MOSCOW • It would be hard to imagine a more perfect birthday for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who turned 63 on Wednesday.
After receiving a report from his defence minister that Russia had launched a major cruise missile strike on Syria - a move further confounding US policy in the Middle East - Mr Putin celebrated his birthday by playing a game of hockey with National Hockey League veterans, and winning.
Donning skates and a uniform, he took to the ice in the Shayba Arena in the Black Sea resort of Sochi as a member of a team called Stars of the NHL, which included, among other hockey legends, Mr Pavel Bure, known as the Russian Rocket.
The game was broadcast live on national television as the highlight of a day of adoring homages to the Russian leader.
It wound up with Mr Putin holding aloft a gigantic trophy.
Also playing on Mr Putin's team were retired NHL player Vyacheslav Fetisov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Passed the puck by the NHL greats over and over again, Mr Putin scored seven goals to lead his team to a 15-10 victory.
The opposing team included three figures on whom the United States had imposed sanctions for Russia's military action in Ukraine: businessmen Gennady Timchenko, and Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.
The cheering crowd chanted: "Happy birthday!"
Mr Putin founded the amateur hockey league in 2011 with Russian hockey stars, senior officials and long-time associates.
The games are regularly broadcast nationally. They dovetail with Mr Putin's well-honed image as a lover of sports and derring-do.
On Tuesday, he signed a law reviving a Soviet-era fitness programme for young people called "Ready for Labour and Defence".
After spending most of the past year in international isolation, Mr Putin has been muscling his way back into world affairs.
Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine and its military intervention in that country's eastern provinces led to economically crippling sanctions for Russia. US officials say Russia's actions in Syria will only prolong that conflict.
But on Wednesday, Mr Putin told Mr Shoigu - who also scored a goal for Mr Putin's team - that he sees the results of the Syrian action so far as "positive".
Elsewhere in Russia, a football game was dedicated to the President in Chechen capital Grozny. A huge banner unfurled on the field read: "The best president. Happy birthday!"
THE NEW YORK TIMES