The original version of hockey in Russia since the 1890s was called “bandy.” It was played with a small ball instead of a puck and had the rules of field hockey. Ice hockey was introduced to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and became a national sport following the Second World War. The Russian game of ice hockey was different from the Canadian. A lot of bandy rules were adopted and the philosophy of the game was different.
When Anatoli Tarasov became a coach, he changed Russian hockey forever. He masterminded creating his own version of hockey – a game of speed, endurance and winning. He was the master of the team and his players were like chess pieces. When the USSR entered its first team into the World Championship in 1954, they won. Likewise, the Soviet team finished first at the 1956 Olympics. Once Tarasov took over the national team’s reigns, the “CCCP” team won gold at the World Championships in Stockholm in 1963. That was just the beginning of nine consecutive World Championship victories, through to 1971. During that timespan, the Soviet Union also won eight European Championships and three consecutive Olympic gold medals (1964, 1968, 1972). The Soviet hockey program was recognized as the premier in the world and earned the nickname “The Big Red Machine.” Tarasov also coached the Central Sports Club of the Army (CSKA), to seventeen league championships from 1947 to 1974. Tarasov’s colleague – Arkady Chernyshev also played an influential role in the development of Soviet hockey.
The athletic pioneers of the sport were Vsevolod Bobrov and Viktor Shuvalov. Bobrov was a rare star in multiple sports – football and hockey. He captained both the Soviet football team at the 1952 Olympics and the ice hockey national team at the 1956 Olympics. Nonetheless, Bobrov achieved greater success as a hockey player. Shortly after joining the Soviet Air Force hockey team (VVS) managed by Stalin’s son, Vasili, in 1950, Bobrov narrowly avoided death. The airplane carrying the team to Sverdlovsk crashed on approach, but Bobrov was lucky to have overslept on that day and missed the flight. Once the VVS team seized to exist following Stalin’s death, Bobrov finished his career with CSKA. In 130 league games Bobrov scored an astonishing 254 goals, as well as 89 goals in 59 games playing for the national team! Bobrov remained a key trainer until 1979.
The next torch-carrier of Soviet hockey was Anatoli Firsov. He was a forward and played from 1958 to 1974. Firsov was one of the best hockey players ever because of his brilliant skills and extremely hard slapshot. He also innovated many of the moves that today’s forwards use to beat defenders. Firsov started his career with Spartak, and in 1961 joined CSKA, with which he went on to win the Soviet championship nine times. In 474 games, Firsov scored 344 goals. Firsov also won Olympic gold three times (1964, 1968, 1972), the World Championship eight times (1964-71), and was named Best Forward at the World Championship in 1967 and 1971.
To be continued…