During the lockout, MSG Network has run hockey specials, including some classic exhibitions between the Rangers and Russia during the 1970’s. What we got was a rude awakening to just how skilled the Russians were. They were so advanced, using superior conditioning, skating and playmaking to mount an attack. One we weren’t ready for. It makes Canadian hero Paul Henderson that much more special. And also explains why Bobby Clarke simply followed orders with a two-hander breaking Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle. No way would they have come back.
It’s rare that I’ve seen highlights of Kharlamov. However, either by YouTube curiosity and thanks to MSG, I got to see how breathtaking he was. This was a special talent who would’ve brought fans out of their seats had he been able to play in the NHL. There’s no telling how many goals he would’ve scored. A look into how good the Stastnys were with particularly Peter gives us only a glimpse. And we know how great he was. If you haven’t seen the piece on NHL Network about their defection, watch it.
On NBC Sports Network last year, they aired a great documentary on the Summit Series. It gave us more perspective from both sides as far as what they were thinking and strategy. This is a must for any hockey fan.
In my first discovery, hockey was originally called “banty” in Russia. Played in the 1890’s, they used a ball instead of a puck. Ice hockey was introduced in the 1930’s. From my understanding, their version was much different from Canada with the Russians carrying over banty rules.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that coach Anatoli Tarasov changed their philosophy, turning the CCCP into a powerful unit. They were successful instantly, winning the world championships in ’54 and finishing first in the Olympics in ’56. It was just the beginning with the Soviets taking nine consecutive world championships and winning eight European. Under Tarasov, they took Olympic gold in ’64, ’68 and ’72. Their dominance gave them the nickname Big Red Machine.
Tarasov also coached CSKA (Central Sports Club of the Army), guiding them to 17 championships. He coached them for 27 years (’47-74). For his contribution, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 1974 in the builders category. A Kontinental Hockey League division is named after him. The Tarasov Division is one of four in the KHL featuring CSKA Moscow, HC Vityaz, Severstal Cherepovets, HC Sochi, Dynamo Moscow, Topedo Nizhny Novgorod and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
STYLE OF PLAY: The Russian style of hockey is all about skating, puck possession and play making. As emerging Caps second-year center Evgeny Kuznetsov references in a post he wrote entitled How We Play Hockey in Russia on the Players Tribune, Russian players are taught from a young age to skate, hold onto the puck and pass.
My father teach me, too. First thing, you never look at puck. Eyes always up. Look left, right, forward. You look down, it’s over. Even now, if I look down at puck in a game, my dad let me know about it. He texts me. If I score three goals but I don’t have an assist, he texts me. Because he teach me to be unselfish. You have to play for your partner. This is very Russian, this principle. I guess because of the Red Machine.
But this works only when all five guys working together perfect. If a guy skates in and shoots from blue line without passing, it’s like he doesn’t have respect. That’s how we play in Russia. When I come to America last year to play in NHL, I learn it’s a little different.