Flyers Alumni Russia Tour: Feb. 16, 2017
11:30 PM (St. Petersburg)
Today was a travel day for us. Before checking out of our hotel, a couple of us walked to the World War II monument and eternal flame, which was quite a sight on the snow-covered (and still lightly snowing) backdrop. Afterwards, we departed Kazan, where we had received royal treatment, for St. Petersburg via a connecting flight in Moscow. Our flight for Moscow to St. Petersburg was delayed several hours.
We joked around afterwards that at least we got a "tough road point" out of the game in Kazan last night. However, we feel like we should have won it. While these games are first and foremost about fun, nostalgia, renewing friendships and making some new ones, the competitive instincts still burn inside. None more so than for our venerable team leader, Joe Watson. To Joe, there's pride and honoring the Flyers crest behind every single game. He wants committment from the boys.
It was a particular treat last night to have Bobby Carpenter and Andrei Nikolishin join our team. While neither guy played for the Flyers during their active NHL careers, they'd have been good fits on the club. Although Flyers fans in North America were asking us about the contingent of former NHL playes -- which also included Alexander Semak, who scored a goal for us -- one addition that should not be overlooked was that of defenseman Sergey Gimayev.
A rookie on CSKA (Red Army) in 1976 and a fixture on the national team from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, he played against NHL players many times in his career. He would have been an NHL player in the post-Soviet era, as he was a big and sturdy blueliner. To this day, he remains a prominent figure in Russian hockey as a national commentator. Sergey said it meant a lot after all these years to don the crest of an NHL team that he always held in high respect. That was a great compliment.
We've only been in St. Petersburg a few hours now but we are already in awe of the stunning views of the city we've seen. After we checked into our hotel, the Petro Palace, our tour co-organizer, Scotty MacPherson, continued to spoil us rotten by treating us to dinner at the spectacular restaurant located high in the Gazprom headquarters building. The food was outstanding and it was nice after a long day spent at airports to share a great meal in an unhurried environment that also offered an up-close view at one of Europe's most famous cathedrals.
During dinner, we swapped old (and some new) stories. Al Secord mentioned that while his time with the Flyers was brief, his time in Philadelphia was instrumental in helping to launch what has become his post-playing occupation as airplane pilot. Meanwhile, Shjon Podein talked about how much Ed Snider meant not only to himself but to his entire family: a cirucial part of the shared bond between the different generations of Flyers players. We all greatly miss Mr. Snider. We want to do his memory proud with the way we represent the flying P crest during this tour.
Tomorrow will be a very busy day for us. The highlight will be an outdoor shinny game -- no crowds, just a group of guys getting together to play for the fun of it -- in the afternoon. However, when we arrived in St. Petersburg, we saw that billboards for our game on Saturday against an SKA Alumni team were prominently on display in many different locations around the city. We were told that the game will be strongly attended, possibly even sold out. We shall see, but it will be very exciting.
SKA St. Petersburg has been good to us, too. At the St. Petersburg airport, we loaded our gear into a SKA truck. Additionally, after the game on Saturday, we will stay on to watch the current SKA team in a KHL game -- a chance to see former NHL superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk in action. Should be a lot of fun.