Flyers Alumni Russia Tour: Feb. 15, 2017
1:35 PM (Kazan)
Several Flyers Alumni just returned to Hotel Korston after conducting a clinic at a special hockey school within the Republic of Tartarstan. Among students’ studies are an intensive hockey curriculum for boys and both figure skating and dance for girls. A second group of Flyers Alumni helped out youngsters practicing at a different rink in Kazan.
The group at the first session included Joe Watson, Brad Marsh and Jeff Chychrun as well as representatives of the Ministry of Sports. Once again, our hosts pulled out all of the stops to make us feel welcomed. We were greeted with a Tartar cultural program that included performances of folk dances (by students of the school), traditional songs and a lunchtime banquet-style feast of national and regional foods. We met the students, who were brimming with enthusiasm, and extremely polite as they shyly clamored for autographs. After changing into hockey gear, we convened out the ice with kids from two age groups and their coach, Alexander.
We skated with the boys and ran through a few skating, passing and defending drills. We were legitimately impressed at the overall skill level on display – most of the youngsters were already fluid skaters with exceptional passing and puckhandling abilities for boys of their age group. They were clearly well-coached in these areas and eager to receive any pointers we could offer during our time with them on the ice. The big collection of championship trophies in the front lobby was the product of their day-in and day-out hard work. It was a pleasure being on the ice with them as their fellow students watched the session from the balcony. Meanwhile, camera crews and reporters documented the day.
After the on-ice clinic ended, we gathered at center ice for an exchange of gifts and a ceremony led by the Minister of Sports, who was a member of the Soviet Wings team many years ago. The Alumni brought along Flyers pennants for the boys (who hollered “Go Flyers!” in English) and we were given traditional Tartar hats, a hockey pennant and other tokens of their appreciation.
The number one question asked: “Will you please come back to Kazan and our school again?” If we can make that happen again in the future, we’d love to do just that!
Following the clinic, our hosts treated us to a festive lunch; actually, more like a huge banquet for just a few people with enough food and cheer for dozens more than the small gathering. Everything was beautifully presented, prepared with great care and attention to detail and served with tremendous pride and care for our every need. Nobody’s glass or plate remained unfilled for very long!
Later today, a group of Alumni will be taking a tour of historic sites and the breathtaking architecture of the “Little Kremin” and religious sites in Kazan. From a distance, the sites are incredible. Up close, it will no doubt be even more so.
6:00 PM (Kazan)
Game night! We are playing against Team Tartarstan; a collection of local and national team players, alumni of the famed Ak Bars Kazan club and two very special guest players: Rustam Minnikhanov, the president of the Republic of Tartarstan and an avid hockey fans, as well as the Minister of the Interior. Mr. Minnikhanov, wearing number 99 and serving as his team’s captain, will meet with our captain, Joe Watson before the game for a special on-ice ceremony.
Before we got dressed for warmups, we were taken on a tour of the First Museum of Sports, which is attached to the ice arena complex. A tour guide and an interpreter told us about the museum’s collections and gave us a short history of hockey in the region.
Down in the locker room – once again, our hosts found a way to literally make us feel at home by assigning us the huge room used by the home team, whereas our host team dressed in the much smaller and more modest visitors’ room. Our traveling contingent from North America is a small one, so our tour organizer, Scotty MacPherson, helped us fill out our roster.
Among our special guest Flyers Alumni players were retired NHL star Bobby Carpenter (who used to be a thorn in our sides when he played against the Flyers for many years) and former NHL players from Russia such as Andrei Nikolishin and Alexander Semak among a contingent of Russian players who helped fill out a complete roster.
Arriving at our stalls to get dressed for the game, we saw that our Alumni jerseys had a few special twists to them. First of all, the names on the back were all in Russian. Secondly, we had a patch on the front with the emblem of Tartarstan. We were told that the other side would likewise sport a patch with the Flyers’ world famous “flying P” crest on it. Another nice touch: the boards contained commemorations of the Flyers Alumni vs. Team Tartarstan game and, near the ceiling, a Flyers 50th Anniversary flag was prominently displayed next to an American flag.
Pregame warmups get underway at 6:30 after the players on both teams are introduced. The special ceremony with Mr. Minnikhanov and Joe Watson will be shortly before the game.
We lost via shootout, 7-6, after leading for most of the game (much to Joe’s displeasure, as our captain passionately wants to represent the Flyers’ winning tradition by, well, winning) and then having to rally late to re-tie the score.
Our goal scorers: Lindsay Carson, Jeff Chychrun (penalty shot), Al Secord, Andrei Nikolishin, Alexander Semak and Chase Watson (penalty shot). Freddy Cassivi, an AHL Hall of Famer, played the first 30 minutes of the game in goal and, as he almost does for us, provided stellar goaltending.
The first goal for Team Tartarstan was a broken play after a stick snapped and the puck took a favorable bounce to their goal scorer. Mr. Minnikhanov, who was given a penalty shot attempt by the referee just seconds after the opening faceoff and who had about a half dozen shot attempts, scored the second goal for his team a few seconds before we switched goalies at the midpoint of the game.
Back at the hotel, we were once again treated to a sumptuous meal, this team with our entire team, including guest players and Tarstan officials, on hand. Courtesy of our tour arrangers, we dined in a lavish restaurant on the 25th floor of Hotel Korston, overlooking the snow-covered city of Kazan.