Iconic Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov dies at age 84

Adam Proteau
Viktor Tikhonov (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Viktor Tikhonov, the iron-willed coach who helmed the Soviet Union’s best hockey teams during the height of the Cold War’s peak, died in a Moscow hospital Monday. For better and worse, the 84-year-old was one of the most influential figures in Russian hockey history, winning three Olympic gold medals, eight IIHF World Championship gold medals, 13 consecutive Soviet titles as head coach of CSKA Moscow, and one Canada Cup. Tikhonov had been admitted to hospital suddenly in late October, and was reported to have had lost the ability to “move independently”. Tikhonov is predeceased by his son, Vasily, who died at age 55 in 2013. His grandson, also named Viktor Tikhonov, played in the NHL with Phoenix in 2008-09 and currently plays in the Russian-based Kontinental League.

Born in 1930, Tikhonov first gained prominence on the Russian hockey scene playing for the Air Force’s team and Moscow Dynamo; he scored 35 goals in 296 games during a 15-year career in the Soviet Elite League, but it wasn’t until he retired and moved behind the bench that Tikhonov truly made a name for himself. Read more

2014 Hall of Fame class highlights global reach of the game like never before

Hall of Fame Class of 2014 (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Take a close look at the four men who will be inducted in the players’ category of the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night. You’ll see something you’ve never seen before, and may never see again.

Four players, four different countries represented. A Hall of Fame cohort that includes Rob Blake, Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg and Dominik Hasek belongs in the debate of the best of all-time. We’re not going to get into that debate, but hey, the 1972 class included Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Hap Holmes and Hooley Smith. But there is no Hall of Fame induction group that represents the global reach of the game more prominently than this one. Read more

In Memoriam: Seth Martin – Vladislav Tretiak’s hockey hero

The Hockey News
(Photo by Hockey Hall of Fame / HHOF Images)

By Greg Oliver

He’s in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame, won two Allan Cups, made Glenn Hall’s first face mask and inspired Vladislav Tretiak. Yet because he only played a single season in the NHL, many fans are unaware of the importance of Seth Martin.

The native of Rossland, B.C., who died Sept. 6, at the age of 81, is most associated with the Trail (B.C.) Smoke Eaters, the perennial senior powerhouse of the 1950s and 1960s.

Read more

Red Army documentary a compelling and riveting film

Ken Campbell
Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov (Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport)

In the final minutes of Red Army, director Gabe Polsky pulls out some footage of Alex Ovechkin’s first season in the NHL. As part of a publicity stunt, Ovechkin is firing pucks at Russian dolls filled with Russian dressing. As the dolls explode and Ovechkin celebrates with glee, former Soviet hockey legend Slava Fetisov opines, “We lost something. We lost our pride. We lost our soul.”

Some will portray Red Army, which makes its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next week and will hit theatres in February, as a clash of cultures. Some will take note of how Russia is back to its adversarial ways in Ukraine and compare it to the Cold War version, one that saw hockey and sports as an extension of the Communist propaganda machine and its best weapon in proving to the world that the ideals of socialism worked.

But more than anything, Red Army is so compelling because it is about the people, the most central character being Fetisov, and how complicated the relationship between hockey and politics is in that country. On one hand, Fetisov speaks of how intrusive and dictatorial the hockey system was under Viktor Tikhonov, then speaks about his country losing its soul when players such as Ovechkin are free to come to North America and chase millions of dollars. (It’s interesting that Ovechkin footage is displayed during Fetisov’s musings about the loss of Russian pride. There might not be an NHL player who is as loyal to and passionate about his country as Ovechkin, who answers the call of duty whenever it is made. In fact, some NHL fans complain Ovechkin cares more about Russia than he does the Washington Capitals.)

It all makes for an incredibly riveting 85 minutes of history and hockey. Seen primarily through the eyes of Fetisov, the greatest defenseman Russia has ever produced and one of the greatest of all-time, Polsky’s film is a study of the progression of the Soviet-Russian game from the 1950s through its deterioration in the 1990s to today. It has incredible footage of early hockey players going through drills under coaching legend Anatoli Tarasov, executing somersaults on the ice in full equipment with Tarasov on his knees in the background saying, “You’ll become great hockey players. And great men.” (The biggest strength of the film is the archival footage, which comes courtesy of Paul Patskou.)

There is film of Tarasov moving chess pawns on a hockey rink diagram – a subtle glimpse of how the players would feel playing later for the dictatorial Tikhonov – and dancing with members of the Bolshoi Ballet. A Red Army recruit from the age of eight, Fetisov talks about his career and the bond he shared with the other members of the Russian Five – defense partner Alexei Kasatonov and forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. One of the most gripping parts of the film comes when Polsky goes through footage of the game between USA and Russia at the 1980 Olympics. At times, Fetisov looks away as though he’s living the nightmare all over again. Other times he appears concerned and despondent. And by the end he has tears in his eyes.

Most of all, the film provides an illustration of the steely resolve the players had, particularly the ones who had to play for Tikhonov. (The former coach, who declined to be interviewed for the film, easily comes off as the biggest villain of the story. Fetisov recounts a time when Andrei Khomoutov was not allowed to leave the compound to visit his dying father. Fetisov’s wife tells of a time her husband, on the verge of playing in the NHL and growing more frustrated with being stonewalled, was captured by police in Kiev, handcuffed to a car battery and beaten until 4 a.m. According to Fetisov’s wife, Tikhonov then showed up and told police to do whatever they wanted, including throwing him in prison, but do not allow him to leave the country.)

Fetisov, it should be remembered, never defected. But he would also not go to the NHL with the government’s blessing if it meant he had to surrender any of his salary to the Soviet Union. Although Fetisov and Larionov, in particular, enjoyed wonderful NHL careers, the feeling is that once the players were separated, they were never the sum of their parts. That is, of course, until Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman formed his own version of the Russian Five with Fetisov and Larionov joined by Vladimir Konstantinov on defense and Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov at forward.

All in all, Red Army is well worth the time spent. Polsky, the son of Russian immigrants who played collegiate hockey at Yale, has made a movie raw with emotion and truth that totally hits the mark.

Red Army is being shown at the Toronto Film Festival Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 6:00 p.m. at Ryerson and on Wednesday, Sept, 10 at 11:45 a.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

What’s the best hockey-football nation in the world? Oooh, the Germans!

Ken Campbell
German team

When Germany won the World Cup last weekend, it vaulted the country to the top of FIFA’s most recent world rankings. It also made Germany the best hockey-football playing country in the world.

Nothing defines a country’s athletic prowess more than its ability to excel in both soccer and hockey. (Why, you ask? Because we said so and it’s summer and in case you haven’t noticed, the hockey world is not exactly brimming with activity these days.) One is known as The Beautiful Game™ and the other one features corner kicks and lots of falling down and gnashing of teeth. Read more

Tom Renney faces huge challenges at Hockey Canada

Tom Renney

When Bob Nicholson took over as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in 1998, few people outside the hockey industry knew who he was. Over the next 16 years, Nicholson went on to create a corporate monolith that generated millions of dollars in revenues and won countless gold medals on the international stage.

That will be an enormously difficult act to follow. That the board of Hockey Canada has reportedly handpicked Tom Renney to do it is, well, a little curious. Renney is a man of enormous integrity and has a coaching resume – particularly in the international game – that would rival that of anyone in the world. But this is the thing. Hockey Canada is not a hockey team. For the purposes of the president and CEO, Hockey Canada is far more a business than it is a hockey organization. Read more

Ask Adam: trading Jason Spezza and Mike Green; amnesty buyouts; and national pride

Mike Green (Getty Images)

After an unexpected absence, THN’s online mailbag is back, and better than ever. Well, maybe just back. Thanks to all who submitted a question.

Hi Adam,

Now that Jason Spezza has requested a trade from Ottawa, and that GM Bryan Murray said “I know I won’t get the value, in all likelihood, that I should get for him”, what will it take to acquire him?
Niclas Emanuelsson, Säffle, Sweden

Hi Niclas,

Although Spezza is still a valuable NHLer, you’re not looking at an Eric Lindros-to-the-Flyers-type trade package to land him. Spezza just turned 31 and is in the last year of his contract, so any team that acquires him won’t be ponying up draft picks, prospects and NHL-ready young players.

Murray surrendered one of each of those to acquire Bobby Ryan from Anaheim last summer, but if he can get two of those three components (depending, of course, on the prospects and/or players and/or picks involved) for his captain, he’ll be satisfied and pull the trigger on a trade. As you said, Murray already has acknowledged he’s not going to get equal value for Spezza – that’s always the case when a player’s trade request goes public – so the best he can hope for is to create a bidding war (preferably, among Western Conference teams) and drive up the price as best he can. Read more

Woeful Oilers land big off-ice free agent in Nicholson

Nicholson

NEW YORK – When Bob Nicholson stepped down as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in May, he made it clear he was looking for another challenge. Well, if that was his desire, he certainly found one. And while the Edmonton Oilers have had all kinds of trouble attracting big free agents for their on-ice product, they appear to have succeeded in landing the most prized free agent hockey executive in the world.

A TSN report has been confirmed by thn.com that the Oilers have a news conference scheduled for Friday in which they are expected to announce that Nicholson has been hired to be CEO of Rexall Sports, which owns the Edmonton Oilers. As first reported on Twitter by thn.com Wednesday night, Nicholson chose the Oilers over offers from the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. It’s believed the Capitals offered the most money, but the challenge of being a part of rebuilding the Oilers on the ice appealed to Nicholson. Read more