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Ben Clymer's Blog: Playing in the KHL All-Star Game

The KHL held its first All-Star Game in Red Square, Jan. 10. (AFP/Getty Images)

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The KHL held its first All-Star Game in Red Square, Jan. 10. (AFP/Getty Images)

Hey everyone. Everything is going great here in Belarus with Dynamo Minsk of the Kontinental League. I was recently part of a special event I’d like to share with you that was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The KHL All-Star Game took place in Moscow’s Red Square Saturday and pitted Team Jagr (or the import all-stars) against Team Yashin (or the Russian all-stars) and I was fortunate enough to have been chosen to play.

I had been to Red Square once earlier this season, which was in itself a great experience to see the Kremlin up close. Obviously, Vladimir Lenin’s tomb is there, too, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there, so I couldn’t go.

But back to the All-Star Game.

I loved being able to participate in this event because of the history of where it was being played, not only political, but hockey-related as well. I didn’t know this, but Igor Ulanov told me there was a game there in 2006 that pitted some of the Russian all-time greats (Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, etc.) against ex-NHLers for charity. Red Square brings a unique atmosphere and it was neat to be involved with something that is similar to what the NHL has been doing in recent years.

It was an incredibly cold day, something like minus-16 degrees Celsius. It was a little windy, but not too bad. The wind in your face from skating was far colder. Actually, I might still be a little sick from the game!

Your hands, your toes and your face are just freezing in a game like that, no matter what else you put on. I wore a hat under my helmet, an extra long-sleeved shirt, an extra pair of shorts and I tried to use a pair of heavier skiing socks to keep my feet warm, but I’ll tell you what, after five minutes my feet were completely numb.

Every intermission I took my skates off in the dressing room to try and warm them up, but at no point did they regain feeling until finally about half an hour after the game. It made me think about all the times when I was a boy skating outside in Minnesota and I would get frost bitten on my toes.

Of course, it also adds to the experience when you get in on the scoring and I was lucky enough to get one in the first period off a nice pass from my former teammate in Washington, Jakub Klepis, who now plays in Omsk. In hindsight, I wish I would have grabbed the puck; it would have been a great keepsake to have, but at the time I didn’t think of it and just kept playing.

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Being American, to play hockey in such an important place in Russian culture was an experience I’ll cherish among my first NHL game, my first playoff game, playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and a handful of other events I’ll remember in great detail years from now.

It would have been great to have had 10,000 people packed in there to watch the game, so I was a little surprised to hear the attendance topped out at 2,500. However, that’s how the event was set up. Red Square is a big area, but once you’ve put the ice surface down, benches and dressing rooms for the players, it’s really not that big anymore.

Could they have put in a few more people? Certainly, they could have, but it really isn’t the best place to have a huge crowd. I think they did a great job trying to make it an intimate experience for both fans and players.

Team Yashin tried to make a late comeback on us, but in the end we came away with the win in a high-scoring all-star affair, 7–6.

I’m still enjoying myself over here. Given this is the first year Dynamo Minsk has been in the Russian League – it was previously in the Belarusian League – and had import players, it’s been an up and down season. We’ve been through three coaches to this point, which has been tough, but we’re definitely improving.

It’s been difficult at times, but the fans have been really good to us this year. I hope they know how much we as players appreciate it.

Clymer was originally drafted in the second round, 27th overall, by the Boston Bruins in 1997. He played 438 games in the NHL over seven seasons with Tampa Bay and Washington, scoring 52 goals and 129 points. After playing for the American League’s Hershey Bears in 2007-08, Clymer joined Dynamo Minsk of the KHL. Read his other THN.com Insider Blogs HERE.

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