in russia, we have a proverb

cccpAnatoli Tarasov brought the Soviet national team to Canada in the winter of 1969 for an eight-game exhibition tour. The Soviets were on a seven-year golden streak at the World Championships at the time. The team they brought to Canada included Vyacheslav Starshinov, Anatoli Firsov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, and a stripling goaltender by the name of Vladislav Tretiak. Mostly they were here to play Canada’s ill-starred Nationals, coached by Jack McLeod, though there were also a few games against Junior A teams.

The Soviets starting with a win, in Winnipeg, while McLeod’s Nats took the second game, 4-3 — the first time a Canadian team had beaten their Russian rivals in almost two years. The Canadians had Wayne Stephenson for a goaltender and Fran Huck was in the line-up, along with a handful of former NHLers, including former Leafs Brian Conacher and Billy Harris. Earlier that year, the International Ice Hockey Federation had voted to allow Canada to bring nine non-NHL professionals to the upcoming 1970 World Championships, scheduled for Montreal and Winnipeg. So that was good, for Canada, right up until January, when the IIHF changed its mind, no pros would be permitted after all, and Canada withdrew from the World Championships and Olympics altogether, taking their pucks and going home. Or staying home — the World Championships went ahead in Stockholm, where the Soviets won, again. McLeod’s Nationals disbanded and Father David Bauer’s dream died; when Canadians returned to play in the World Championships in 1977 it was with a team of NHLers whose teams had missed the playoffs.

In 1969, Tarasov had no interest in playing the Junior A games that the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had arranged. “I am not happy to play with teams that are not good,” he said after the USSR beat the Ottawa 67s 8-3 on Christmas Eve. It was a game, as Rex MacLeod wrote in The Globe and Mail, that “degenerated into a high-sticking, slugging and punching match in the third period.” Starshinov and Evgeny Zimin left the game with separated shoulders; two players from each team were ejected after a late brawl.

“Next time we’ll bring our boxing team,” Tarasov muttered when it was over.

tarasovThe team went to Montreal on December 29 to play the Montreal Junior Canadiens, the defending Memorial Cup champions who felt the need to bolster themselves for the night with nine minor-league professionals. As The Toronto Star reported next day, the enhanced Juniors prevailed by a score of 9-3, with youngsters named Gilbert Perreault and Rejean Houle contributing a couple of goals each.

Appearing in the Star’s Sports pages alongside the report of that drubbing was an article (translated from the Russian) by the losing coach himself. Denis Smith was Master of Champlain College at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, at the time. He was one Canadian fan who read “Russia’s Tarasov Examines NHL Play” that day, the one who found a poem in it, waiting to be extracted and arranged, which he did, using the master’s own words, adding only a title:

The Lessons of Anatoli Tarasov

Your hockey, to begin with,
has a lot of merit.
It is a kind of beautiful entertainment.
In professional hockey,
you have very strong men —
athletes who are fit.
They have strength of will
and character.

And then, your spectators:
They know a great deal about the game.
Every person who is present in the arena
or who watches on TV
wants to be a part of this entertainment.
As I said earlier, though,
I am a coach:
So I have no room for sentimentality.

Your hockey,
both offensively and defensively,
is based on simple tactical decisions.
In Russia, we have a proverb
that in simplicity lies wisdom.
However:
I don’t think it applies
in the case of great hockey.

Remember how many times
you have seen this:
The player skates to the blue line,
s
h
o
o
t
s
the puck
and follows in —
never thinking
about setting up a beautiful scoring play.

It is impossible to play the same game
for years and years.
Surely,
the pattern of the game should be changed
from time to time.
In your game of professional hockey,
you get enough scoring,
but it is not satisfying to me, personally, how goals are scored.

Finally, a few comments regarding rules
and officiating.
It’s a pity, but
we are having the same problem in amateur hockey:
Show me, please,
where it is written in the bible
that it is legal to stop an opponent with a stick —
or to fight him.