MOSCOW – Ice hockey great Slava Fetisov took to the ice for CSKA Moscow on Friday, then the 51-year-old said it was his last game.
More than 11 years after ending his professional career, and 21 years after his last appearance for CSKA, Fetisov became the oldest Russian to play in the Continental Hockey League.
But after his team lost 3-2 to SKA St. Petersburg, Fetisov said he did not intend to keep playing.
“I think that was the only game for me to take part,” he said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “We have plenty of young guys.”
He admitted it was physically challenging, adding, “I tried to hold on, I tried to play to the maximum.”
However, CSKA coach Sergei Nemchinov said Fetisov may join the team again.
“He did it well today,” he told RIA Novosti.
Fetisov’s return led the news on Russia’s state television channels throughout the day.
One of the game’s greatest defenceman, he captained the mighty Soviets throughout the 1980s, then was allowed to join the NHL, where he won a second straight Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, after which he retired at age 40. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
Fetisov was 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 Friday’s game.
Nemchinov said he called on Fetisov 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 league. Russia has been trying to restore its ice 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,” captain Konstantin Korneyev told 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.”
Darius Kasparaitis, another former NHL defenceman who plays for SKA St. Petersburg, told the newspaper that Fetisov’s return would be a “show on ice.”
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.”
After the scoreless first period, he said, “It’s a very good game. Both teams are playing at maximum speed. The game is very intense.”
Fetisov last played for CSKA in the 1988 national championships, also against SKA, which also won then, 2-1.