Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Sergei Pryakhin, or often spelled in North America "Priakin", was the first member of the Soviet National Team to ever allowed by the Soviet government to play in the NHL.
Pryakhin, a right wing, first played for Krylja Sovetov (Soviet Wings) in the Soviet League in 1981-82 and then seven full seasons afterwards, eventually being named team captain. Additionally, he played twice for the Soviet Union in the World Junior Championship, winning a gold medal in 1983. He later played for the Soviet National Team in 1987 in both the World Championship and later the Canada Cup, winning silver each time. He would earn gold as a member of the national team in the 1990 World Championships.
Following the 1988-89 Soviet League season, the 25-year-old was given permission to join the Calgary Flames, who had drafted him 252nd overall in 1988, and made history when he competed in his first game on this date in 1989.
One reason Pryakhin was the one chosen to be the first allowed to leave was that he was not a star player and considered replaceable on the national team. That fact factored into the Flames decision to select him in the first place, figuring that the chances of him actually being allowed to leave were better if he were not a star. Another factor in the change in philosophy by the Soviets was of course, money. While the Flames spent reportedly upwards of $500,000 on Pryakhin, the largest portion of that money went to the Soviet ice hockey federation.
Another factor in the choice of the above average Pryakhin being allowed to leave was because his professionalism would make him a good ambassador for Soviet hockey, plus, if he did play well, it would set a precedent in establishing a market for the future release of Soviet superstar players and motivate other Soviet players back home.
He was under pressure right from the start, dealing with the extreme change in culture and language, going from playing in front of 2,000 fans to 20,000 fans, plus the animosity he faced from North American players, who viewed his presence as taking a job away from a North American. Pryakhin tried to smartly avoid such discussions with responses such as, "I don't want to talk politics. I am here to play hockey. I think it is hockey that will benefit from having Soviets in the NHL."
His timing could not have been better, as the Flames would go on to capture their only Stanley Cup later that season. While Pryakhin only played in two regular season games and one playoff game, he was not eligible to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, he did receive a championship ring, the first Soviet trained player to do so.
Pryakhin played in 20 Flames games the following season, scoring a pair of goals and a pair of assists for four points. He was held scoreless in two playoff games.
1990-91 saw Pryakhin split time between the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, scoring 17 points in 18 games, and the Flames, where he got into 24 games and totaled seven points.
That would prove to be the end of his NHL career and he would return to Europe to continue his career, starting with a return to the Soviet Wings in 1992-93 before moving to Zurich of the Swiss National League A. The following season was also spent with Zurich as well. The next four seasons Pryakhin played for Espoo in Finland before a final season playing in Japan for the Oji Eagles.
So significant was Pryakhin's permission from the Soviets to play in the NHL, it was ranked as #76 in the Top 100 Stories of the Century by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Today's featured jersey is a 1988-89 Calgary Flames Sergei Pryakhin jersey. Note the North Americianization of his last name on the back of the jersey.
While Pryakhin's time in the NHL was brief, it opened the door for the first wave of Soviets and eventually led to amazing plays like these occurring in North America, rather than Russia.