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Vladimir Putin in a rare moment of levity on the ice.

Chris Harris/The Times/Chris Harris/The Times

I had the opportunity to play pick-up hockey last Thursday with Vladimir Putin, Russia's Prime Minister.



I had been part of a group of international editors who met with Mr. Putin at his dacha to hear his views on the controversial election he faces on Sunday, the state of the world, and the biggest challenges facing Russia.



When he finished the interview, saying he had to get to his regular men's hockey night, I asked if I could come along. He surprised me by saying yes.

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It was an awkward situation, knowing he is reviled by many Russians and criticized around the world for his hard-nosed, even harsh, approach to democracy and free expression



Notwithstanding, I wanted to see a more personal side of the leader and his new-found passion for the game that both Russia and Canada claim as theirs.



When we got to the suburban Moscow rink, Mr. Putin surprised me again by asking if I wanted to play, and then asking the rink's trainer to find me some gear.

See the gallery for photos and comments on the game.

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