TORONTO – It seems Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is getting cold feet.
A scheduled hockey game that was to feature Harper and Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin is on ice – figuratively, not literally – the Toronto Star reported.
According to the newspaper, the Prime Minister’s Office has slammed all chances Harper will skate alongside his Russian counterpart in September during a special anniversary hockey game.
“The prime minister will not be playing hockey against Mr. Putin,” Harper’s press secretary, Andrew MacDougall, told the Star.
Organizers, however, are standing by their original lineup.
“I think that what you’re seeing here is the PMO is upset that someone stole their thunder on a future announcement,” an anonymous source told the Star. “No one has ever said that there’s a contract in place for this to happen, but we have had nothing but positive response from the PMO.”
The game was to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series, an eight-game exhibition between Canadian and Soviet superstars played during the height of the Cold War. Canada needed a miraculous comeback in the final few games to claim victory against the upstart Soviets; the series is considered a legendary, nation-building moment in Canada akin to man walking on the moon or the Kennedy assassination in the United States.
The Star said a first game was to happen on Sept. 7 in Russia and a rematch in Toronto three weeks later. Harper had plans to be in Russia at that time, and John Sloan, the Canadian ambassador, asked organizers to move the date to accommodate the Canadian leader.
Putin, 59, has only been playing hockey for about a year, but he is being coached on the finer points. He played an exhibition game recently with the famed Red Army team and scored several goals – thanks to some lackluster defense.
Harper, 52, is a hockey historian ready to publish his first book about the sport. He played minor hockey as a boy, but quite early in his teens. He also coaches a Conservative Party of Canada team that plays in charity games.
In one of his musings on the Summit Series, Harper writes, “It was as if the freedom of Canadians versus the repression of the Soviet system was being showcased in the individualism of the Canadian players as opposed to the regimentation of the Soviet players. It was there for everyone to see.”
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