MOSCOW - Over a week in Russia, there will be ups and downs. Fortunately, there were very few lowlights and more than enough highlights to have made this trip one of the most memorable — if not THE most memorable — of my career to date.
Here are 10.
* The fans in Yaroslavl. The one-year anniversary of the plane crash which took the lives of 37 people involved with the Lokomotiv team, plus seven flight crew, was hard. So many widows. So many children without fathers.
But the fans wanted so much to support all of them, while also grieving. After all, many of those who died were from there and that was their team.
The outpouring of emotion at the arena and the crash site won't be forgotten.
* Shopping with the ladies. With finally some free time in Yaroslavl to purchase a gift for my wife, I was wise enough to tag along when Judy Gilbert, Janet Hull, Carol Dionne and Kim Alexis, who is married to Ron Duguay, went out and about. After all, these women have taste.
The problem came when Kim Alexis tried on a mink scarf I thought would be nice and said, "Now you can see if it looks good." A supermodel who was as big as Christie Brinkley and Paulina Porizkova in the 1980s could make a suit of armour look good. Of course I got the scarf.
* Phil Esposito at the KHL offices. Elvis is in the building. The parade of people who work for the KHL and the country's top junior league was a sight to see. The man who said in the past he would have killed a Soviet player to win the 1972 Summit Series is adored in Russia for his play and his personality. Everybody seemingly wanted their picture with Esposito.
* The reaction to Wayne Gretzky. Those in attendance at the Dynamo Moscow game which opened the KHL season seemingly were stunned at the thought The Great One — or Vayne as he kept calling himself — was on hand. Thus a muted reception until reality set in. Not the case in St. Petersburg or Yaroslavl in the next few days. Russian hockey fans were simply giddy to be in his presence, especially the journalists.
* The Moscow subway stations. With their marble and intricate ceilings, the subways of the Russian capital are works of art on their own. Sure, they're busy, crowded and just as dirty as subways in other major centres around the world, but the beauty must be relished. They're tourist attractions.
* The Kremlin. During a tour, we saw the cathedrals among the square inside the famous Kremlin. Plus, spent time in the Armoury, which is a museum filled with enough treasure to balance the books for all of Canada. The priceless and one-of-a-kind treasures range from carriages used by the monarchy, to gold and silver items of all description to clothes, including Peter the Great's boots, and the collection of Faberge Eggs. Simply amazing.
* The trains. Sure, I was nervous the first time when going to St. Petersburg overnight and the ones to and from Yaroslavl were a little worn down, but travel is travel. The locals use them and they give you a sense of real Russians. The high-speed one I took from St. Petersburg back to Moscow was the best for comfort, but the sleeping-cabin trains were also a new experience.
* The games. Seeing Gretzky and Messier on the ice together again was special, but also watching Igor Larionov weave his magic, Pavel Bure try to turn on the jets and even Alexander Yakushev still playing at age 65 is special for somebody who fell in love with hockey during the 1970s.
* Canada's 1972 Summit Series team. The 14 members of Team Canada who made the trip couldn't have been more welcoming. So many were happy to give their time for interviews before the trip. All were fun to be around all through the week. By the way, I'm not sure whether Pat Stapleton or Bill White has the puck from Paul Henderson's series clinching goal. The legend continues.
* The people of Russia. The reputation for being dour and humourless isn't true. Not in my experience. So many, even though some didn't speak English or just "a little" were as helpful as could be. In Moscow, when I left for Yaroslavl, one family waited with me at the spot my train car would be, waited for me to get on. To all: Spaseeba and da veedanya (Thank you and goodbye.)
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak