The Philadelphia Flyers alumni will play three games in Russia next month, including one in iconic Red Square in Moscow.
The three-game tour will see the Flyers alums play in Kazan on Feb. 16, St. Petersburg on Feb. 18 and Moscow on Feb. 20.
The game on the outdoor rink in Red Square will be the highlight for Joe Watson, who played on Philadelphia's 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup championship teams and helped organize the tour.
"I've been to St. Petersburg but never to Moscow," Watson said. "What we're really excited about is playing in Red Square. They have a 5,000-seat facility there. They're all excited about playing us. … It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our guys are very excited, the guys that are going. It's nice."
Watson, 73, was part of the first Flyers team in 1967-68, and also scored a goal in the Flyers' 4-1 defeat of the Soviet Central Red Army team at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on Jan. 11, 1976. The Flyers were the first NHL team to beat the legendary Central Red Army team, which had defeated the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins and tied the Montreal Canadiens earlier in the tour, but outscored them by a combined 15-8.
He said there's no lingering animosity from that game.
"The Flyers are pretty popular in Moscow and Russia, according to the promoter," Watson said. "They said they'd love to have the Flyers here. The Flyers are very well known in Russia because of their past history."
Watson will be the only Flyers player from the 1976 game taking part in the three games in Russia; he said he was unsure if any of the Central Red Army players from that game would be participating. Watson said Alexander Medvedev, who runs the Gazprom energy company, was recruiting players for the Russia teams.
"I don't think they have a lot of them around from the '70s," Watson said. "We don't know who's participating. I know we're playing the Gazprom team. Alex Medvedev, he came to America and we played against his team in Philadelphia. The other teams, I don't know who the players are. There's some former [NHL] players that live over there some place and I guess we'll be participating in a match against them. Should be a fun time. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our guys are very excited, the guys that are going. It's nice."
The game in St. Petersburg could feature an appearance by Russia president Vladimir Putin.
"[Putin] found out we're coming and he'd like to play if he's around," said Joe Watson, who played on the Flyers' Stanley Cup championship teams in 1974 and 1975 and helped plan the tour. "We'll see what happens. If he can and if he's around or not working or traveling, he's open to participate in the game."
The opposition in Kazan could include Rustam Minnikhanov, the president of Tatarstan, a part of the Russian federation.
"The president is a big Flyers fan," Watson said. "He wants to play with us or against us, doesn't matter, but he wants to play in the game."
Also playing for the Flyers alumni team will be defensemen Brad Marsh and Jeff Chychrun, as well as forwards Shjon Podein and Lindsay Carson. Watson said there are a few Flyers alums living in Russia he's trying to convince to play