MOSCOW – Marcel Hossa scored three times as a foreign squad led by former NHL MVP Jaromir Jagr edged an all-Russian team 7-6 in the Continental Hockey League’s all-star game in Red Square on Saturday.
Solid goaltending from Robert Esche and former Ottawa Senator Ray Emery also helped Jagr’s team withstand a late comeback attempt by the Russian squad, which also featured former NHL player Alexei Yashin.
The game was played outdoors in -16 C temperatures before roughly 2,500 shivering fans in the grandstands.
With the Kremlin walls and the colourful domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral as backdrops, the match was designed to be a showcase for the KHL, the Russian-based league.
“The (baseball) all-star game in Yankee stadium is special, and the Russians want to do something special, too,” said Jagr, who joined the Siberian team Avangard Omsk last year.
Jagar was hoping for a high-scoring game for the sake of the fans – and he got it.
Hossa, who plays for Latvia’s Dinamo Riga, opened the scoring in the first period, and his second goal gave the foreigners a 4-2 lead with less than five minutes left in the second. The Russians rallied with two goals before the period was over – including one from CSKA Moscow’s Oleg Saprykin with a second to play.
In the third, Saprykin put the Russians ahead for the first time, but Jagr’s countryman Jan Marek of Metallurg Magnitogorsk made it 5-5 on a penalty shot. The teams traded goals again before Hossa beat Russian goalkeeper Konstantin Barulin with just over one minute left in regulation time.
Sergei Mozyakin scored twice for the Russians, with Denis Kulyash and Alexander Radulov adding the others.
Former Washington Capitals defenceman Ben Clymer had a goal for the international team, as did Jaroslav Kudrna and Pavel Brendl.
Despite decades on ice, both captains sounded a little daunted by the frigid temperatures at the open-air rink.
“The last time I played outdoors, I was 12 years old and it was minus 30,” Yashin said. “When a line got off the ice, we would run into a hut nearby to warm up.”
Jagr said he was six or seven when he last played outdoors, at home in the Czech Republic.
Jagr and Yashin, who plays for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, are the most prominent of a number of former NHL players who have been lured by KHL teams spending some of the money from Russia’s eight-year, oil-fuelled economic boom.
Russian hockey officials hope the match, which was broadcast live on a major Russian television network, will give the league a boost amid the global financial crisis, which is hitting companies sponsoring Russian sports teams.
“(The crisis) of course could affect our clubs,” said KHL managing director Vladimir Shalayev. “But for now we are looking to the future with optimism.”
He said the financial situation of the league’s clubs was “quite stable.”
The KHL was rocked in October by the death of 19-year-old New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov, Jagr’s teammate at Avangard Omsk, who collapsed on the bench next to Jagr during a match outside Moscow.
Jagr is a nine-time NHL all-star who recorded 646 goals and 1,599 points – the most by an European-born player – in 17 seasons.
Yashin was a top draft pick in 1992 and moved from the Ottawa Senators to New York Islanders in 2001. He had the final four seasons of his 10-year contract bought out by the Islanders in 2007 and is in his second season in the Russian league, where he said he enjoys the support of fans from his home country.
He thanked the spectators who braved the conditions and nearly filled the grandstand, roaring for a Russian victory.
“To be on Red Square when it is so cold – that means they love hockey,” he said. “It means Russian hockey is alive, and that’s the most important thing.”