Thursday, March 31, 2016

1988-89 Calgary Flames Sergei Priakin Jersey

Sergei Pryakhin, or as 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.

Pryakhin was under pressure from all directions right from the start, dealing with the extreme change in culture and language with no one who had experienced the move previously to consult with, going from playing in front of 2,000 fans to 20,000 fans, plus the animosity he faced from the Canadian and 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."

Priakin Flames photo Priakin card.jpg

His timing could not have been better, as the Flames would go on to capture their only Stanley Cup that season. Since Pryakhin had only played in two regular season games and one playoff game, he was not eligible to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. However, 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.

Priakin Flames photo Priakin auto.jpg

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 time in the NHL 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 of 1993-94 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.

The Flames kept their same jersey that they wore in the team's first home of Atlanta when they moved to Calgary in 1980, save for the change from the flaming A logo to the flaming C. This style was worn through the 1993-94 season until being replaced by a new, modernized style the following season.

Calgary Flames 1988-89 jersey photo Calgary Flames 1988-89 F jersey.jpg
Calgary Flames 1988-89 jersey photo Calgary Flames 1988-89 B jersey.jpg
Bonus Jersey: Today's Bonus jersey is a 1987 Soviet National Team Sergei Priakin jersey as worn during Rendez-vous '87. These jerseys were some of the less successful of the Soviet Union's, as the dark red stripes on the red body of the jersey were too close in color to create any worthwhile contrast.

Gone were the striking diamond pattern on the waist of the 1979 Challenge Cup jerseys, as well as the more pleasing font for the numbers. Things would improve in the years following, as the jerseys worn in international hockey would soon be made by the Finnish brand Tackla, giving the final jerseys of the Soviet era some much needed graphic design.

Pryakhin would become the answer to a trivia question in 1988 when he became the first Soviet player to be allowed to compete in the NHL, which he did with the Calgary Flames. He would also suffer the common plight of the Soviet players during this early era of playing in North America, as the spelling of their names on the backs of their jerseys often varied from appearance to appearance. As seen here, "PRYAKHIN" would latter play for the Flames wearing "PRIAKIN".

1987 Soviet Union Rendez-vous '87 F
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
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.

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