Impressions: Guest Speakers

at The Summit in 1972

This column features stories and unique views on the Summit'72 and international hockey submitted by our visitors.

Don't Cry for
Russian Hockey
by Klauss Zaugg,

Don't cry for Russian hockey. It still lives on in this tournament.

Of course, I know the Russians have been eliminated from these championships after the worst performance in their history, losing four consecutive games in an international tournament for the first time.

But their hockey has survived. Every team here has a bit of Russian hockey in its game. Always remember: For more than half of hockey's history, Europeans called the game "Canadian hockey." That's because the Canadians invented the game, the stick, the puck and the rules. But today's hockey was born February 26, 1954 in Stockholm, the first day of the 21st World Championships, when the Russians played their first game in an international tournament. They demolished Canada 7-2, won six games and tied one, claimed their first gold medal.and changed the game forever. Famous Russian coaches like Anatoli Tarasov and Viktor Tikhonov have done more for the good of the game than any other coaches and maybe more than any single player including Wayne Gretzky.

The Russians were the first to play a style of hockey almost lacking body contact but enormously smart and fast. It was almost impossible to knock them down or to slow down their game with hooking, slashing and holding. This was the wake-up call for all the hockey coaches in the world, except those in North America. They had their wakeup call 18 years later in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

To compete with this fresh style of hockey, coaches had to teach their players to read the game better, to skate faster and use a better-organized defense system.

To stop the Russians, the Europeans invented new defensive strategies. Because it was not possible to stop the Russians with pure violence, the coaches in Sweden, Finland and the former Czechoslovakia had to find other ways to slow down the "Big Red Machine." They invented the modern trap. Watching the games in St. Petersburg, I can see the Russian hockey culture even without the Russian team. It doesn't surprise me to see how fast and smart the Finnish, Swedish, Latvian or Swiss players are, or how well-organized their game is in all three zones.

The biggest surprise for me has been the USA team. Their head coach, Lou Vairo, combines North American intensity with the Russian style of skating, passing and organizing the game. That's why I love to watch Vairo's team. They do not just "work hockey," as they have to do back home in the National Hockey League or in the North American minor pro leagues.

They play the game.

I shouldn't be surprised. Lou Vairo was a close friend of Anatoli Tarasov. Not of Don Cherry.

Can you imagine how hockey would look today if we had never had the Russians? If Don Cherry's philosophy, Fred Shero's "Broad Street Bullies" in Philadelphia or Harry Sinden's and Tom Johnson's "Big Bad Bruins" in Boston had managed to reign supreme over the world of hockey instead of the Russians? The world of hockey would resemble our earth still ruled by the dinosaurs.

It may sound like an oxymoron... but thank God for the Big Red Machine.

Originally called "Russian hockey lives on in this tournament", the article was written in 2000 and first featured as an in-depth coverage of the Word Championship '2000 at the IIHF web site. The Summit in 1972 is privileged to receive author's permission to publish this article about the legacy of Russian hockey.

Klauss Zaugg is an internationally acclaimed sportswriter. He is a regular contributor to the IIHF and IHWC international hockey publications.

Views expressed by our Guest Speakers are not necessarily those of the Summit in 1972 site.