but the russians are trying

A birthday for Russian hockey today: happy 75th. It was on this date in 1946 that the USSR’s inaugural championship in what was then distinguished as Canadian hockey got underway.

Twelve teams took the ice that year: CDKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Dinamo Riga, VVS MVO Moscow, Sverdlovsk House of Officers, Leningrad House of Officers, Kaunas, Spartak Uzhgorod, Dynamo Tallinn, Dynamo Leningrad, Vodnik Arkhangelsk, along with the eventual champions, Dynamo Moscow. The IIHF has some handsome archival footage of the team’s triumph in its observance of the anniversary today.

Canadian notice of the upstart league/hockey revolution that winter was limited to a few brief, paternalistic, not-quite-accurate wire reports. One that Vancouver’s Province (among other papers) carried noted that Russia had spent previous winters playing at bandy. “Hitherto,” went that dispatch, “the Russians have played a form of ice hockey peculiar to themselves, using a ball instead of a puck and playing two periods instead of three as in the western game.” (Swedes and other Europeans had been bandying for some years, too, of course.)

The season went on without Canadian coverage, all the way to the end, in March of 1947. Ross Munro of the Canadian Press arrived in Moscow too late to catch any of the on-ice action in person. But that didn’t keep him from filing an end-of-season feature to report on what others had seen and scoffed at.

“The players, according to my informants,” Munro wrote, “wear curious uniforms featured [sic] by long woollen drawers which seem to be a combination of grandpa’s flannel underwear and track sweat pants. They complete the uniform by adding to this creation a type of quilted short-coat which is the usual dress of the poorer classes in Russia.”

“Instead of padded gloves,” he noted, “the players wear ordinary heavy workman’s mitts. At present the goalie is only lightly padded but padding and other refinements will be added as the Russians work out the details of the game.”

From what Munro had heard, “the game as played in Moscow is gentlemanly compared with its Canadian counterpart and there is little bodychecking. Sticks are carried high only by accident and the tripping seems entirely unplanned. Penalties are few.”

Munro reported that the championship final was “a fairly anaemic game.” For all his diligence, he managed in his second-hand reporting to get the result wrong: in his telling, CDKA (as the Red Army team that would become CSKA was then known) beat Dynamo, when in fact it was the other way around.

Globe and Mail columnist Jim Coleman had slightly better information — on the winner, at least:

The Moscow Dynamos — well-known in the soccer world since they whipped Arsenal — won the first Russian ice hockey championships, staged this winter. … One of their stars, Vsevolod Bobrov, was unable to play because he had undergone an operation on his quote “meniscus” unquote — undoubtedly it’s a Russian word for clavicle.

Winding up his dispatch, Ross Munro did take a glance at the horizon. Pondering on the future, he was generous — and prescient — enough:

Canadian and United States residents of Moscow who followed hockey in North America say that the Soviet teams gave a mighty long way to go before they get anywhere near Canadian standards. But the Russians are trying and they probably will be playing the game efficiently before they are through.

Beyond The Iron Curtain: Ottawa’s Journal reports on Soviet hockey developments in December of 1946.

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