Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Valeri Kamensky - The First Russian Triple Gold Club Member

After beginning his career with three seasons with Khmik Voskresensk in the Soviet Championship League beginning with the 1982-83 season, Valeri Kamensky, like so many other top Soviet players, found himself drafted by the military and assigned duty as a hockey player for the dominant Central Sports Club of the Army, CSKA Moscow beginning with the 1985-86 season.

Kamensky Red Army 2
A young Kamensky with CSKA Moscow

During his first season with Red Army, Kamensky would immediately see his point total double from his best and final season with Khimik, as he scored 15 goals and 24 points in 40 games. Two seasons later he set a Soviet career highs with 26 goals and 46 points. Three seasons later he matched his 46 points from 20 goals and 26 assists. Kamensky's time with CSKA was the twilight of their incredible dynasty, and the club won the final four championships of their period of complete domination in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. He was named the Soviet MVP following the 1990-91 season.

Kamensky Red Army
Kamensky was the Soviet MVP in 1991

Kamensky's final two seasons with Red Army saw the club begin to be depleted, as their players were now being allowed to leave the Soviet Union to play in the NHL. Having been drafted by the Quebec Nordiques back in 1988, he now made the jump to North America for the 1991-92 season.

His first two seasons with Quebec were limited to just 23 and 32 games, but his potential was on display as he averaged over a point per game in those 55 contests. Finally playing a full season in 1993-94, Kamensky scored 28 goals and 65 points in 76 games.

Kamensky rookie Nordiques
Kamensky wore #17 as an NHL rookie in 1991-92

With the start of the 1994-95 NHL season delayed due to labor issues, Kamensky played in a dozen games with HC Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss National League A, scoring 13 goals and 19 points. When the NHL season finally began, Kamensky returned to the Nordiques, where he scored 10 goals and was credited with 20 assists for 30 points in 40 games.

Kamensky Nordiques 3
After two seasons as #31, Kamensky finally got to wear his preferred #13 in 1994-95

The financial situation for the Nordiques was a dire one, having to do business in weaker Canadian dollars yet pay their players in American dollars while also having difficulties getting free agents to sign in French speaking Quebec City, which was also the smallest market in the NHL. All of this, plus their aging arena, Le Colisee, proved too much to overcome and the team was sold to new owners, who moved the team to Denver, where they were renamed the Colorado Avalanche.

Kamensky moved with the club to Denver and the change of scenery suited him well, as he had a career year with 38 goals and 47 assists for 85 points. Before the move, the Nordiques were a team on the rise, thanks to their many high draft picks due to how dismal the team and been for so long. With stars like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and a solid supporting cast, things were looking bright for the Avalanche. That outlook grew even brighter two months into the season when, after a falling out with the Montreal Canadiens, Colorado was able to obtain the final key piece of the puzzle in goaltender Patrick Roy.

The team won the Pacific Division with the second most points in the regular season. In the playoffs, they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in six, eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in six and advance to the Finals by beating the Detroit Red Wings in six. They then swept the overmatched Florida Panthers in four to win the 1996 Stanley Cup. Kamensky, after finishing third during the regular season behind only Sakic and Forsberg, was second in Avalanche playoff scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 22 games played.

Kamensky Avalanche 5
Kamensky and Sandis Ozolinsh celebrate with the Stanley Cup

Kamensky equaled his second highest goal total in 1996-97 when he scored 28 for the second time on his was to 66 points, also the second highest of his career while playing in only 68 games. He had a fine playoff season that year with another 22 points, this time in 17 games. He matched his point total from the previous season with 66 again in 1997-98 from 26 goals and 40 assists. He would play one more season in Colorado in 1998-99 with 44 points in 65 games.

Kamensky Avalanche 4
Kamensky at the 1998 NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition
Note the Russian flag patch on his right chest, worn only during the event

Despite the success he enjoyed with Colorado, Kamensky signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers for the 1999-00 season. Once again, his season was affected by injuries and he only played in 58 games for New York that season, which limited him to 13 goals and 32 points. His second season with the Rangers was a similar story, as Kamensky played in only 65 games with a similar scoreline of 14 goals and 34 points.

Kamensky Rangers 2
Kamensky played two seasons with the Rangers

For the 2001-02 season, Kamensky signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars, but after just 24 games and only 9 points, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils in January where he played the final 30 games of his NHL career with 4 goals and 12 points.

Kamensky Stars 1

Kamensky Devils 1
Kamensky played for both Dallas and New Jersey in 2001-02

After not playing during the 2002-03 season, Kamensky took to the ice once again for Khimik Voskresensk in the Russian Superleague. He played in 23 games that first season, with 5 goals and 14 points. He was back with Khimik for the 2003-04 season, where he closed out his career with a fine season, scoring 17 goals and 36 points in 57 games before announcing his retirement.

His final NHL totals were 637 games played with exactly 200 goals and 301 assists for 501 points. Thanks to his two great playoff seasons with the Avalanche, he also had 25 goals and 60 points in his playoff career.

Internationally, Kamensky made annual appearances for the Soviet Union during his time with CSKA Moscow. He first played in the World Junior Championships in 1985, earning a bronze medal. He had a memorable 1986 winning gold at the World Juniors, scoring 7 goals and 13 points in 7 games, and gold again at his first World Championships at the senior level four months later as he turned 20 during the tournament.

Kamensky Soviet Union 1
Kamensky wore the "double triangle" style early in his international career

Kamensky won silver at the 1987 Worlds and came in second at the 1987 Canada Cup later that fall. He won a gold medal at his first Olympics in 1988 in Calgary with 4 goals and 6 points in 8 games. His career for the Soviet Union concluded with gold medals at the 1989 and 1990 World Championships and a bronze in 1991.

Kamensky Soviet Union 2
Kamensky was a member of the Soviet team at Rendez-vous '87,
the two game series held in place of the NHL All-Star Game

After the break up of the Soviet Union, he would not return to the international stage until the 1994 World Championships, where he suited up for Russia for the first time. He participated in his second Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, winning a silver medal. His international career concluded with the 2000 World Championships.

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Kamensky now playing for Russia at the 1998 Olympics

In all, Kamensky won five gold medals (1 World Junior, 3 World Championship and 1 Olympic), two silver, (1 at the Worlds and 1 Olympic) and two bronze (1 World Junior and 1 at the Worlds). His Stanley Cup championship in 1996 made him just the fourth member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club to go with his World Championship and Olympic gold medals. To date, only 27 men are members of the Triple Gold Club and just six from Russia. In recognition of his outstanding international hockey career, Kamensky was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2016.

Today's first featured jersey is a 1990 Soviet Union Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the 1990 World Championships. Kamensky won his first World Championship gold medal in his first try in 1986 as a 20 year old, his first step on his way to becoming the first Russian to become a member of the Triple Gold Club. He would win additional gold medals with the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990.

The Soviets wore this style from 1988 through the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and beyond. This style was worn one last time at the 1992 Olympics when many of the former Soviet states competed as the Unified Team, only with the CCCP cresting removed from the jerseys.

Soviet Union 1990 F jersey
Soviet Union 1990 B jersey

Today's second featured jersey is a 1988 Soviet Union Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the 1988 Olympics when Kamensky won a gold medal, his second step on the way to the Triple Gold Club. He would later win an Olympic silver medal with Russia in 1998.

This style of Tackla jersey was worn only during the 1988 Olympics, as evidenced by the tiny Tackla logo on the chest and the lack of colored shoulders. A similar style was worn during World and European Junior tournaments with contrasting colored shoulders adorned with the Tackla diamond logo from 1987 to 1989.

Soviet Union 1988 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's third featured jersey is a 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the club's first season in Denver when they completed their Cinderella season by winning the Stanley Cup in their first year in their new home, a championship which made Kamensky the first Russian, along with teammate Alexei Gusarov, to become a member of the Triple Gold Club, which requires a World Championship gold medal, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup.

After their amazing first season in their new jerseys, they remain unchanged until the 2007-08 season when the new Reebok Edge jerseys signal the end of the Avalanche cup winning jerseys.

Colorado Avalanche 1995-96 F jersey
Colorado Avalanche 1995-96 B jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1988-89 Soviet Central Red Army Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during the final season of CSKA's run of dominance over the Soviet Championship League when they won 13 consecutive Soviet championships from 1977 to 1989 and 13 European Champions Cups from 1978 to 1990 and the 1991 Spengler Cup.

CSKA 1988-89 F jersey
CSKA 1988-89 B jersey

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1992-93 Quebec Nordiques Valeri Kamensky jersey as worn during Kamensky's second season with the Nordiques when he wore #31.

During his first season with the club, Kamensky wore #17 as Mats Sundin was already wearing his preferred #13. In 1992-93, he changed to the reverse of #13, #31 as goaltender Stephane Fiset had changed from #31 worn the previous season to now #35. For 1994-95, Sundin had been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, finally freeing up #13 for Kamensky in his fourth season with the Nordiques.

Quebec wore this style dating back to 1975-76 when they were still members of the WHA. For the 1980-81 season they changed from a white version of their crest on the blue jerseys to the same red one worn on the home white jerseys. The final change came in 1991-92, Kamensky's first season in the NHL, when the one color numbers became two color, as they were now trimmed in red. They also became the last team to sew the names and numbers on their jerseys in tackle twill fabric, as up to that point they had been heat sealed numbers, which have shown to crack and peel with age, putting a premium on any game worn jersey worn before 1991-92 that has the names and numbers in good physical condition.

This jersey also features the Stanley Cup Centennial patch worn on all players jerseys for the 1992-93 season, with those worn by the Nordiques and Canadiens being a French variation, that read "Coupe Stanley" instead of the standard "Stanley Cup" worn by every other club.

Quebec Nordiques 1992-93 F jersey
Quebec Nordiques 1992-93 B jersey

Today's video section is a terrific collection of highlights of Kamensky from both the Soviet Union and the NHL.

Next, Kamensky scores the first goal in Colorado Avalanche history.

Here's a little bit of insanity for you. The Soviet Union versus the United States at the 1990 World Championships with the commentary in Japanese. We kid you not.

In this next highlight, Kamensky scores a goal which must be seen to be believed.

Here, Kamensky shows that despite being a European, you don't want to mess with him in this very brief but worthwhile highlight.

If you don't watch any of the above videos, you have to see this one. We've seen still photos of this, but we were thrilled to find video of it. Kamensky gets into a fight with New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer and manages to wrap Niedermayer's head up in the sleeve of his Rangers jersey! Niedermayer's reaction to the absurd fight is also something you've never seen before in this awesome highlight.

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