Messier finally gets to play in Russia

Canada's Mark Messier scores against Russia's Maxim Mikhaylovski during an exhibition game in St....

Canada's Mark Messier scores against Russia's Maxim Mikhaylovski during an exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2012. (ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:36 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - For all Mark Messier accomplished in his hockey career, something was missing.

He finally checked off another item from his bucket list here Wednesday night.

Messier, the man with six Stanley Cup titles to his name, a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame and a multitude of honours, had never played in the Soviet Union/Russia before.

In fact, this is the first time he's even been to Russia. He's come along with teammates from the 1987 Canada Cup for a pair of old-timers games against Russians who played in that event.

"The one regret I do have in my career is I didn't play that much hockey in Europe," Messier said before suiting up alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Glenn Anderson for Wednesday's game here. The two teams will skate again Friday in Yaroslavl.

Part of the reason for that gaping hole in his resume was that Messier's teams in Edmonton and New York were always in the NHL playoffs. And when he did skate in international competition, it was almost always in North America.

It's easy to think of Messier as one of the ultimate all-Canadian players with his brand of size, skill and toughness, but he said he patterned his game after players from the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, which he watched as a youngster.

"It had a great impact on me as a hockey player," Messier said. "I loved the way the Russians used to play hockey and still play hockey."

Just think, if Canada and the Soviet Union had a second Summit Series, wouldn't the Moose likely have had an impact akin to what Phil Esposito had in the '72 set?

The closest Messier came was the Canada Cup tournaments of 1984 and 1987.

He remembers the 1987 event -- it is being honoured in Russia on its 25th anniversary, along with the 40th anniversary of the 1972 series -- for the others who were on the ice.

"What stands out for me was the emergence of Mario Lemieux and seeing Wayne and Mario play together," Messier recalled. "So often, you see two superstars on one team, but for some reason, their styles don't mesh. Arguably, the two best players ever in the game were on the same line and their styles were so perfectly meshing it was beautiful to watch.

"I remember lining up the first game with myself, Mario Lemiuex, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque on defence against the KLM line with (Igor) Larionov, Vladimir (Krutov) and (Sergei) Makarov, and (Slava) Fetisov and (Alexei Kasatonov), and thinking to myself, 'Wow, in this one faceoff, I'll probably never play against better competition and with better teammates.

"It was an incredible experience."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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