Hockey legacies – The Red Army Program

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Soviets Celebrate A Gold Medal At The 1984 Olympics

Sept.5th 2016

By Dane Frizzell

With the World Cup of Hockey starting soon, it is time to look at some of the biggest international hockey stories.

The Soviet Red Army Hockey Team is one of the most interesting and impacting clubs of the past 50 years. During the 1970’s and 80’s, a team built on dedication and discipline took the world by storm. A government run and military established hockey team built to spread soviet propaganda and power, quickly became the best.

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Antatoli Tarasov in 1994

After the Second World War, Antatoli Tarasov was asked to put together a hockey program from scratch. He founded a hockey department at CSKA Moscow. Before this, the most common sport in the Soviet Union was bandy. A sport similar to field hockey but, played on the ice. Bandy focused on passing perfection, skating skills and overall team mentality.  Everything the soviets prided in their program. Tarasov also looked at ballet and chess as inspiration to building his program. With only about a hundred hockey rule books and little knowledge the program was born and began to recruit it’s players. As a coach and director, his personal ideas and thoughts on the game were revolutionary. He gave his life building plays and practices in order to develop his players. Focusing on passing and hard and long physically draining practices, Tarasov turned his players into machines. The teams quickly became unified and worked as a group opposed to individuals.  Known as the father of Soviet and Russian hockey, Tarasov quickly grew respect from his country and his players.

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Paul Henderson celebrates the eventual winning goal of the 1972 Summit Series

 

The team quickly grew international attention. Participating in tournaments in Russia and participating in the 1972 Summit Series, the Canada Cup tournament and the Olympic games, the Red Army proved to be one of the highest skilled teams of their generation. The team won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament between 1954 and 1991 and never failed to medal in any International Ice Hockey Federation tournament they competed in. With precision and military minded players, the team proved mightier than the competition. Although beaten at times in the Summit Series and in the memorable Miracle On Ice, the Soviets changed the way hockey was taught and thought of in North America.

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USSR Coach Viktor Tikhanov

The Russian players played together all year around. With the decline of Antatoli Tarasov, Viktor Tikhanov gained the head coaching position for the team. The strict coach would have his players in his fist.  As a general in the army, Tikhanov controlled his players and would often keep them away from their families and the outside world. The thought of defection was a constant fear for Tikhanov. He would often cut players he felt were going to betray their team and country. He maintained the same coaching style of Tarasov and continued to push forward with the same core players. Years after the fall of the Soviet Union, players and personal would come forward and tell tales of Tikhanov’s brutality and extremely hard relationships with his team. With a fresh coach, the team would go on to continue their world dominance and produce some of the finest players in the world. Including the Russian Five.

Russian Five

Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov

The Russian Five were the strongest players on the Red Army Team and grew up playing together from a young age in the Soviet Union. The precision passing and knowledge of where each player was at all times on the ice, made them dominate international hockey players. Sergei Makarov is the all time leading scorer for the Soviet Union International Hockey Team. Larionov led the revolt with Fetisov against Soviet authorities that prevented Soviet players to defect to the NHL. After loads of frustration, false promises and 8 years of fighting, Larionov was finally allowed to join the Vancouver Canucks Alexander Mogilny was the first Soviet player to defect to the NHL and in 1989 joined the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. The other four players of the Russian five joined Larionov in the NHL and slowly began to make an impact in North America.

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Legendary Coach Scotty Bowman

In 1995, the Detroit Red Wings would build their own Russian Five. Through trades and signings, Detroit Red Wings own Scotty Bowman brought together the five-man unit. Leading the Red Army line through a spectacular display of their prowess in which they played a two-minute shift at both ends of the ice, denying all attempts at defensive maneuvering. The five skater group included forwards Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov with Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov on defense. The five players prided themselves in puck possession and accurate passing often stalling entry into the offensive zone in order to settle down the play and control the puck. These five Russian players would help the Red Wings win the 1996-1997 Stanley Cup.

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Detroit Red Wings Russian Five

With more and more players leaving the crumbling team and the USSR dissolving into what is now the Russian Federation, the once mighty Red Army Hockey program was gone. Many players continued to play in the Russian federation, but many explored careers in the NHL and elsewhere in the world.  With players finally free from Tikhanov’s draining regime, they could explore options elsewhere and be free to live their lives how they please. The Red Army model slowly became extinct. The number of players adept in this style began to dwindle, as the system’s influence faded. The impact of this team and its program is still being felt today. Hockey in Russia is still their most popular sport. Children dream of playing the sport professionally and the honor of representing their country is visible. Russian stars in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are the faces of Russian hockey these days. The amount of pride the players have for their country is comparable to none. Without Antatoli Tarasov building the program, or Alexander Mogilny defecting for a new career, it is impossible to be certain if these great players would be in North America impressing and entertaining the fans.

 

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10 questions with former NHL defenseman Jason Strudwick

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Sept 3rd, 2016

By Dane Frizzell

This week we have former NHL defenseman Jason Strudwich joining us to talk about his career in the big league, life after hockey and what it’s like to host his own TV show.

Dane – “Thanks for joining us today

Jason – “Great to chat with you!”

Dane – “You played your first NHL game on March 30 1996. You ended up fighting Kelly Chase. What was it like fighting a guy like Kelly in your first game in the league, and what emotions were going through your head at the time?”

Jason – “At that point I didn’t know if I would play in the NHL again. I really wanted to have a memory if it was my only game. The easiest way was to get into a fight. I knew of Chase’s reputation and that he would make it happen for me!”

Dane – “You scored 13 goals in your NHL career including an overtime beauty. What was your most memorable goal in your career?”

Jason – “Was it 13?! Not to shabby! I didn’t score many but I had some fun ones. My first would be the most special. Scoring in LA was very cool. I remember all my teammates being as excited or more excited than me!”

Dane – Over a span of 15 seasons you played on 5 different NHL teams. Where was your favorite place to play, and where did you most feel at home?”

Jason – “All 5 cities were special in their own way. It was special to play at MSG in New York. Very cool building in the middle of a great city. Coming home to finish in Edmonton was great. We did not have the best team in the league but playing in front of family and friends that supported me on the way up was great.”

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Madison Square Garden

Dane – “You fought 195 times over your career including your days in the WHL. Who is the toughest player you fought, and who what was your most memorable fight?”

Jason – “I didn’t know it was that many! wow. I was a busy guy. I never felt I was a fighter. I was a guy who could fight if needed. There was a big difference in my mind. There were some tough guys but Laraque is still at the top the list. So strong it was hard to get anything going on him.”

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Georges Laraque

Dane – “You played on one of the best junior teams in the history of hockey, the Kamloops Blazers. What was it like to play on such a dominant team and to play with future hall of famers?”

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1994-95 Kamloops Blazers 

Jason – “At the time we did not know how good of a team we were. Young guys coming together that loved spending time with each other and wanted to compete. There were so many competitive players. It really made the difference. Don Hay was the perfect coach for that group!”

Dane – “You are now a radio host in Edmonton. What made you pursue a media job after you retired from the game?”

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Jason – “I am now actually hosting Dinner Tv on City. I made the move in May of 2015. Really enjoyed the radio. My good friend Jason Gregor invited to be a part of his radio show. It evolved into a career!”

Dane – “Who was the most agitating player you ever played against? What made him such a pain to play against?”

Jason – “I never really got too rattled by pests. I could see through their games! I would get more into it when they went after our top player. I played with Sean Avery and I couldn’t believe how rattled he would get the other team. I remember the Devils going crazy when he was on his game. They would lose focus and make it much easier for the rest of us!”

Dane – “You played a couple seasons overseas. What was the experience like and how big is the game over there compared to North America?”

Jason – “I really enjoyed my time in Europe. I loved living there and being a part of the country instead of just visiting. I recommend it to all my friends. The hockey was a lot to play as well. I know I improved after playing in Switzerland. The big ice and my bigger role got me making plays again! I played quite a few more NHL seasons after that year.”

Dane – “There are fewer fights in NHL games these days. Do you think fighting still plays a role in our sport?”

Jason – “Fighting has and will continue to go down. I can see the day where there is no fighting at all. I do think it is a good way to calm a game down. I like hard, fast hockey that drives up the intensity.”

Dane – “Over your career, who was your most influential coach? How did he support you and make you a better and stronger player?”

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Jason – “In the NHL is was Marc Crawford. From his first practice with us he was all over me every practice. At the time I didn’t understand he was trying to make me better. Looking back I really appreciate him taking the time. He understood what type of player I was destined to be and pushed me well into that style. It served me well.”

Dane – “Thanks for doing this, hope to do this again sometime.”

Jason – “Thanks for having me!”