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The Globe and Mail

Harper plans Putin hockey match? Nyet, PMO says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Vladimir Putin, then Russia's President, at the G8 summit in Heiligendamn, Germany, jon June 7, 2007.

FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

The idea of watching Prime Minister Stephen Harper play hockey against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sounds too good to be true for sports and political observers alike.

And sadly, according to the Prime Minster's Office, it is too good to be true despite a front-page story in the Toronto Star that says the two leaders plan to faceoff in two games in September to mark the anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series.

Citing anonymous sources, the paper said "the first game is scheduled for Sept. 7 as part of a month-long event to mark the 40th anniversary of the eight-game Canada-U.S.S.R. Summit Series, played at the height of the Cold War. Canada lost three of the first five games but went on to win the series, which has since become known as a pivotal moment in the country's history. A second game involving the two leaders is being planned in Toronto tentatively for Sept. 28, a source said, at the same time as a large Canada-Russia trade conference is scheduled to be held in the city."

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Early Monday, the PMO issued a terse communiqué that refuted the story.

"The Toronto Star is reporting that the Prime Minister will be playing in two exhibition hockey games against Russia," the release stated. "This story is false."

Speculation of a politically charged match has been fuelled by the Russian leader's apparent love of the game, and his desire to improve his skills. Canada's Prime Minister has been known to coach a team of MPs who play in charity tournaments, but has said despite plans to write a book about the sport he isn't particularly gifted on skates.

The Star posted an updated story after the PMO denial, maintaining its initial reporting was accurate.

"I think that what you're seeing here is the PMO is upset that someone stole their thunder on a future announcement," an unnamed tournament organizer said. "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."

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