Saturday, February 14, 2015

Red Army Movie Green Unit Week - Head Coach Viktor Tikhonov

In honor of the US release of the documentary feature film "Red Army", which had it's widespread release yesterday and continues nationwide over the course of the next month (click here for the schedule of cities and dates), we are have featured each member of the fames Soviet Central Red Army Hockey Club's famed "Green Unit" of forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and  Vladimir Krutov and defensemen Alexi Kasatonov and Viacheslav Fetisov.

Red Army poster photo RedArmyMovieposter.jpg

The Green Unit was assembled and coached by the legendary Viktor Tikhonov, whose all-powerful, dictatorial style brought the team great successes, but at the cost of the freedom of his players, who were required to not only train, but live in the team's training base for 11 months out of the year.

Tikhonov's own playing career began in 1949 with VVS Moscow, the hockey club of the Soviet Air Force, under the guidance of Soviet hockey innovator Anatoli Tarasov. He later moved to Dynamo Moscow in 1953-54, where he played for ten seasons, eventually finishing his career with 35 goals in 296 games played, four consecutive Soviet League championships (3 with VVS 1951-1953 and 1 with Dynamo in 1954) and a USSR Cup in 1952 with VVS.

After the end of his playing days, he became an assistant coach with Dynamo Moscow in 1964 and later became a head coach with Dynamo Riga. He was later named head coach of the powerful CSKA Moscow (Central Red Army) in 1977. Along with those duties also came the position as head coach of the Soviet National Team, as the vast majority of the national team was made up of players from CSKA.

Tikhonov Dynamo Riga, Tikhonov Dynamo Riga
Dynamo Riga and young head coach Viktor Tikhonov

His success was immediate, as he led CSKA to a Soviet Championship League title in his first season. Following the domestic championship, Tikhonov guided the Soviet Union to the 1978 World Championship, setting the tone for what would become a historical run of success unequalled by any coach in hockey history.

With CSKA's unparalleled ability to choose nearly at will any player it desired from other clubs, by "drafting" them into military service and then assigning them to report to duty with the army' s hockey club, CSKA was essentially a perpetual Soviet National All-Star Team competing in a domestic league. This obvious advantage led to CSKA winning 12 consecutive Soviet Championship League titles under Tikhonov's reign. Additionally, CSKA would win the Soviet Cup in 1977, 1979 and 1988, the European Cup 14 times in 1976 and 1978-1990 and the Spengler Cup in 1991.

Tikhonov, Tikhonov

Additionally, the World Championship gold medal was nearly an annual right, as the Soviets were successful in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989 and 1990 - 8 out of a possible 10 times, with a silver medal in 1987 and a bronze in 1985, making for 12 out of 12 placings in the medals.

During that period of time, the World Championships were not held during Olympic years, and the Soviet Union came home with a sliver medal in 1980, followed by gold medals in both 1984 and 1988. In 1984, the Soviet Union went undefeated in seven games with 48 goals for an 5 against, while 1988 saw them finish 7-1 with 45 goals for and 13 against.

Soviet Union 1984 Olympics, Soviet Union 1984 Olympics
The undefeated 1984 Olympic gold medal winning Soviet National Team

Other international success included soundly defeating the NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup and capturing the 1981 Canada Cup tournament, the only nation to defeat the Canadians in five tries.

CCCP 1981 Canada Cup, CCCP 1981 Canada Cup
Viktor Zhluktov celebrates after the Soviet Union’s
shocking 8-1 win in the 1981 Canada Cup final

Despite the success of his teams, he was an unpopular figure with his players, as he was an absolute iron-fisted dictator, controlling not only the player's on the ice, but their personal lives as well, confining them to barracks away from their wives and families for intensive training 10 or 11 months out of the year.

This eventually led to friction followed by an open revolt by stars Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov in 1991, as they desired more personal freedom and the opportunity to sign a contract to play in the NHL in particular. Eventually the political and economic changes in the Soviet Union resulted in the national federation allowing players to leave for the NHL, with their incentive being a portion of the proceeds from the player's contracts proving too lucrative to pass up, despite Tikhonov's desire to keep the national team intact.

Tikhonov, Tikhonov

"In the past, players stuck it out with the national team for 10 years," Tikhonov told the Toronto Sun in September 1991. "I will have to replace the departed players with juniors and they'll stay with me until they are 23 or 24, before they leave. I'm trying my best to keep the 18- and 19-year-olds from jumping to Scandinavia, Central Europe, or North America. I don't want the drain on our talent to continue, because we won't have a national team at all."

Once players began to receive permission to leave for North America, Tikhonov's obvious advantage in compiling the CSKA roster deteriorated and no more domestic titles would be forthcoming in his remaining years as CSKA coach through 1996. The strength of the National Team had also diminished, as players such as Alexander Mogilny had been lost to defection and Tikhonov did not allow players drafted by NHL clubs, such as Pavel Bure, Valeri Zelepukin, Evgeny Davydov and Vladimir Konstantinov to compete in the 1991 Canada Cup for fear of them defecting to the west as well, which led to a dismal 1-3-1 record to close out the history of the Soviet Union National Team on a down note.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in December of 1991, Tikhonov guided the Unified Team to gold at the 1992 Olympics, the final great triumph of his long and successful career.

Unified Team celebrates, Unified Team celebrates

"This is the kind of joy I haven't experienced in a long time." He explained that he had mellowed, recognizing the need for a new approach to lure NHL and European stars to play for the Unified Team. "We had a lot of new players and we didn't know them very well," Tikhonov said after the Games. "We lost a lot of good players. In order to get fresh players, the coaches had to review our approach."

Tikhonov would return for the 1994 Olympics after relinquishing his duties as coach at the World Championships, guiding Russia to the Final Round playoffs and an eventual 4th place finish.

In addition to the many, many honors and awards he would receive in the Soviet Union and later Russia, including the prestigious Order of Lenin, Tikhonov would be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998. Later, when the IIHF named it's Centennial All-Star Team, four the six players named, Vladislav Tretiak, Fetisov, Valeri Kharlamov and Makarov, all had played for CSKA and the Soviet Union under Tikhonov during their careers.

Tikhonov, Tikhonov
Tikhonov receiving the Order of Friendship in 2010

Today's featured jersey is a 1981 Soviet Union National Team Sergei Makarov jersey as worn during the 1981 Canada Cup. While the Soviet Union was used to having it's way at the World Championships and the Olympics, the Canada Cup was the one time where each country could send it's best players regardless of their amateur or professional status, which benefitted Canada more than any other country.

The Soviet Union had opened it's tournament with a 1-1 tie against their rivals from Czechoslovakia and received a sound 7-3 thumping at the hands of Canada in the Round Robin portion of the tournament, knowing that both countries had already qualified for the playoffs. The Soviets then downed the Czechs 4-1 in the Semifinals and stunned Canada 8-1 in the finals, scoring the last seven goals of the contest after the game was tied at 1-1 eight minutes into the second period.

This style of Soviet jersey with the diamond shapes around the waist was used from 1977 until 1983, including gold medals at the World Championships in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983, the 1981 Canada Cup, the 1979 Challenge Cup vs. the NHL All-Stars and most famously, a silver medal at the 1980 Olympics.

Soviet Union 1981 jersey, Soviet Union 1981 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1992 Unified Team Andrei Kovalenko jersey as used in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, Tikhonov's final great success of his coaching career.

With the upheaval of the political situation in the Soviet Union in 1991, there was little time to sort out what kind of identity the brand new team made up of six of the 15 former Soviet republics would compete with. Mind you, the Unified Team was not the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Team, which was comprised 12 of the 15 Soviet republics and acted more like an association similar to the European Union, rather than a country, such as the Soviet Union had.

The Unified Team competed under the Olympic flag, and with just five weeks before the games were to commence, the jersey supplier to all the Olympic teams, Tackla of Finland, made up a set of the usual Soviet Union jerseys, only without the "CCCP" lettering across the chest. Note they did not even continue or even alter the chest stripes, which were still notched on the left hand side for the curvature of the "P"!

This was the one and only appearance for these stop-gap jerseys, as Russia competed in a new set of jerseys in time for the 1992 World Championships two months later in April with"Россия" now across the front in rushed, simple one color block letters rather than the fancier two color, drop shadowed letters used during the 1991 season prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia 1992 Olympics Unified Team
Photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1988-89 CSKA Moscow Alexander Mogilny jersey from Red Army's 13th consecutive Soviet Championship League title under Tikhonov just weeks prior to Mogilny defecting to the west. Mogilny's departure in early May after that year's World Championships in Sweden, effectively marked the end of an era for Tikhnov and the supremacy of CSKA, as prior to the following season Fetisov, Larionov and Vladimir Krutov left the Soviet Union with permission of the authorities to play in the NHL, brining to a close their unparalleled streak of championship dominance.

CSKA Red Army 88-89 jersey, CSKA Red Army 88-89 jersey
CSKA Red Army 88-89 jersey, CSKA Red Army 88-89 jersey

Today's video section begins with highlights of the final game of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament.

Our next video selection is the gold medal game from the 1992 Olympics, as the Unified Team, wearing their jerseys without any national identity, captures the gold medal against Canada, followed by a brief clip of the medal ceremony.

For those of you with the time, here is a half hour interview with Tikhonov on the occasion of the Russian's first World Championship victory in 15 years in 2008, which features his long standing view on team play over individual talent and his thoughts on many other topics.

It requires some concentration to listen to the translator over the original Russian language in the background, but is a rare chance for North Americans to hear his experience come through in his own words.

Finally, the trailer for the movie "Red Army", now showing in theaters across the United States and Canada.



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