MOSCOW — Former NHL star Slava Fetisov took to the ice with CSKA Moscow on Friday, subjecting his 51-year-old body to the pounding of a competitive Continental Hockey League game.
“It’s a very good game,” a sweaty Fetisov said in televised comments after the first period with the game deadlocked at 0-0. “Both teams are playing at maximum speed. The game is very intense.”
Fetisov’s team lost 3-2 to SKA St. Petersburg.
The defenceman, considered one of the game’s best, ended his professional career at age 40 after winning a second straight Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.
Fetisov is now president of CSKA, his childhood club, and a member of the upper house of Russia’s parliament. Several Russian cabinet members and other top officials were among more than 5,000 people who watched the game.
CSKA coach Sergei Nemchinov said he called on Fetisov for Friday’s game against SKA St. Petersburg after defender Denis Kulyash was injured and was counting on the veteran to energize the young team.
But many saw it as a publicity stunt aimed at attracting attention to the sport. Russia has been trying to restore its hockey to the powerhouse status it held before the collapse of the Soviet Union and before many of the country’s best players followed Fetisov in defecting to the NHL.
“For CSKA it’s a super move,” team captain Konstantin Korneyev is quoted as telling the newspaper Sovetsky Sport. “I can’t even imagine how much the interest in our team will grow. The fans will go out of their minds.”
Fetisov’s return led the news on Russia’s state television channels throughout the day.
Darius Kasparaitis, another NHL veteran defender who now plays for SKA St. Petersburg, told the newspaper that Fetisov’s return will produce a wonderful “show on ice.”
But he said SKA, which leads the league’s western division, will play just as aggressively against Fetisov. “Our team is full of angry guys,” Kasparaitis is quoted as saying. “We won’t spare our rival on the ice no matter who he is.”
After morning practice, Fetisov said he was not sure how his body would hold up.
“I skate fairly often, but this is a different game,” he said. “It’s not a show, it’s a real game, so naturally I have worries.”
It was not clear if Fetisov was expected to play for the rest of the season for CSKA, which is sixth in the division.
He will be the first Russian ice hockey player to play at 51. In the NHL, Gordie Howe played the entire season for the Hartford Whalers at the age of 51, scoring 15 goals and adding 26 assists.
Fetisov, who moved to the NHL in 1989, played his last game for CSKA in the national championships in 1988, also against CKA. The St. Petersburg team won 2-1.