Hockey in the Soviet Union and Russia

more than a year ago

Published in the guide "Moscow In Your Pocket" №42, Spring 2016

The Russian Federation and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, is universally known as a juggernaut in the sport of ice hockey. The Soviet Union in particular won nearly every international tournament they participated in, and never failed to win a medal in the Winter Olympics from 1956 until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Afterwards, Russian players have continued to stream into the NHL in North America and are among some of the best and most recognized names in the league, including such superstars as Alexandr Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. Russia’s history of the sport contains an interesting history with a near immediate blitz to the top, where it continues to remain to this day.

The first attempts to develop ice hockey in the USSR, as we know it today, began in the 30s. Prior to this, and perhaps even for centuries, Russians mostly played bandy or a variation thereof. Bandy a game similar to hockey but which uses a ball instead of a puck, and has a few more slight variations to the ice and it’s rules. At this time, ice hockey was called “Hockey with Shaiba”, which is the Russian word for puck. Ice hockey and its rules was first written about in 1927 in the “Bulletin for Physical Education” and was suggested to be introduced as a game of leisure for peasants, farmers and factory workers alike. However, it still took some time for the game to catch on.

There was an internal championship held in 1947 for the game, with a match between Moscow “Dynamo” and the central club of the army “CSKA”. CSKA was led by two in particular: the young player-coach Anatoly Tarasov, who is known as the “godfather” of Russian ice hockey and Vselovod Bobrov. Anatoly Tarasov would go on to lead and coach Russian olympic and international teams, and mentor players throughout the country.

After serving during the Second World War, Bobrov began his athletic career, initially for soccer, and he also played for the Army’s team, and was selected three times to represent Russia nationally, including a tour in England playing against such teams as Chelsea and Arsenal, during which he scored three goals. Not only that, but he became one of the Soviet Legends of hockey, scoring 89 goals in 59 games!

During this time in the 50s, the Soviet team played throughout Europe against the Czechs, Swedes, and others with incredible success. In Vienna in 1953 there was a series of games held for students, and the Soviets won all of their games. In 1954, an international championship was held in Sweden, and while the Soviets were considered underdogs, they spectacularly routed the revered Canadian team, beating them 7-2, who was represented by the team of East York. Afterwards, the Soviet team, including player-coach Tarasov, were invited to play eight friendly games in Montreal at the legendary stadium, the Montreal Forum. Here the Russian team and Tarasov were able to gain invaluable insight into the origins of the game and their greatest players in Canada.

The Soviet team impressed the Canadians by winning five of these games, losing two, and drawing one. Here the differences in style was quite obvious. The Canadian game of hockey was much more rough, spirited, and perhaps even more emotional, while the Russian emphasis was on skating, passing, and team play. Tarasov favoured a system in which each player played and specialized in his own position on the ice, rather than a universal ability to play any position, and thus the system of “Fives” was created, so each player knew his position and the talents and failings of his teammates on the ice. This system would remain in place for the rest of the life of the Soviet Hockey Team.

For the USSR, as with any other country in the world, dominance in sp
It wasn’t until the Soviet admission into the International Olympics Committee that popularity of the game really took off in Russia.ort was a matter of pride, and the decision was made to invest in the sport to help the USSR become the number one nation in hockey. The Soviet ice hockey team made their debut in the 1956 winter Olympics in Italy and immediately won the gold medal. The Soviet Union was now a force to be reckoned with!

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