Canadian, Russian hockey legends hit the ice in St. Petersburg

Canada's Wayne Gretzky (left) greets Russia's Igor Larionov after an exhibition game in St....

Canada's Wayne Gretzky (left) greets Russia's Igor Larionov after an exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5, 2012. (ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:28 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - In 1983, Ken Dryden wrote an acclaimed best-seller on hockey called The Game.

On Wednesday, at a reunion of the 1972 Summit Series teams, the Hall of Fame goaltender witnessed the enduring magnetic appeal of the greatest of games.

Not only were players from those Canadian and Soviet Union teams of 40 years ago honoured at St. Petersburg's SKA Sports Palace, but many participants from the thrilling 1987 Canada Cup series faced off in an exhibition game.

"You never know what it's going to feel like when you return here (to Russia), but it has been fun to see," said Dryden, who watched the action with a dozen Summit Series teammates.

To paraphrase the late great coach Badger Bob Johnson, it was a great day for hockey.

The final score was 7-5 for the Russian stars -- a team loaded with the likes of Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, taking on counterparts such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brett Hull -- but the outcome didn't matter.

After the final buzzer, players from both series gathered for pictures and one-on-one encounters.

"This is amazing," long-time New Jersey Devils defenceman Ken Daneyko said as he watched the greats from 1972 greet each other. "It's an honour just to be on the ice with these guys."

And to think that 40 years ago the Summit Series featured some legendary nastiness amid the overtones of the Cold War and opposite political ideology.

"When you greet friends, you greet them with words," Dryden said. "You don't greet players from the former Soviet Union with words because you don't have common words.

"How do you convey a feeling friends feel without words? You can. You shared something, an experience and a time that mattered more to you in your own careers than any other event did.

"That's something most friends with the same language don't share."

The hockey itself wasn't so much about the score as it was about relishing the occasion. The Russian fans created waves of energy, excited at the chance to see so many legends on the ice and showing their appreciation with chants, cheers and -- of course -- the wave.

"They way you preserve the history of the game is to have the younger generation aware of what happened in the past," Messier said. "They grow up having role models that they emulate like I did growing up seeing players on that great Russian squad, patterned my game after.

"Games like this are very important to preserving the series."

As a side benefit, Canadian players from the 1972 series have had a chance to meet the generation that followed, and have been reminded what their eight games against the Soviet Union meant.

"It's hockey immersion and I haven't had hockey immersion for a long team," Dryden said. "And it's with some people I haven't had a chance to talk with at length for some time.

"People like Mark Messier, Brett Hull, who really are steeped in hockey. I hadn't realized they were such big fans. But to be a great player, you've got to be a great fan, you've got to have your heroes."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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