Russia) weren’t true,” Smith told NHL.com. “I guess back 10 to 15 years ago I remember some of the guys that played on those Canada Cup teams were saying the food was no good, this and that. Even the interpreter that was with us was saying if you were in Russia three years ago you would not believe it was the same place. The people couldn’t believe how much it had changed.
“I went there and was like, ‘Holy Geez, why did everyone lie to me?’ ”
Like the country itself, the game played in Red Square on Dec. 9, 2006 was a must-see-it-to-believe-it spectacle.
Conceived by former CSKA Moscow and Soviet national team stars Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov, the outdoor game -- the first of its kind in Russia’s most spectacular setting -- was put on to benefit for former Russian players who have fallen on hard times.
Larionov and Fetisov, who is now the Minister of Sport in Russia, also wanted to commemorate 60 years of Russian hockey, the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s first Olympic victory in hockey, and the 25th anniversary of the famed Russian Five: the KLM Line of Larionov, Sergey Makarov, and Vladimir Krutov, plus defensemen Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.
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Fetisov and Larionov invited a talented grouping of foreign participants from North America and Europe to Red Square, including Hockey Hall of Famers Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Peter Stastny, Steve Shutt, and Smith. They were coached by Scotty Bowman, who said all he did was stand behind the bench and marvel at the scenery.
A temporary rink ran from a department store to Lenin’s Mausoleum for a Saturday night hockey match. The Kremlin was illuminated. Close to 2,000 fans packed into the Square and sat together on stands specially brought in for the historic event.
“They built a beautiful rink, put it up a few days before and they kept it up very well,” Bowman told NHL.com. “The Kremlin offices were right across from the benches. It was very good ice, just perfect, like a normal rink.”
The teams played to a 10-10 tie thanks to Coffey’s game-tying, breakaway goal with two seconds remaining.
“It was like an NHL All-Star game,” Bowman said. “There was beautiful passing and no defense. The goalies were pretty good actually. We were a little short on defense with only three or four guys so we had to keep them fresh.”
Mother Nature cooperated, too.
Bowman said it was slightly windy and probably in the mid-20s.
“A little nippy, but a beautiful night,” Smith added. “It wasn’t that much different than when we used to play as kids in the backyard. The only thing is the scenery was spectacular. It was special to do something like that.”