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February 04, 2017

Vladimir Putin wants to (and very well may) play against Flyers alumni in Russia

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Four decades ago, the Philadelphia Flyers hosted the Red Army -- also known as the Russian national hockey team -- in an exhibition game at the Spectrum, four years before the Russians would find themselves on the wrong end of a Miracle in Lake Placid.

The Flyers won that game, 4-1, and left a lasting impression -- as well as some scars and even broken bones -- on what many considered to be the greatest hockey team ever assembled.

Later this month, 41 years later, they'll have a rematch. Sort of.

Former defenseman Joe Watson will lead a group of ex-Flyers into Russia for a series of exhibition games, including a Winter Classic-esque outdoor game in Moscow's Red Square.

And according to Dave Isaac of The Courier-Post, there's one Russian in particular who would like a crack at the Flyers alumni: President (and amateur hockey enthusiast) Vladimir Putin.

[Putin's] hockey stats are actually impressive. In an exhibition in 2015 he had eight goals in an 18-6 win against a team of retired NHLers. Russia's defense minister had a hat trick, too, with assists coming from Hall of Famer Pavel Bure and Stanley Cup champion Valeri Kamensky.

Will he get a royal treatment from the Flyers, too?

“I don’t know about that,” Watson said. “He’ll have to earn it from us as far as we’re concerned. We may be stuck in Siberia, but what the hell? We’ll have a good time.

“They never release Putin’s schedule until 24 hours before because of security reasons, so Putin, if he’s around, he wants to play the game against us.”  []

Watson, who will travel with eight other former Flyers (and meet up with a few more who already live in Russia) after reaching out to nearly 150 alumni), will be the only member of that 1976 team that put a hurting on the Russians. 

And, as Isaac reports, the main reason many declined to make the trip is exactly what one might expect: politics.

Sure, the Cold War ended decades ago, but with the CIA confirming Russia's reported use of hacking to influence November's presidential election, many felt it would be best to stay home.

And while politics and sports can be separated in many cases, that became much more difficult the moment Putin expressed interest in playing in the game. 

“I think our guys that are there…obviously he’s a powerful figure in the world,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “It would be interesting.”

“I don’t know if that’s going to work against the Flyers, let’s be honest,” current Flyer Jake Voracek joked. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea for the Flyers to go there. I don’t know if they’ll come back.”  []

As long as Putin has another eight-goal game, they should be fine. 


Voracek, a native of the Czech Republic, went on to say that he doesn't actually think it would be dangerous for Flyers alumni to make the trip.

And Watson, who spent 10 months putting this series together, obviously agrees. 

“I think a lot of people were skeptical about it when I first started doing it,” added Watson, who said it took three weeks for their background checks to be completed by the Russian embassy. “They thought it was a waste of time, but I didn’t think it was a waste of time because they’re excited about the Flyers coming. 

"The Flyers are a big name in Russia.”

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Make sure to check out Dave's full story, here, which features much more detail on how this trip came together and what other former Flyers (like Bob Clarke) think about it.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin