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MOSCOW (CP) – Guy Lafleur, Lanny McDonald, Vladislav Tretiak and Vyacheslav Fetisov will be among hockey oldtimers playing four exhibition games next week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian-Soviet rivalry.

“There were always just two schools of hockey in the world – Canadian and Russian,” says Valery Vasilyev, who played in the 1972 Summit Series and who is one of the coaches for the Russian team. “We were the two hockey superpowers, and we’re still playing each other.

“It’s not over.”

Peter Stastny, Brad Park and Stephane Richer also are on Canada’s team, while Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov, Alexander Yakushev and Alexander Ragulin also will play for the home side. Stastny, although from Slovakia, played for Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup because he was still considered a defector from the former Czechoslovakia.

The matches are the doing of Fetisov, who now is Russia’s minister of sport and who is using them to promote the flagging image of hockey among Russian youngsters.

The 50th anniversary refers to the first time Canadians and Soviets clashed on ice – the 1954 world championship encounter between the East York Lyndhursts and the Moscow Dynamos, which the Russians won 7-2.

In that game, the Soviets, who only began playing hockey on Kremlin orders in 1946, taught the Canadians a sharp lesson in “stick handling, skating and passing,” according to a 1954 Canadian Press account.

That was an accurate indication of what was to come.

“The Canadian journalists all forecast that we would be easily beaten,” when the 1972 series opened, says Yakushev, a prominent player at the time. “But we were very confident of our abilities and we demonstrated it to them rather quickly.”

After falling behind in the series in the four games at home, Canada’s team won the last three in Moscow to earn overall victory in the classic eight-game showdown.

For much of the past half century, hockey was an adjunct of the Cold War, and the rivalry was fuelled by ideological passions.

“We represented two different social systems – socialism and capitalism,” says Yevgeny Zimin, who scored the first Soviet goal in the first game of the 1972 series in Montreal. “We were under instructions to win – always and everywhere.”

Now, Zimin says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that hockey is just a game, and the best team wins.”

Fetisov says there’ll be no politics in this round. It’ll be friendly jousting between old opponents.

“This is a chance for our legends to play against their friends from the Canadian side, to bring the memory back,” he says.

He aims to revive interest in both countries in Russian hockey, and perhaps raise some money to help fund hockey schools for Russian children.

“Russian hockey is still alive,” he says. “There are Russian players winning the Stanley Cup every year, but we need some help to develop mass hockey in this country.

“In my time, millions of Russian kids were playing. We need to rebuild that.”

The games will be played Nov. 2 in the central Russian city of Tver, Nov. 4 in St. Petersburg, Nov. 5 in Moscow and Nov. 7 in the Moscow suburb of Podolsk.

Many hockey heroes fell on hard times after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which provided benefits for athletes considered lavish at the time.

But Fetisov says he persuaded President Vladimir Putin last year to decree a $500 US monthly pension for all former Olympic champions, including players on Soviet national hockey teams.

He says that solved the most urgent problems, as well as boosting the morale of the hockey vets.

“Now they feel front stage again, they feel that people care,” he says.

The Russian seniors say they’re in shape and ready to play again.

“We’re a little older and maybe we won’t move so fast as we did then,” says Yakushev. “But we still know the game. You’ll see.

“Most of all, it’ll be great to see all those old Canadian friends from the past.”