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!”

10 questions with recently retired towering linesman Mike Cvik

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Tuesday February 9th, 2016

By Dane Frizzell

Our weekly interview segment continues today. This week’s guest is recently retired NHL linesman Mike Cvik. Cvik worked over 1800 games in the National Hockey League. Cvik also worked the 2002 Gold Medal game in Salt Lake City and had the chance to see Wayne Gretzky score his 802nd goal to pass Gordie Howe on the all-time scoring list. The 6’9 linesman is considered one of the NHL’s strongest linesman in the leagues history. We had a chance to talk to Cvik and ask him about his journey to the NHL.

Dane – “Thanks for joining us today! It’s a pleasure to have you do an interview with us.”

Mike – “Thank you Dane. Its my pleasure to chat with you about my 29 years as a linesman in the NHL.”

Dane – “How are you enjoying retirement? What has been the biggest change in your lifestyle so far?”

Mike – “Well, its been almost a month now and it really hasn’t hit me yet as I’m dealing with a fractured ankle that i sustained in the final 5;30 of my last game when JT Brown clipped my skates and i fell in front of the Flames bench. My right skate got caught in the ice as i fell and my body and knee twisted. At the time i thought it was just an ankle sprain.
The biggest change right now is I’m home all the time and not running around trying to get things done before I leave on a road trip which was usually anywhere from 7-12 days. Trying to fill up my daytime hours as i cant even go to the gym.”

Dane – “What was it like to be chosen as the third star in your last game? That is the first time an official has received that honor.”

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Mike – “It was a complete surprise. I was honoured, it was humbling. Sitting in the dressing room between the 2nd and 3rd period my phone suddenly goes off. Im sitting there wondering who could possibly be calling me as everyone knows I’m working tonight. By the time i grab it and look at it i see it was Kelly Hrudey that called. Kelly was calling to ask me would i stay on the ice and go for the skate if i was named a star. I missed the call and went out for the 3rd period. Apparently the guys in the penalty box told the other officials that i couldn’t leave after the game..they knew, i didn’t…when they wouldn’t let me off the ice and i heard Beesley tell the crowd they were doing the 3 starts in reverse order tonight, it hit me. When i heard my name announced as 3rd star, it hit me hard emotionally as it then became evident to me the respect that i have in the hockey community as a whole. I talked to Kelly a week after and relayed to him my thoughts on it, how great it was, how emotional…I couldn’t thank him enough as it was a very proud moment for me and my family and friends.”

Dane – “You had the chance to experience the first half of the NHL’s first season of expanded video review. Are you a fan of it or did you think it hurt the integrity of the officials and the league?”

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Mike – “Im a fan of getting it right. Our Team mantra this season is “getting it right”. When it was introduced to us at training camp we understood it was for the egregious offside that for whatever reason we don’t react to on the ice. It has morphed into very close replays that right now take a lot of time to look at as they are that close and the camera angles sometimes are not the best at giving us the best look at it. As one VP of a team relayed to me, this process has really shown the hockey people how good the linesman really are at making the correct judgements in real time. I believe it helps the integrity of the league as they recognize how fast and good these players at the NHL level really are, and how good we are. We are not flawless, but we are pretty close.”

Dane – “You had the opportunity to work the 2002 Olympic Gold Medal game in Salt Lake City. What was it like to work a game on the world stage?”

Mike – “It was mind blowing. To be selected as one of the NHL representatives was an honour. Then to work the games and get selected to work in the gold medal game, with 2 North American teams, it was totally overwhelming. In discussions with Bill McCreary after we were told we were working the game, he said to me that its a precedent that 2 North American Officials are working 2 North American teams in a gold medal game…….take that as a fantastic compliment that the IIHF is comfortable in doing that. I had butterflies walking across the parking lot to the rink at 9:45 in the morning.”

Dane – “You played hockey until you were 17 years old. What made you become an official?”

Mike – “I realized that my ability as a hockey player would never be good enough to get me anywhere. My brother played a higher calibre level of hockey and back then, each team supplied an official to work the games. My brothers coach came to me one day when a father didn’t show up and asked me if i would be the team referee. They would pay me. I said sure. During the course of those game, I was approached by a gentleman at the West Hillhurst Arena and was asked if i ever thought of becoming a certified referee. He explained the process. I took the weekend course and here i sit 39 years later after a pretty successful pro career.”

Dane – “The WHL has become one of the finest junior hockey leagues in the world. You worked 7 seasons with the league. What is your fondest memory of your time in the WHL?”

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Mike – “At the time, your just caught up in being involved in the best Junior hockey in North America. It went from just getting a few games as a rookie, to working past January, then getting into the playoffs, then working through the playoffs to the WHL Finals. Seeing a lot of the players you officiated go on to get drafted and play in the NHL. You visualize yourself in the same place as them, getting the call from the NHL to go work in the Pros. I owe a lot to Rick Doerksen, who at the time was the Referee in Chief. He must have seen something in this big gangly kid as he took a chance on me, and i was rewarded with his confidence as i did work a lot of big games during the seasons, and eventually was picked to work the Memorial Cup in 1986 in Portland, Oregon. Of the 7 guys that worked that year in the Memorial Cup, at one time all 7 had been employed by the NHL. It was a great group that Rick put together and I could be mistaken but i don’t think that was ever replicated again.”

Dane – “Is there a NHL referee or linesman you looked up to or modeled yourself after throughout your career?”

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Mike – “There was a few actually….Wayne Forsey gave me some great advise and mentoring as i worked my way through the ranks. He was ahead of his time in respects to how he treated fitness as a very important part of his career. Dan Marouelli…what a fantastic skater. If i could only have skated as effortlessly as he did. Kerry Frasers knowledge of the rules…Swede Knox and Randy Mitton..Jim Christison, Ryan Bozak, Gerard Gauthier, Ray Scapinello, Bob Meyers, Wayne Bonney, Leon Stickle, John D’Amico….all the guys that were full time NHL guys when i got hired….they all had good things to pass along to a young guy. It was how you applied them to your game as to how you were received on the ice.”

Dane – “You were on the ice when Wayne Gretzky scored his record breaking goal. What was it like to share the ice with Wayne and just how loud was that building that night?”

 

 

Mike – “I first met Wayne in 1986 at the Memorial Cup as he was the owner of the Hull Olympiques. Pat Burns was his coach. He remembered me from 1986 when i got hired full time in the NHL. I was on the ice for a lot of his records. That night was incredible. When he picked up the puck and went in on Kirk McLean, shot and scored…the Forum in LA went crazy. The Kings players went crazy. I raced to the net to grab the puck. We had instructions before the game that if Wayne did score, the puck went right to Pete Demers the LA Kings trainer. I leaned in before a Kings player could grab it. All i can remember after that is i held the puck out in front of me so everyone could see me take it from the net to Pete. The ceremony on the ice for him was great, and well deserved. Before we dropped the puck to start after the ceremony, i was standing in front of the LA bench. I moved down to where Wayne was sitting and i leaned into the bench and told him congratulations…..and it was an honour to be on the ice when he passed that milestone. He was very humble in his response and the game continued.”

Dane – “As a linesman you had the task of breaking up quite a few fights. Is there one fight in your mind that was the toughest to break up?”

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Mike – “The one fight that comes to mind was in Detroit. Philadelphia was playing there. I believe it was Konstatinoff accidentally hit Tim Kerr in the face with his stick….it cut him pretty bad…Dave Brown was on the ice. Dave went crazy and wanted to get at the defenseman. I cut him off and tried to keep him from getting to Konstatinoff…it seemed to me at the time that i wrestled with him for an hour, when in actual time it was probably only a minute to minute and a half. I finally got him close enough to the bench that I think it was Craig Berube yelled at Dave and he came back to reality, stopped wrestling with me. I guided him top the players bench. I have never in my career been that tired after restraining a player from trying to get at another.”

Dane – “Who is the toughest and most passionate player or coach you ever officiated? Was there someone who would give you a hard time on the ice, but when the game over, and all was said and done you just called a truce?”

Canada's head coach Quinn watches his team's practice at the 2009 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa in this file photo

 

Mike – “Oh there was lots of passionate players and coached through my career….Pat Quinn, god rest his soul…Terry Crisp…Michel Bergeron, coach of the Nordiques, Doug Risebrough, Glen Sather, John Torterellia, Doug McLean, Ken Hitchcock, Theo Fleury, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, just to name a few. You dont get to the NHL level and stay there unless you have a great passion for the game. Pretty much all of them could be tough during the game, but the attitude was what happened on the ice stayed on the ice…games over so why relive it…”

Dane – “Thanks for joining us today! Hope you enjoy your time off the ice.”

Mike – “Thanks Dane…it was a pleasure to chat with you and go down memory lane and recall some of the best things, albeit a fraction of what i can remember from 29 years in the NHL.