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For Daneyko, week in Russia brings back memories

Wednesday, 09.19.2012 / 10:36 AM ET / Features
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For Daneyko, week in Russia brings back memories
Daneyko played 1,283 games with the Devils, most in franchise history.

In a 20-year NHL career, Ken Daneyko won three Stanley Cups to go along with silver and bronze medals earned representing Canada at the World Championship. With that kind of resume, he figured he had experienced everything hockey could offer prior to his 2003 retirement.

That changed in early September, when the former New Jersey Devils defenseman made a special hockey pilgrimage to Russia.

"Everybody asked me when I retired if it was difficult. For me, it really wasn't. I was very content," said Daneyko, who traveled to participate in two exhibition games featuring former NHL players. "When I got in the locker room with these guys, all of a sudden you're in a room sitting next to (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mark) Messier. Brett Hull was there. To see the competitiveness from them, it was the first time I felt like an NHLer again. I thought, maybe this is what I miss. Even though it was some old [guys], the atmosphere was unbelievable."

The collection of some of the game's greatest players gathered for a series pitting a team of Canadian players against a roster of former Russian greats, including Pavel Bure, Alex Mogilny, and Daneyko's former Devils teammate Viacheslav Fetisov.

Despite Canada being outplayed in the first game in St. Petersburgh, goaltender Trevor Kidd managed to keep things close. But Kidd's heroics wouldn't be enough, and the Russians won 6-4. By the time the scene shifted to Yaroslavl a few days later, Daneyko and his Canadian teammates weren't ready to give their hosts a two-game sweep.

"We played to win. You see Gretzky and Hull and Messier saying, 'We're not losing two, boys,'" Daneyko told NHL.com. "Regardless if it's for goodwill, we were all into it and the second game was very competitive. We won 5-4 to split [the series]. The Russians hate to lose on their turf. I really just felt alive again in the hockey world."

I really just felt alive again in the hockey world. - Ken Daneyko

The games rekindled Daneyko's competitive edge and entertained Russian fans. But for everyone involved, there was more to the week than just playing hockey. For the players, that meant first honoring the 40th anniversary of the historic 1972 Summit Series, a seminal hockey moment that still resonates with Daneyko.

"That was so big and so huge. I grew up in Edmonton, where we stopped in the middle of class. I remember it like it was yesterday," Daneyko said. "At 10 a.m. they put TVs in the hallways to stop and watch. It was a great thing for hockey."

The ceremony commemorating the tournament featured players from both teams and an appearance from Russian president Vladimir Putin. A few days later in Yaroslavl, the players marked the one-year anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 44 people, including most of the Lokomotiv club's players and coaches. For Daneyko, the ceremonies in Yaroslavl proved to be an emotional moment, especially after a chance meeting with the widow of Yaroslavl's coach, Brad McCrimmon.

"I talked to her for about an hour, she's such a strong lady. You can't put yourself in those shoes, you can't imagine what they've been through," Daneyko said. "In the morning we put roses out for the guys. We just paid our respects the day of the game. That was really special. You just can't imagine when a tragedy like this happens, the number of people it affects."

With the exception of a short Russian exhibition in 2000 honoring Fetisov, it was the first time Daneyko had played there since the 1986 World Championship in what was then the Soviet Union. More than 25 years after that bronze-medal performance, Daneyko visited again to reminisce with old friends and enjoy an experience he won't soon forget.

"Just to be in that room with these guys, I was like a little kid. And here's a guy who played 20 years in the National Hockey League. What a great feeling. It was a real honor," Daneyko said. "I got to bring my son along. It was the trip of a lifetime for him.

"Boy, do they love their hockey over there in Russia."

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59