save yourself

Born in Orud’yevo, north of Moscow, on a 1952 Friday of this date, goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak is 69 today. “Other players may make mistakes,” he wrote in The Hockey I Love, a memoir published in English in 1977, “but there is no room for an error by the goaltender. When a forward loses the puck, he knows the defence is there to bail him out. When the defence is careless, the goaltender stands ready to correct its mistakes. Only the goalie cannot make a mistake, because his mistakes are goals. He is his own salvation. He must be his own judge.”
 
“No-one has pity for the goaltender,” he continued. In general, it’s a pretty positive book, but it has these haunted corners. “When a shot slips past him into the net, the red light glares like a disaster signal. The fans often boo; even teammates sometimes fail to show their sympathy. No wonder goaltenders have trouble sleeping after a defeat.”

wizard of ice hockey

The years of pupilage, when the new game kept nonplussing the most experienced players, were left behind. Its intricacies were mastered and it was funny to think there was a time when the players could not tear the puck away from the ice.

•  V. Viktorov, Wizard of Ice Hockey (1957)

 

Born in Morshansk in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on a пятница of this date in 1922, Vsevolod Bobrov was a star soccer striker for CSKA Moscow  — he captained the Soviet Union at the 1952 Olympics, too — as well as a hockey left-winger who’s remembered as one of the greatest players to have skated his country’s ice.

The hockey, in fact, came first. Until he was 18, Bobrov only dreamedof soccer. That’s according to the 76-page official Bobrov biography pictured here above. Produced in the USSR in the late 1950s for foreign consumption, it’s a stiffly written (or at least stiffly translated) bit of propaganda that finishes up with a friendly if not particularly enthusiastic letter to the reader from the man himself.

Russian hockey is the hockey that Bobrov played as a boy, which is to say bandy, with a ball, eleven-a-side, on a big stretch of ice — the Soviet embrace of Canadian-style hockey was still more than a decade away. Bobrov’s father, Mikhail, was a good (Russian) hockey player in the ’30s when Vsevolod was growing up in Sestroretsk, near what was then Leningrad, as was his older brother, Vladimir.

Seve is what Lawrence Martin calls the younger Bobrov in his very fluently written, not-a-fleck-of-propaganda-to-it history of Soviet hockey, The Red Machine (1990). “He was scrawny,” he writes,

… poorly fed by parents who first met at a skating rink. They started their boys on the ice at age five, and when little Seve played on the youth team, Lydia, his mother, promised him a pretzel for every goal he scored. She was always running out of pretzels.

On the soccer field, Bobrov ended up in the starting eleven for CSKA Moscow in 1944. That’s skipping over a lot of wartime ground, bypassing all kinds of fine detail. The upshot is that by the late ’40s, he was playing soccer in the summer, hockey in the winter. Canadian hockey, now: in 1946, the Soviets had undertaken to figure out what the puck, the six-a-side, the smaller rink was all about, launching a league of their own, and thereafter, slowly, bit by bit, making strides into the international arena.

Smooch ‘Em If You Got ‘Em:
The Soviet team’s masseur kisses captain Bobrov after the Soviets beat Canada 7-2 in Stockholm in March of 1954.

Adjusting to the new game wasn’t always easy. Even those who’d played bandy — and excelled on the soccer pitch — were bamboozled, at first. That’s the pupilage that The Wizard of Hockey talks about up above. Viktorov on Seve’s struggle:

Bobrov soon overcame his bewilderment and feeling of helplessness, traits that were totally alien to his character. He made the puck obey him. Well, he told himself, if necessary he would start learning from the ground up again. If the Canadians were playing ice hockey for 80 years and found pleasure in the game, if the Swedes liked it and scored substantial successes, if the Czechs unravelled its secrets and won the world title twice, surely it was not beyond the powers of Soviet hockey players.

In his second winter of domestic hockey, Bobrov used his puck powers to score 52 goals in 18 games for CSKA Moscow. He kept on with the soccer, though by 1953, he’d decided he’d had enough of the grass, retiring at the age of 30 to focus full-time on the ice.

The Soviets were supposed to make their international debut at the 1953 World Championships in Switzerland, but Bobrov was injured, so they delayed a year. The Canadians skipped the ’53 tournament, too, but both teams were on hand the following year, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The first impression the hockey newcomers made there was not exactly to Canadian tastes, as the Soviets bushwhacked Canada’s team 7-2 to take the World title for the first time. Highlights, backed by a charming soundtrack, are below, with full coverage of the Soviet coaches and staff kissing their players starting in around the 5:20 mark. Wearing the maple leaf that year were the East York Lyndhursts from Toronto; leading the overwhelming was Bobrov, who captained the champions and scored their deciding goal. You’ll see the former standing around disconsolate after the kissing’s over, and the latter receiving the championship silverware from IIHF supremo Bunny Ahearne.

Bobrov’s playing career on the ice lasted until 1957, whereupon he took up coaching. When the great Anatoli Tarasov was deposed as coach of the Soviet national team in 1972, it was Bobrov who succeeded him — just in time, of course, to surprise another Canadian line-up, this one of overconfident NHL stars rather than Lyndhursts.

Vsevolod Bobrov died at the age of 56 in 1979.

 

behind the lines

Off Duty: The game goes on in “Military Moscow,” by Soviet painter Aleksandr Deyneka, which he completed in the span of wartime years 1941-46. The question is … which game is it? As I wrote in a book of mine, the story of how Russians came to the hockey we know involves a bit of a tangled provenance, a layer of mist, and a Chekhovian touch of men quarrelling offstage. Before 1946, Russians tended to play soccer in the summer and bandy — russki hokkei — when winter came. They’d been doing it, in one form or another, going back to Peter The Great’s time. Canatsky hokkei (ours) wasn’t unknown, especially in the Baltics, but mostly they bandyed, chasing a ball, with 11-man teams skating on a rink the size of a soccer field. Sticks were short and curled and wrapped in cord. Lawrence Martin says that there was a Canadian-sized hockey rink in a central Moscow soccer stadium going back to 1938, and that puck-hockey was introduced to phys-ed curricula starting in 1939. It was in ’46 that the first hockey league got going in a serious way. And so, here, under the barrage balloon? The sticks look fairly hockey-shaped, to me. There seems just to be the one goal, so it could be that they’re just taking shots. Either way, there’s no mistaking, or oppressing, the pure shinny spirit of the moment.

hockeytown, moscow oblast

Home For A Rest: Born in Voskresensk, southeast of Moscow, on a Wednesday of this date in 1972, Slava Kozlov is 48 today. A fleet left winger, he won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. After the first one, with teammates Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov, Kozlov was along as the Cup made its first ever visit to Russia. Here he is with trophy in hand on August 19, 1997, when he and his teammates arrived at a rink in his hometown for an afternoon visit. That’s Larionov (also Voskresensk-born) just to Kozlov’s right, chatting to soldiers and fans. Then-Red Wings owner Mike Illitch is on Kozlov’s left, with Fetisov next to him. Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame stands just back of him, by the van. Me? I was up on the roof the rink with my camera. (Image: Stephen Smith)

vladislav tretiak: no such thing as a bad-tempered goaltender

A birthday today for Vladislav Tretiak, who’s 67 now. Born on this date in 1952 (it was a пятница), in Orud’yevo, north of Moscow, Tretiak nowadays presides as president of Russia’s Ice Hockey Federation, but it’s as a supremely gifted goaltender that he’s best known. Asked in 1979, when he was 27, to say something about his fellow netminders, he shared this: “There is no harder job in sport than ours. I can tell you one thing: I’ve never met a goaltender who wasn’t a good chap. An unbalanced, unreliable, bad-tempered person, whatever sporting talent he might possess, would never be able to defend goal.”

goaligarchy

Bench Boss: Vladimir Putin and teammate Slava Festisov await their next shift at Sochi's Bolshoi Ice Palace on May 10, 2016. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Bench Boss: Vladimir Putin and teammate Slava Festisov await their next shift at Sochi’s Bolshoi Ice Palace on May 10, 2016. (Image: kremlin.ru)

That Vladimir Putin took to the ice earlier this week in Sochi isn’t news: the 63-year-old Russian president plays hockey all the time with posses of ex-professional pals. Putin had Viacheslav Fetisov and Pavel Bure skating with him yesterday and, guess what: they beat the other guys, 9-5, winning the trophy that, who’s kidding who, they were always going to win. The big shocker? Putin scored but a single goal, set up by Fetisov. I’m no Kremlinologist, but this has to signal some kind of crisis at the Russian top, doesn’t it? In a birthday scrimmage last fall, Putin potted no fewer than seven goals; a year before that, he tallied eight in a hockey commemoration of the end of the Second World War. Watching this week’s highlights, you can’t really say that the man has lost a step — he skates as he always has, slowly, squarely, with the supreme menace of a man who might at any moment give the order to have you invaded. I guess that it’s possible that Putin’s power is starting to crack and crumble. Just because a man can’t score several hattricks with the help of some of the best hockey players ever to have played the game doesn’t necessarily mean he’s losing his grip. Even presidents, I guess, suffer slumps. Maybe this is simply one of those.

happy birthday, mr. president

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Say It’s Your Birthday: Vladimir Putin on the ice with teammates, including Valery Kamensky and Alexander Mogilny. (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He said he would — at least, his spokesman said he would — and he did it: Russian President Vladimir Putin played hockey in Sochi on Wednesday on his 63rd birthday. The game was broadcast live on Russian TV; as the teams of former professional stars and oligarchs and politicians (including Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu) put to ice, Russian naval vessels in the Caspian Sea began a missile bombardment of targets in Syria.

TASS.ru reports that Putin’s team won, 15-10 in a game in which International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel served as referee. I guess the victors could gave done without Pavel Bure’s hattrick, but Putin’s seven goals were obviously vital to the effort. After the game, Russian Ice Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak awarded the Putin a medal for gall. That, or else it was the nation’s highest hockey award, recognizing loyalty to and love for the game.

A detail of Nikas Safronov's Putin portrait (russieinfo.com)

A detail of Nikas Safronov’s Putin portrait (russieinfo.com)

None of that’s surprising. I am puzzled that they didn’t let Putin score all the goals, but he seems to have to been satisfied with just the seven. And it’s not as though there weren’t other gifts, as well. His teammates presented him with a portrait of himself garbed for hockey, in mid-crossover, by the painter Nikas Safronov.

BBC Russia reported that the rapper Timati recorded a song for Putin, along with a video filmed in Moscow’s Square, called “My Best Friend,”

in which he calls Putin calls his “white lord,” “the most desirable man to all Russian women” and “a great hero.”

Meanwhile, in the president’s honour, (from wired.co.uk):

Luxury Russian jeweller Caviar has released a limited edition iPhone 6s that features a golden emblem of Putin’s head. But you had best be quick — Caviar is only selling 63 of the gold and titanium phone, and each costs £2,000.

There were more paintings, too, and not just in Sochi. An exhibition called “Putin Universe” got underway this week in both London and Moscow, collecting 30 works in which the Russian supremo has been painted — non-ironically, as far as I can tell — as figures from history, including Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, and Robin Hood.

Finally, there’s … well, I’m not quit sure what to make of the Irina Romanovskaya chapter of the president’s birthday. As you probably already knew, she’s an artist in St. Petersburg who paints with her breasts. Were you aware of the Putin portrait she recently executed, all in blue, using only her left breast?

No, I wasn’t either, for a long, long time before yesterday. I thought at first there had to be an interesting reason why she does what she does, but I don’t think that now. There’s no evidence of that. You can read about her oeuvre here, and even witness her method, if that’s something you want to do. Romanovskaya apparently travelled with the Putin portrait to Moscow this week with the idea of presenting it to the man itself. Not to spoil the birthday mood, but I have to report that at last word the painting had been stolen before she could make the president’s day.

iphone putin

the codebreakers

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The Globe and Mail, September 7, 1972

What, now? Another alphabet, you say? Six days and three games into the Summit Series, cryptographers at Canada’s National Newspaper [sic] finally cracked the case that had been, I guess, bedevilling the nation: what in hell was that word stitched across those Soviet sweaters?

 

goalscorer-in-chief

Goalscorer-in-Chief: Russian President Vladimir Putin readies himself for the task ahead yesterday at Sochi's Bolshoi Ice Palace.

Goalscorer-in-Chief: Russian President Vladimir Putin readies himself for the task ahead yesterday at Sochi’s Bolshoi Ice Palace.

News that Vladimir Putin was skating and scoring on the ice yesterday wasn’t really news: the 62-year-old Russian president’s love of hockey is as well-known as his penchant for archaeology and for riding bare-chested on horses. He was at the Bolshoi Ice Palace taking part in a “gala” game dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the victorious end of the Great Patriotic (a.k.a. the Second World) War.

Putin’s team was also Slava Fetisov’s, and they lined up with Pavel Bure, Alexander Yakushev, and Sergei Makarov as well. It will shock no-one to learn that they won by a score of 18-6, or that Putin scored eight of his team’s goals. The fact that Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, added a hattrick — that, I own, caught me a little off my guard. Recognized as the game’s best player, Shoigu was rewarded with a trip to the Crimea. As a satire enthusiast, I wish I’d invented that last detail, but no, it’s true enough.

I was checking in on Canada’s semi-final at the World Championships yesterday afternoon when I saw the Putin news. Feeling good about Canada’s team in Prague, I’d decided that they were strong and confident enough to do without me watching the whole broadcast of their game with the Czech Republic and that I — and they — we could get away with updates on my iPhone.

And so it proved. Taylor Hall had just scored, on a pass from Sidney Crosby; Jason Spezza would add another goal to guarantee the 2-0 Canadian win. The Putin story was just filtering out by that time, along with news from the other semi-final where (also unaided by my viewership), Russia dismissed the U.S. by a score of 4-0.

That’s when my eyes began to open to the bigger picture. Of course. President Putin wasn’t just playing in a friendly game of pick-up by the Black Sea. He was, as Putin likes to do, sending a message. Sometimes they go out disguised as unmarked armoured columns headed west, towards Ukraine, while on other occasions they resemble air-force bombers skirting along the edges of foreign airspace.

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Mostly, messages Putin sends have a distinct sabre-rattling sound, but who says they can’t also clack like hockey sticks on ice? Anticipating that today’s Prague final would pit Russians against Canadians, Putin knew what he was doing. The fans in Sochi may have enjoyed Putin’s goals, his preening, but they weren’t the intended recipients. Even as he entertained them, he was trolling us, Canadians, marking his territory, telling those of us who hold the maple leaf high that when it comes to ice, that’s Russian territory, as it ever was, just like with Crimea and Novorossiya.

I don’t know why we haven’t responded. That’s what puzzling. When I say we, I mean, of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Diplomacy dictates that if Canada wanted to answer a display like Putin’s, it would have to come from the PMO. Is it possible that they missed it? That Putin sent his message and it wasn’t received? I don’t know how else you could explain Ottawa’s silence. Are you telling me that the PMO couldn’t at short notice have organized a game at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre to answer to President Putin? Maybe last night would have been pushing it, but what about this morning? The Conservative Party is always dialling up instant crowds of hard-working Canadians to backdrop the PM as he pretends he’s not already electioneering, so how hard would it have been to this morning?

As for players to skate, well, what’s the Cabinet for other than to lace ’em up whenever the boss calls, needs interference run, a screen in front of the opposition’s net/pertinent inquiry during Question Period. And it’s not as if actual hockey players are in short supply around the capital — Ottawa not only has a whole NHL team of players with nothing to do, they’re called the Senators, after our national chamber of sober second-thinkers (mostly) beholden to the man who appointed them.

It would have been easy to outdo Putin at his own game — that is, at our game. Harper could have taken to net, maybe even played both ends, skated away with a pair of shut-outs, awarding himself a trip to Kurdistan. That would have shown the Russians.

I’m not saying our lack of leaderly showing-off is going to make any difference in today’s final in Prague: what happens there is up to the Crosbys and Eberles and Ovechkins and Malkins. All I’m saying is, I don’t know — either our PM isn’t the prince of propaganda I took him for or else he was genuinely impressed by Putin’s feat of never scoring fewer than two hattricks in any game he’s ever played. I guess that could explain why Stephen Harper held himself goalless this weekend.

 (Images: kremlin.ru)