MOSCOW - If Wayne Gretzky had his way, we would have had another Summit Series.
After he and Mario Lemieux led Canada to the thrilling victory over the Soviet Union in the best-of-three final of the 1987 Canada Cup, the Great One really wanted to take the rivalry up a notch.
"My wish and dream was to eliminate the Canada Cup and do another eight-game series with Canada and the Soviet Union," Gretzky said Monday night, shortly after arriving in Moscow. "I felt the NHL had expanded so much and so quickly, we could play two games in Canada, two in the U.S., two somewhere in Europe and two in Russia.
"It really was my aspiration, but I never got the opportunity."
In fact, Gretzky has never played a hockey game in Russia, something he'll change Wednesday night in St. Petersburg.
This week's hockey celebrations in Russia are a three-fold event.
Not only are the nations honouring the 1972 Summit Series and holding a memorial game in Yaroslavl to honour the KHL Lokomotiv team that was wiped out in a plane crash a year ago, but it's also the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Canada Cup, arguably the most thrilling of the events born from the 1972 series.
And Gretzky jumped at the chance to join the festivities, bringing along Mark Messier and Brett Hull.
"I was here in '81 and did a documentary with (Vladislav) Tretiak, but I've never played hockey in Russia, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to come. I never got the chance to play here," Gretzky said. "This is going to be my chance, although I'm 51 and slow."
The events in Yaroslavl will have a special meaning for Gretzky, too.
He played with Alexander Karpovtsev (one of the Lokomotiv assistant coaches) while with the New York Rangers and Yaroslavl head coach Brad McCrimmon at the 1978 world juniors.
"Every time I went into the town (he was coaching in) when I was coaching, he would always come into my office to talk," he explained. "Friday will be a tough one, but I'm glad I'm doing it."
Gretzky may hold more scoring records than any other player in NHL history, but part of him is in awe of Canada's 1972 team. He was just a youngster when that series took place.
"My next door neighbour probably had the first colour TV on the street, and my dad would let me get out of school at 12:30 and we'd go there and watch the games," said Gretzky, adding that Phil Esposito's eight-game performance was as good as anybody has ever seen. "It was so emotional when we won. I was thinking about it today. There was so much friction between the United States and the Soviet Union, but the real friction was between Canada and the USSR as far as hockey supremacy. For the Canadians to come back the way they did and to win the way they did is really unique.
"It's funny, but I have the series on DVD and I was watching it this summer. My kids, who are American, really don't understand what '72 is all about. They laugh because it was the middle of July and I was watching Game 6 out of Russia."
Of course, that 1987 Canada Cup series -- a trio of 6-5 games which ended with Lemieux's goal in the dying moments of regulation time in the finale -- was something special as well.
"Spectacular. You'll never duplicate '72, but I remember saying to Mike (Keenan) after Game 3, 'That's the closest we're going to be to '72.' It was so phenomenal," he said.
But 1972 remains the standard, so Gretzky brought his father, Walter, along to Russia to take in the experience together.
"His dad was from Belarus and he knows a lot of the guys from the '72 team," he said. "We watched, liked every family in '72, so it's nice to reminisce together and listen to their stories."