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It was a classic hockey tilt for the ages: The Stanley Cup winning Flames against the formidable Soviet powerhouse, with bragging rights on the line

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

In terms of hype, this one should've been promoted by Don King, directed by Cecil DeMille.

A TV audience of over 100 million was anticipated across the then Soviet Union. Every one of the 10,000 seats inside the Moscow Sports Palace was sold out.

It held all the drama of a heavyweight title fight.

Sept. 21, 1989. In this corner … the Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames, representing the NHL. And in this corner … Soviet Red Army, the most successful non-North American club team in history.

Heading in, the Flames had won all three previous games since arriving in the Soviet Union - 4-2 over Khimik, 5-2 against Sokol Kiev and 3-2 in OT versus Krylya Sovetov.

It also marked the end of an intensive Friendship Tour - also featuring the Washington Capitals - which had opened on Sept. 10 in Prague, featuring a two-game set against the Czechoslovakian national team.

The Flames made the junket fully understanding they were behind the 8-ball, having had no training camp prep to face formidable opposition.

By the end of the tour, the players were weary from the travel, time change, a lot of admittedly wonderful sightseeing (Old Town Hall Tower & Astronomical Clock in Prague, Red Square, the Hermitage Museum, etc. ) and in adapting to available foodstuffs ("I ate more,'' quipped defenceman Gary Suter, "when my jaw was wired shut").

Naturally, Calgary-Red Army had been saved for last.

"This has to be the biggest game of the tour,'' announced pivot Joe Nieuwendyk. "Growing up all you ever heard from Russia was Red Army, the Big Five, stuff like that."

Red Army was in the process of transition. All three members of the fabled KLM Line had been sold off to NHL interests - including Sergei Makarov to the Flames, while cornerstone D-man Vyacheslav Fetisov had joined the New Jersey Devils.

But Viktor Tikhovov still had iron-clad command of the program and the name Red Army continued to be a major force in international hockey.

Throughout a cagey match, which didn't live up to the explosive offensive fireworks anticipated, the Soviets received goals from 29-year-old defenceman Alexei Kasatonov and wispy 21-year-old centre Igor Chibirev to carve out a 2-1 victory.

At the final buzzer, Soviet players mobbed goalie Maxim Mikhailovsky.

Speedy winger Paul Ranheim scored the lone goal for the North Americans.

The Flames amped up the heat in the final minutes and with 47 seconds remaining Soviet defender Igor Kravchuk - who would late on in his career join the Flames for a season-and-a-half stay - was sent off for interference. But the closest they came to equalizing would be via a deflection by Joel Otto of an Al MacInnis shot that sailed inches wide of Mikhailovsky's net.

In the game's aftermath, the Soviets shipped a case of champagne to their visiting rivals. But then again, given the outcome, they could afford to be gracious hosts …

"When they won tonight, they looked as if they'd won the Stanley Cup,'' grumbled Nieuwendyk.

"I'd love to play those guys later on.

"It was almost as if, as soon as we won the Stanley Cup last May, these guys got up at 6:30 the next morning and started training for this game."

Echoed Conn Smythe Trophy-winning defenceman MacInnis defiantly: "Everybody wants to prove they play in the best league in the world, but I don't think one game proves anything."


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