Gretzky, Messier bring a North American touch to KHL All-Star Game

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MINSK – The KHL staged its second annual All-Star Game in Minsk, Belarus on Saturday. A red-dressed team consisting of Russian players took on the rest of the world, dressed in white, in a brand new Minsk Arena, also the host of the 2014 World Championship.

While both rosters boasted with several former NHLers, the highest concentration of hockey knowledge and experience was seen at the ceremonial opening faceoff, when Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier stepped on the ice - supported by Sergei Fedorov - together with the KHL president Alexander Medvedev and Vyacheslav Fetisov.

Gretzky, a guest of the Belarusian hockey federation, has family roots that go back to Belarus - his silhouette is also on the logo of the 2014 World Championship. He held a short press conference earlier on Saturday.

“Today is an opportunity for me to see these players play, but the level of play in both leagues is always improving,” Gretzky said. “The influence of the Russian players like Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin, has helped make the NHL that much better.

“The KHL is the same way, when the best players play here it makes it a better league. The Olympics is a great way to compare countries. For Canada, it will be a tough test to play the Russian team.”

When asked about the NHL-KHL relations, Gretzky replied:

“I’m not here for the NHL, I don’t work for them, but I think we all have the same common goal to make the game of hockey bigger and better worldwide. I think the NHL knows and understands that. I hope that when they (the KHL, the IIHF and the NHL) meet in Vancouver (during the Olympics), they can all come to an understanding that will make both leagues happy.”

Even if the KHL - with the Cyrillic letters on the backs of the jerseys, the bigger ice surface and the pass-first attitude – is a little different from the NHL, there’s one thing that’s exactly the same: The All-Star Game is not easy on the goalies.

Team Yashin’s Russians took a quick lead in the game, but Team Jagr came back and took a comfortable 4-1 lead after the first period. Cheered on by the capacity crowd of 15,000, Team Yashin came within a goal in the second, but the final score was 11-8 for Team Jagr.

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