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Friday, January 17, 2014

1997-98 New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky Jersey

Instituted to promote the NHL's participation in the upcoming Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the first Olympics to be supported by a suspension of the NHL season to allow the best players in the NHL an opportunity to represent their home country at the Games, the 1998 NHL All-Star Game was the first to use the World vs. North America format. The new format would last for five years, and during those various All-Star games, each player would wear the flag of their home country on their respective All-Star jerseys.

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Dominik Hasek (World) and Wayne Gretzky (North America)
in their 1998 NHL All-Star Game jerseys, complete with a
flag patch for each player's home country

On this date in 1998, for the first year under the new format and for the one and only time, each player would also wear the flag of their native country on their NHL club team jersey during the weekend's 1998 Super Skills Competition. For some players, this would be the only patch they would ever wear on a particular style of NHL jersey, and for knowledgeable collectors, it's a chance to create a interesting jersey with a unique story behind it.

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Wayne Gretzky wearing a Canadian flag on his New York Rangers
jersey - the only patch he would ever wear on a Rangers jersey

For the 1998 Super Skills Competition, the North American players would wear their dark road jerseys while the World Team would dress in their home whites.

The array of flags in use was quite impressive, with North America being represented by the both Canada and the United States, while the World Team sported the flags of the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden.

Among the most decorated jerseys from that event were from the host Vancouver Canucks. While most of the flags were located in the traditional patch location of the upper right chest, the Canucks were already wearing the 1998 NHL All-Star Game patch in that location as hosts of the event, and chose to locate the flag patches for Canadian Mark Messier (dark jersey) and Russian Pavel Bure (light jersey) to the top of the right shoulder. This pair of jerseys also illustrates how the new format would sometimes pit teammates against each other for the first time in an NHL All-Star Game, a new quirk of the World vs. North America format not seen before.

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A similar situation occurred with the Detroit Red Wings, as they were already wearing the "Believe" patch for injured teammate Valdimir Konstantinov and team masseuse Sergei Mnatsakanov. They took a different route than Vancouver and put their flag patches in the standard location for Brendan Shanahan (dark jersey) and Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov and Nicklas Lidstrom (light jerseys) with the Believe patch just below.

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Winners at the event were Teemu Selanne - Puck Control Relay, Scott Niedermayer - Fastest Skater (13.56 second lap around the rink), Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg and Shanahan - Accuracy Shooting, Al MacInnis - Hardest Shot (100.4 mph) and Dominik Hasek - Goaltenders Competition.

Today's featured jersey is a 1997-98 New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky jersey with the Canadian Flag patch on the upper right chest as worn only during the 1998 Super Skills Competition during the NHL All-Star Game weekend.

This is special since it is the one and only additional patch Gretzky would ever wear on any Rangers jersey during his three seasons in New York.

It's actually a little surprising that the flag patch was located on the right chest, as the Rangers have had a history of relocating various other patches to both the right and left shoulders due to the diagonal cresting on the front of their jerseys interfering with the standard patch placement commonly used by other clubs.

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New York Rangers 1997-98 ASG G B jersey photo NewYorkRangers1997-98ASGGBjersey.jpg
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We have replicated a number of the jerseys from that event for our own collection, and here are the rosters for you to choose from if you would like to add a flag to a jersey you already own or create a new, unique project for your collection. At the time of this writing, the flag patches can easily be obtained on ebay, just look for the ones with the quarter inch wide white border around them as shown above. A search for "NHL flag patch" is a great way to start.

Today's video section is the entire 1998 NHL All-Star Game. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any footage of the Super Skills Competition at this time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

1905 Ottawa Silver Seven Frank McGee Jersey

Born in 1882, Frank McGee excelled at sports, rowing, playing lacrosse and rugby, which included winning a Canadian championship in 1898. But what McGee is best remembered for was his goal scoring prowess at hockey.

In 1900, at the age of 17, while playing in a charity exhibition game with a local Canadian Pacific Railway team, McGee permanently lost the sight in one eye when hit with a high stick. He quit playing to become a referee, but quickly returned to playing despite the risk of losing the vision in his remaining good eye.

After playing junior and intermediate level hockey in his native Ottawa, he joined the Ottawa Hockey Club for the 1903 season. He appeared in six of the club's eight games and immediately showed his offensive skills with 14 goals to place second overall in the Canadian Amateur Hockey League.

In the CAHL playoffs, McGee and Ottawa faced off against the Montreal Victorias in a two-game total-goal series for the rights to the Stanley Cup. Game 1 finished tied at 1-1, with McGee held scoreless. Ottawa roared to life in Game 2, however, as McGee led the Ottawa onslaught with a hat trick as they overpowered the Victorias 8-0. As a result of their 9-1 triumph, Ottawa became league champions were declared holders of the cup for the first time in club history.

Two days later the new champions were challenged for their new trophy by the Rat Portage Thistles in a best-of-three series. Game 1 went to Ottawa 6-2, with McGee scoring twice. Two days later, Ottawa successfully defended their trophy with a 4-2 win, with McGee scoring twice more, including the cup winning goal at 8:20 of the first half, as the game had yet to be divided into three periods. As a reward for their victory, each member of the squad would receive a silver nugget, which gave birth to the team's new nickname, The Silver Seven.

1903 Ottawa Senators Hockey Club Pictures, Images and Photos
The Stanley Cup champion 1903 Ottawa Hockey Club

Before the 1904 CAHL season began, Ottawa faced another challenge for the Stanley Cup, this from the Winnipeg Rowing Club. A best-of-three series, play began on December 30th, 1903. When the series concluded on January 4, 1904, the Silver Seven prevailed after a 9-1 win, a 6-2 loss and a 2-0 shutout in Game 3.

Ottawa had a tumultuous 1904 season, as they withdrew from the CAHL after only four games and joined the new Federal Amateur Hockey League, but did not participate in any of the FAHL regular season games. In the four CAHL games Ottawa did compete in, McGee scored 12 times, which was still good enough to place him fifth in the final scoring totals.

After leaving the CAHL, the Silver Seven would face a cup challenge from the Toronto Marlboros, whom they would turn away 2 games to none in their best-of-three challenge in late February of 1904.

Once the FAHL regular season was concluded, it's regular season champions, the Montreal Wanderers met the Silver Seven to compete in a two-game, total-goal series for the FAHL championship and the rights to the Stanley Cup that went with it. At least that was the plan. The first game ended in a 5-5 tie when the Wanderers refused to play overtime with the same referee in charge and then had the temerity to demand the series begin anew as a best-of-three! When the trustees of the cup ordered the series to continue as planned, the Wanderers abandoned their challenge, leaving the Silver Seven as FAHL champions despite their having played but a single tie game in league competition! During the tie game, McGee added another goal to his career total.

A final challenge to Ottawa was arranged for one week later, this from Brandon Wheat Cities in another best-of-three format, which the Silver Seven turned away with a pair of victories. While McGee had only played in four regular season games during the 1904 season, he skated in eight cup challenge games, scoring 21 times as the Silver Seven turned away no less than four separate challengers.

In their first full season of FAHL competition in 1905, Ottawa came first with a 7-1 record as McGee would tie for the league lead with 17 goals, but he would score his while playing in two less games than Jack Marshall. The highlight of McGee's regular season would be a five goal performance on February 4th.

During the season, the Dawson City Nuggets would travel 4,000 miles from the Yukon to challenge Ottawa. Their trip would take a month to complete and include traveling on foot, by sled dog, automobile, ship and train. Game 1 of the best-of-three would go to Ottawa by a score of 9-2, with McGee scoring once. Game 2 on this date in 1905 would be one for the ages, as Ottawa continued to pile up goals at a furious pace, eventually winning by an unfathomable 23-2 final score with McGee setting a record which still stands today, as he scored an incredible 14 times! Eight of McGee's goals were consecutive and came in under nine minutes of playing time.

As league champions, Ottawa retained the cup and was challenged once again by the Rat Portage Thistles. McGee did not play in Game 1, which was won by the Thistles 9-3. McGee returned for Games 2 and 3, which were won by Ottawa 4-2 and 5-4 with McGee scoring three times.

1905 Ottawa Silver Seven Pictures, Images and Photos
The Stanley Cup champion 1905 Ottawa Silver Seven

For the 1906 season, the Silver Seven moved to the new Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association. They tied for the best record at 9-1. McGee was third in league scoring with 28 goals in seven games, which included an eight goal performance on March 3rd.

Ottawa would face two challenges during the regular season, first from Queen's University in a best-of-three. After Game 1 went the way of the Silver Seven 16-7, there was little doubt that the cup would change hands, which was confirmed by a 12-7 score in Game 2. McGee scored four times in Game 1.

Just prior to the end of the regular season, Ottawa again had to face a cup challenge, this from Smiths Falls in another best-of-three series. Ottawa had little trouble defending it's now three year grip on the Stanley Cup, as they won two straight by scores of 6-5 and 8-2. In all, McGee scored 15 times in the four cup challenge games that season.

The final two games of McGee's career came in the ECAHA playoffs on March 14th and 17th, 1906. The series was a two-game, total-goal affair. The Montreal Wanderers put in an early claim on the cup with a resounding 9-1 win in the first game.

Ottawa was down, but not out, as they entered Game 2, but 12 minutes in, Montreal scored again to increase their lead to nine goals. McGee got Ottawa on the board in the first half and again before the half ended to help cut the margin to 10-4. The Silver Seven would come out flying in the second half, and score six consecutive goals to even the series at 10-10! In the final seven minutes of the contest, Lester Patrick would score to put Montreal in front and then end the three year reign of the Silver Seven with an empty net goal in the final seconds.

It would be McGee's final game as a hockey player in a career which spanned four seasons, divided between 23 regular season games in which he scored 71 goals, an average of more than three per game. Mc Gee would also participate in 22 playoff and Stanley Cup challenge games during which he would score 63 times, including his record 14 in one game in 1905, all while only having vision in one eye.

Frank Patrick was quoted as saying about McGee, "He was even better than they say he was. He had everything - speed, stick handling, scoring ability and was a punishing checker. He was strongly built but beautifully proportioned and he had an almost animal rhythm."

Following his retirement as a player at just 23 years of age, said to be because his government job would not allow him to travel. Despite having vision in only one eye, he somehow was accepted into the military at age 32. His certificate of examination noted that McGee could "see the required distance with either eye" after he apparently tricked the doctor by covering his bad eye with first one hand and then the other during his exam.

He began to serve in May of 1915 before suffering a knee injury when his vehicle was hit by an artillery shell. While out of action he was given the opportunity to take a non-combat posting in the northwest of France far from the battle, but chose instead to return to the front in August only to be killed in action on September 16, 1916. His body was never recovered.

Frank McGee
Lieutenant Frank McGee

McGee was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the first class to be inducted in 1945.

Today's featured jersey is a 1905 Ottawa Silver Seven Frank McGee jersey as worn during his record setting 14 goal game against Dawson City. The Senators trademark red, black and white horizontal "barberpole" stripes were first adopted in 1903, and except for one season with vertical stripes in 1910-11, remained in use through the original Senators final season in Ottawa of 1933-34, with the addition of the letter "O" crest from 1929-30 on.

Ottawa Silver Seven Senators 1905 jersey

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1976-77 Minnesota North Stars Tim Young Jersey

After leading the Ottawa 67's in scoring in 1973-74 with 106 points, and then averaging 2.33 points per game with 56 goals and 107 assists for 163 points in 70 games, good for second overall in QMJHL scoring to current Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, Tim Young was drafted 16th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1975.

Oddly, the Kings would trade their brand new first round pick Young two months later, before he even suited up for training camp, much less a game, for the Minnesota North Stars second round pick in the 1976 draft!

After 13 games with the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL, Young was called up to make his NHL debut by the North Stars during which he scored his first NHL goal. He competed in 63 games over the rest of the season and had a solid 18 goals and 51 points to lead the lowly North Stars in scoring for the 1975-76 season despite his late start to his NHL season.

Given the opportunity to play an entire season, Young easily led the team in scoring again in 1976-77 , this time by 26 points over his nearest teammate as the North Stars qualified for the playoffs for the first time in four years. His 95 points would prove to be his career high and placed him fifth overall in league scoring, tied with Gilbert Perreault and ahead of players such as Jean Ratelle, Lanny McDonald and Bobby Clarke. His outstanding season was recognized with a spot in the 1977 NHL All-Star Game.

Tim Young North Stars

Young scored 23 goals and 58 points and had nearly identical numbers the following season with 24 goals and 56 points as the struggling North Stars missed the playoffs both seasons, which was not easy to do back then, as 12 of the 17 teams qualified for the postseason during that era.

The highlight of Young's career came during the second of those two seasons when he set a franchise record which still stands to this day with five goals in one game, which came on just five shots and included his first career hat trick on this date in 1979 at Madison Square Garden in a game against the New York Rangers.

The scoring started with Minnesota's Gordie Roberts' goal 2:06 into the game with the first assist going to Young. Young then got his first goal of the game on the power play just 49 seconds later to make it 2-0 after one. Young then completed his hat trick against the Rangers Doug Soetaert with a goal at the mid point of the second period and another at 14:04 to put Minnesota ahead 5-0.

After the Rangers spoiled the shutout 4:38 into the third period, Young struck again on the power play at 8:09 for his forth, now facing Wayne Thomas in goal for New York. After Minnesota's seventh goal Young capped off his remarkable evening and closed out the scoring with his fifth goal of the game with an even strength goal at 14:56 unassisted.

Young was the 21st player in league history to score five goals in a game, but only the second one to do so on just five shots.

The 1978-79 season was the first one following the merger between the North Stars and the Cleveland Barons franchise and the results paid off, along with the addition of some very high draft picks as a result of the team's lowly finish in 1978, and Young and the North Stars made deep runs into the playoffs in both 1980, with a trip to the conference finals followed by their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981.

North Stars Barons cartoon

With the team now playing much better and stocked with higher quality teammates, Young's numbers began to rise once more and opponents no longer could focus their defensive efforts on Young. In 1979-80 had the only 30 goal season of his career with 31, as well as 74 points. During the season he set a team record with goals in six consecutive games and also added 7 points in 15 playoff games.

In 1980-81 he had 245 goals and 66 points during the regular season and posted a strong 17 points in the 12 playoff games he played in during the North Stars trip to the finals.

Young was named the North Stars captain for 1981-82, but was limited by a broken ankle suffered during the off season to just 49 games in which he contributed 41 points. He rebounded in 1982-83 with a 79 games season and chipped in another 53 points.

Prior to the 1983-84 season Young was traded to the Winnipeg Jets and scored 34 points in 44 games in his only season in Winnipeg, who then traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers. He appeared in 20 games for the Flyers but spent the majority of the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, where he averaged a point per game before retiring at the end of the season.

Tim Young Jets

Young's final NHL totals were 195 goals and 341 points for 536 points in 628 games and one memorable five goal, six point night.

Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 Minnesota North Stars Tim Young jersey as worn during his 95 point season which he led the North Stars in scoring and placed fifth overall in the league.

This style jersey was used by the North Stars from 1975-76 until 1977-78 and was the North Stars first use of drop shadowed numbers. It would be the second of five styles the North Stars would wear.

Minnesota North Stars 76-77 jersey
Minnesota North Stars 76-77 jersey

Unfortunately we could not find video of Young's five goal game, which we recall watching live at the time, so here's a team promotional film that time period with the North Stars wearing today's featured style and taking on the old Kansas City Scouts. Hang in there (or skip) past the national anthem, it's an interesting video that we think will be worth your time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CSKA Moscow - The Civil War - A Tale of Two Teams With the Same Name

Following yesterday's look at the brief, but memorable, period of the Russian Penguins, Part 2 today looks at the aftermath following the Pittsburgh Penguins withdrawal of support of CSKA Moscow and the subsequent fallout over the next seven seasons.

The Civil War
A Tale of Two Teams With the Same Name

After dominating the world of Soviet ice hockey from 1946 through 1989, which included all but six championships from 1955 to 1898 and 13 consecutive from 1977 to 1989, the Central Sports Club of the Army (CSKA Moscow) saw it's advantage begin to erode when, first, some of their older star players were allowed to leave for the riches of the NHL (in a not so transparent effort to generate some much needed income), followed by key defections of prime up and coming talent.

Their situation nose dived with the breakup of the Soviet Union and their subsequent loss of government backing. By the time the International Hockey League replaced the former Soviet Championship League for the 1992-93 season, Central Red Army (CSKA Moscow) plummeted to an overall record of 9-42-11 and a last place finish in the 12 team Western Conference. How the mighty had fallen.

With the Russian Department of Defense no longer able to fund the team, 1993-94 saw a new partnership with the recent back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, which resulted in a new logo and North American marketing savvy brought on board in order to bring in new sponsorships to revitalize the team. The renewed efforts on behalf of the club paid off with a 21-20-5 record that saw CSKA Moscow rise to 14th place out of 24 and a return to the playoffs.

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1994-95 had the Russian Penguins finish with a winning record at 25-20-7 and another playoff appearance. But it also signaled the end of the Pittsburgh organization's involvement (as we detailed yesterday) as the Russians now felt they could run the show on their own. Motivated by greed, team management wanted to keep all the anticipated sponsorship dollars for themselves, without having to split it 50/50 with the North Americans any longer. They were also delusional to think they could retain the sponsors brought in by the Pittsburgh marketing staff in light of the interference in their operations suffered at the hands of the Russian Mafia, who went so far as to kick the team's sponsors out of the arena's luxury boxes as well as being responsible for the deaths of as many as three of the team's staff!

Predictably, CSKA Moscow fell to 8-13-5 in the first round of the 1995-96 season, finishing 11th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference. For the second round of the season, they were grouped with the other non-automatic playoff qualifiers and faired well, finishing atop the group comprised of the lower half of the league with a 19-4-3, earning one of the two available playoff spots as the 15th seed. Their reward for their efforts was drawing long time rivals and 2nd seed Dynamo Moscow, who eliminated CSKA Moscow 2 games to 1.

The upheaval following the 1995-96 season was seismic, as the team found itself barred from their facilities, the water and electricity shut off and the long time and highly decorated Viktor Tikhonov out as head coach of CSKA Moscow, the team he led with an iron fist since 1977.

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Viktor Tikhonov

Tikhonov responded by forming a new club, the incredibly similarly named HC CSKA Moscow and taking his case to court, where the actions of Colonel Alexander Baranovsky in ousting Tikhonov were found to be illegal. Tikhonov's new club were granted access to the arena, but order was not necessarily restored, as locks were cut off lockers, electricity, water and phones were cut off and access to the training base was blocked. The upheaval cost both Tikhonov's new club and the existing CSKA Moscow team much needed players, as they did not want to be caught in the middle of the fight between Tikhonov and the army and opted to play elsewhere.

The situation became even more muddled when the established CSKA Moscow found itself relegated to the Yysshaya Liga, the second level of Russian hockey, for the 1996-97 season. The established club opted to return to the classic "UCKA" lettering underneath a red star on the front of their jerseys, while Tikhonov's upstart operation stayed with the Russian Penguins logo and joined the newly formed Russian Superleague, meaning the old guard and former dominant powerhouse team, CSKA Moscow, was in the formerly unfathomable position of playing in the second division, while Tikhonov's upstart "Red Army" club (HC CSKA Moscow) started out life in the top division!

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CSKA Moscow opted for the classic crest

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Tikhonov's new HC CSKA Moscow retained the Russian Penguins logo
despite the departure of the Pittsburgh Penguins partnership

CSKA Moscow fared well in 1996-97, winning promotion by finishing first in the Western Conference of the Vysshaya Liga, while Tikhonov's HC CSKA Moscow was a first round playoff exit.

This set up an even more confusing situation for the 1997-98, as the new HC CSKA Moscow and the established CSKA Moscow were now both competing in the Russian Superleague at the same time. One can only imagine the difficulty broadcasters and reporters must have had when the two Red Army clubs met during the course of the regular season and the intensity the games must have had during this Civil War of Red Army vs. Red Army!

The established CSKA Moscow side finished 8th in the Western Conference while Tikhonov's HC CSKA Moscow side came 12th out of 14. CSKA Moscow missed out on the Superleague playoffs, while HC CSKA Moscow failed to survive the relegation schedule and was demoted to the Vysshaya Liga for 1998-99, separating the two clubs once again. Clear as mud, right?

For the next three seasons Tikhonov's HC CSKA Moscow side finished mid-pack in the Yysshaya Liga, but a strong 2001-02 season saw them earn a promotion back to the Russian Superleague by finishing with a combined 49-12 record with 1 overtime win, 6 ties and 2 overtime losses over the course of the two halves of the split season.

Meanwhile, CSKA Moscow soldiered on in the Superleague, managing to avoid relegation by the barest of margins, winning a tiebreaker over Vityaz Podolsk in 2000-01 to avoid the drop, but the 2001-02 season saw them slip to depths of a new level, as they completed a dismal season at 10-36-4 with an overtime win to finish 17th out of 18, a single point out of last place for the once mighty Red Army, but not enough to avoid relegation to the Vysshaya Liga for 2002-03, an especially bitter pill considering Tikhonov's HC CSKA team were to be promoted into the very spot they were vacating.

Eventually, after several failed attempts over the years, the reality of the situation finally was too much for all involved to continue to deny - one strong CSKA club was a far better and more commercially viable option than two mediocre, financially struggling teams. An agreement was finally reached, which included Tikhonov at the helm of the reunited club, which would use HC CSKA's spot in the Superleague for the upcoming 2002-03 season.

The merger also signaled and end of the "Russian Penguins" logo, which far outlived it's intended purpose as the logo for the joint effort between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Central Sports Club of the Army, an arrangement which came to an end seven years prior.

The reunited CSKA Moscow rose as high as third in 2007-08, the final Superleague season, and has won two division titles in the Tarasov Division of the Kontinental Hockey League, in 2008-09 and 2012-13, but still has yet to win another championship since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Today's featured jersey is a 1996-97 HC CSKA Moscow Sergei Samsonov jersey. Tikhonov's Red Army club continued to use the Russian Penguins logo, only now with the Cyrillic characters "XK" added to the chest of the penguin to differentiate it from CSKA Moscow, while the original club used the classic UCKA crest below the red star.

Samsonov played two seasons for CSKA Moscow but left Russia for the North American minor leagues amidst all the strife surrounding the two warring Red Army clubs, choosing instead to play for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. Following the 1996-97 season, he was drafted 8th overall by the Boston Bruins and would go on to play eight seasons with Boston before bouncing around the NHL, with stops in Edmonton, Montreal and Chicago before settling in wit the Carolina Hurricanes for four seasons before wrapping up his career with 20 games with Florida in 2010-11. He would play 888 games, score 235 goals and 571 points, reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with Edmonton in 2006.

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Bonus jersey:  Today's bonus jersey is a 2001-02 HC CSKA Moscow Maxim Koryakin jersey as worn by Tikhonov's HC CSKA Moscow during their final season as a separate, independent club from the original CSKA Moscow team.

HC CSKA, as denoted by their use of the Russian Penguins logo with the addition of the "XK" to the chest of the penguin in the logo to differentiate themselves from the CSKA Moscow club, would earn promotion from the Vysshaya Liga at the conclusion of the 2001-02 season.

Their subsequent merger with the original CSKA Moscow team prior to the start of the 2002-03 season would bring an end of the "Russian Penguins" logo, which lasted well beyond the two years of the operating agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL.

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Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 2002-03 CSKA Moscow Dimitri Kosmachev jersey as worn by the reunited CSKA Moscow team in the Russian Superleague, the first season the two rival Red Army clubs were merged into a single entity once more.

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CSKA Moscow 2002-03 jersey photo CSKAMoscow2002-03Bjersey-1.jpg

Today's first video is a feature on a young Samsonov from 1994, which if you look closely during the interview, has the classic UCKA logo on the chest, with the Russian Penguin logo on Samsonov's left torso.

Finally, CSKA Moscow lives on, now only in the KHL.

If you enjoyed seeing the various Red Army jerseys over the course of the last two days, variations of the Red Army jerseys can be purchased for your collection at ProRussianJerseys.com by clicking here for CSKA Moscow, or here for HC CSKA Moscow and their Russian Penguins logo jerseys.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

1993-94 Russian Penguins Sergei Brylin Jersey

In 1993, seeking a more direct pipeline to the abundance of talent formerly locked away behind the Iron Curtain, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin purchased a 50% share in the formerly all-conquering Russian Red Army club.

The Central Sports Club of the Army (CSKA Moscow) had ruled the world of Soviet hockey with 32 championships in 48 seasons, including 13 in a row between 1977 and 1989. However, the fall of the Soviet Union in December of 1991 meant the once dominant club were no longer financed by the state and fell onto hard times - and in a big way.

That's when Baldwin saw an opportunity to combine savvy North American sports marketing with the best known club in the world outside of the NHL located in the largest city in Russia in an effort to not only make some money in the newly capitalist Russia, but also have the inside track on finding the best players Russia had to offer, which in 1993 was all the rage, as players such as Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure were tearing up the league.

The Red Army club was rechristened the "Russian Penguins" and a new logo was created to reflect the new arrangement with the recent back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.

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In addition, staff from Pittsburgh was sent over to Moscow to oversee the club's transition to the modern, NHL way of selling the game by selling sponsorships and building private suites.

What could possibly go wrong?

The person sent over by the Pittsburgh was Stephen Warshaw, a sports marketing consultant given the responsibility to oversee the turnaround of the Russian franchise. Here is a fascinating interview with Warshaw from the PBS television series Frontline, which ran back in October of 1999.

Over the years, the Central Red Army team produced some of the greatest hockey players in history. What did you see when you got there? 
Well, we first got there, the team was so downtrodden and so bankrupt that they couldn't even afford to buy jerseys for their teams. They had one set of uniforms for six different teams. So, one team would come off the ice, their jerseys ringing wet with sweat, and give it to the next guy, and he'd put it on. And I can't tell you how bad the locker room smelled, I mean you could smell that clear to Vladivastock from the East Coast of Russia. Very bad, and [North American hockey equipment manufacturer] CCM came to the rescue and provided all of our teams with jerseys. The youth teams, the big teams, and beautiful jerseys, and we bought them a washing machine, and they wanted their jerseys washed every game now. All of a sudden they were very concerned with hygiene after the washing machine and their new jerseys. 
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The 1993-94 Russian Penguins in their sparkling new CCM jerseys
What happens to old Russian hockey players. . . I mean some of the great stars -- what was their stake when you get there? 
Well, it's very sad. They retired making $5 a month, $10 a month.
These would be the Gretzkys of their --  
The top stars of the day, this is the equivalent of the Espositos and Orrs, Bucyks, Howes, all the top guys. And basically the government has just left them for dead, and, pathetically, they show up at the arena drunk, very drunk just to get through the cold winters. Nobody knows where they live and it was sad. I mean we had one guy, Vikolaf, one of the legends of CSKA, double gold medal winner, had one of his fingers bitten off before one of the games by a bear that was making a between-periods promotion for us and he was drunk, he just kept pushing the bear saying: Ploho medved. Bad bear, bad bear. And the next thing his finger was gone. And there's no treatment for the players. There really should be, again, part of the NHL progra--there should be a veterans legends program to take care of all the great stars of Russia that the Soviet government denied any dollars to.
How did you manage to transform the environment of Russian hockey from that drab thing we remembered, to the glitz? 
Well it was actually quite easy, because no one had tried it before. So there was no benchmark. We really had free rein to do everything. [Central Red Army Coach] Viktor Tikhonov at the beginning was very reticent to let us try out some of the promotions. And he took about a month until they let us actually do what we wanted to do.

What did you want to do? 
Well, the opening night we wanted to have a woman come down on a rope, to start the game, give the puck to the referee. And I remember Viktor Tikhonov said to me, 'I'll only let you do it if you're the guy on the rope.' And I said okay, I'll do it, I know how to climb. He said--'Good, 'cause I'll be up there with a pair of scissors cutting you down.' So he had a good sense of humor, and I think that the cultural difference was big problem at first, but after a while they started to get a kick out of the insanity.

Tell me about the insanity, what kind of gimmicks did you come up with?
Well at the very beginning we had an empty building, so we had to fill it quickly. And everybody loves beer, around the world, so we had a few free beer nights from our big sponsor, Iron City Beer. We had strippers, we had all the normal things that attract men. As soon as the building was full, we started to gear up towards families. And that's when we could go to Disney, after we had the families. So we got rid of some of the real crazy stuff, and then we started to market very professionally, we would give premiums every night to the fans. We had car giveaways from Chrysler. We had trips to the United States to see the Stanley Cup finals courtesy of Delta Airlines. Every sponsor got in on it, and these were real big prizes. And even on the off nights we had free shaving cream and razors from Gillette. Even that was enough to draw fans.
Russian Penguins ticket photo RussianPenguinsticket.png 
And what went wrong?
We did it too well. And the criminal element started to come to our games, started to enjoy our games, started to evict our corporate sponsors out of their super boxes. And we had a real high class problem, we had too much interest, not enough super boxes. Our partners, Viktor Tikhonov and Valery Gushin were afraid to confront the mafia.

The mafia, these were like hoods?
These were guys with the sawed off shotguns down their long coats, and smoking away just like you'd imagine in movies, and this was sort of good news that we were attracting the money. Unfortunately, it was a rough crowd. My suggestion was--'Hey, let's build them their own super boxes, let's talk to them, and I'm sure they'd have no trouble paying the twenty-three thousand dollars for the season. ' And the comment that I got from my partners was--'You go ask them for the money, 'cause if you do, you're gonna be hanging from the rafters by your thumbs. . . '

When did you first become convinced of the reality of the danger of violence in Russia? 
Personally, I had my heart skip a few beats at the end of the second season when one of the Mafia partners, with our Russian partners, came up to me and offered me a job with his company -- suggesting that I leave the Pittsburgh Penguins and work for them, that there was no need for the Americans anymore as long as I was there. And I asked him how much they'd pay me, uh, through a translator of course, and he didn't speak a word of English. And then finally, when I told him it wasn't enough money, he started to laugh. . . And he said well, we'll kill you for 6,500 dollars. I said 6,500 dollars for me? You shouldn't be paying more than three grand. He laughed, tweaked his neck, which means let's drink in Russian, and then started speaking perfect English to me for the rest of the night. Never saw him again.

Kill you for 6,500 bucks.
That's all.

You mentioned the fact that seeing the mafia at the hockey game. How did you know you were seeing mafia, they didn't wear jerseys?
I think the guns were a tip off...

Long sawed-off shotguns, down their side of their coats. They travelled in groups, and beautifully dressed businessmen -- beautifully dressed with security forces. They'd come in with the limousines with the dark windows, disobeying our parking rules, disobeying our smoking rules, disobeying everything. And, basically, our partners said, Just back off, don't get involved here, we'll take care of this. And, again, we had no way of knowing if they were getting paid by the Mafia, or if they too were afraid. This is the issue.

How far did they go in terms of taking over the corporate boxes side of it. What happened there?
Well, basically we couldn't build the superboxes fast enough. We only had about eight to start, and we started selling them quickly to multinational corporations, to Ernst and Young, to Delta, to Philip Morris, to Coca Cola, all the major concerns that were sponsors. And they quickly got thrown out of their boxes, which I thought was a good problem, until I realised we couldn't even build the boxes for them. Our partners couldn't get it done quickly enough and, therefore, we were basically reneging on our sponsorship deals. And that's when I realised if we can't honor our commitments to our multinational sponsors, because of the Mafia's influence in taking over their prime seating, we're in trouble.

So they just walk into the box --
Took it --

Point a gun, somebody would say, "Get out."
They said this is our box, yeah, get out. That was it. We've had situations where we had Nike coming in from Germany and from Beaverton, and two in the morning I was paying a painter to spraypaint the Nike logo into the ice as part of their sponsorship deal. At eight in the morning it had been cut out of the ice by our partners. And I said, what are you doing? That's $100,000 to us, which you get $50,000. He said no one asked us for permission. This was when we knew we had a problem . . .

What about the killings, and how close were they to the hockey scene?
Well, it was frightening, in about a six month period, a player was killed on our team, Alexander Osache, who was a San Jose Sharks pick. The team assistant coach, Vladimir Bouvich, was killed. And our team photographer Felix Oliviov, were all killed. Two of them gunned down Mafia-style, five bullets to the head in front of their wives. The player, we're still not sure how he died. He died in his room, in his apartment . . .

When did you learn this fact of life about doing business in Russia?
Well it was always there. I think any time you have a new capitalist structure, there's always the chance for criminal elements. I mean, look at the the twenties in Chicago, with Prohibition, and this is the "Wild East." There's lawlessness, I've seen kiosk owners dragged out of their kiosks at high noon and beaten by four guys because they didn't pay their twenty percent to the mafia. Most mafias, as you know, the traditional image of a mafia is that they control certain industries. Construction, carting, the fish industry, contracting. However, in Russia, they don't really make anything. They just take everything. And they wanted twenty percent of everybody's action. And the tax police wanted their money. And then the minor criminals wanted their money. So it became impossible for companies to actually make money over there, because, by the time you sold the can of beer or a chocolate bar, it already cost more to bring it in than it does to sell it.

So, are you telling me that like this remarkable marketing success, was written off in a matter of months?
We had two really beautiful seasons, and we were lucky enough to get some great media from all over the world. German television, Canadian television, the US was very high on it. Disney came in, I think that was the biggest part of the whole deal is when Disney became our partner. And then I think the problem was after the second year they felt that they learned enough from us, they saw how we did it, and they figured they could take over. Why cut us in for fifty percent when they could have the whole thing? And I think it was at the end of the second season that we knew that we were ghosts. We were dead.

We, being?
The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Did it ever cross anybody's mind to basically tell these people to go away?
Well. You can't do that over there. It's their country. And we always had to realize that we were the imperialist capitalist dogs that Stalin and Brezhnev and Lenin and everyone had told the Russians that we were. We had to be on best behavior. And we had to respect the authorities; we had to respect everyone over there. As a matter of fact that's why we became successful, is because we paid tribute to all the deceased legends of the Red Army. Guys that had never received ten dollars from the government, and we retired their jerseys, brought their widows onto the ice, their children. And in Russia, remember, it was never about individuals, it was always the team. And it was a system, it was a machine, an evil machine that would dehumanize people. So what we did is we started to make people human. To show the human side, through promotions, through entertainment at our games. And I think it was too much of a good thing too fast. 
So, tell me, what did you think when the guys with the shotguns showed up?
I wondered if they were kalashnikovs or American made, I didn't know at first. I naively went up to these big guys in the super boxes owned by Philip Morris and I asked them if I could help them. And they just sort of laughed at me. And I brought Sergei Starykof's kid who was eight years old with me so that they really couldn't do much in front of a little kid. And [the kid] said to me, Steven, I don't think you're gonna wanna hear what they're saying in Russian. And I said, No, tell me. And that's when I realized that we became so popular so fast, that we really had no safeguard against this criminal element. We did bring in security, but you gotta understand that the security forces in Russia, the police, are ineffective, they're useless against the new rich, the new Russians. They have their own security forces that come into the building hours in advance, check it out, make sure it's okay for their big guns to come in.

I heard that they actually bought [advertising] space on the boards [around the rink]. What was that all about?
Well it's very strange. We had a deal with the partners that we would sell about eighty percent of the rink boards and leave twenty for them to sell. Because we wanted to have Russian sponsors, not just multinationals. And one game I looked down and I saw a company that I'd never heard of. And I asked one of our partners -- who is this? What do they make? He said, Don't ask. Again, you'll be hanging from the rafters by your thumbs. And this became sort of the easy way out for our partners that if something was a problem, it was always mafia. So we never knew if it was a hundred percent mafia, fifty percent mafia, or perhaps made up by greedy partners, we could never really find out.

You're talking partners Tikhonov and Gushin.

These weren't boy scouts.

Tough guys.
These are hard-line Communist.

And how big a part of the problem were they?
Well, I think that at the very beginning, they really had to swallow a lot of pride, to get the cash from the Pittsburgh Penguins. And it really hurt them in a strange way, to see the building full. They were happy that they were making money, but they were embarrassed that it took Americans to come in to Russia and show them how to do it. And I think that success really hurt us. I mean it happened so fast. I remember one great story when I first got there. That Valery Gushin said to me that--'not even Jesus Christ could fill this building.' And I remember two months after the opening game, against Dynamo, we were full. And I went up to him, I said -- 'Have you seen a guy with long hair and sandals? ' And he didn't laugh. You know. This is -- there's no humor in Russia. No matter how evil rival factions are, they're always more attractive than the Americans.

What impact did this have on this little brief hockey renaissance that you saw?
Well it killed the future of Russian hockey, and the [NHL/Russian] partnerships, because the Detroit Red Wings were watching us very intently. Michael Ilitch who owns Little Caesars and the Detroit Red Wings had already put a restaurant in Prague, and he was already looking at Moscow and we figured what a perfect venue to introduce his pizza. So they sent their staff over to Moscow to consider purchasing the Krilya Sovietov team which is the Soviet Wings, a perfect match with the Red Wings. And they got greedy. Which seems to be the problem for the country is that the greed is so great, they asked for five million dollars from the Detroit Red Wings. [The Red Wings] countered with a million. Which was a million more than we gave to the Red Army -- we only gave them marketing dollars, and expertise. And they left. The Russians got too greedy, they didn't take the million, and, today, they owe money, and there's tax collectors and bill collectors and no fans. And again, this is, I think, the biggest tragedy: I think that everybody was watching the Penguins and the Red Army and if this worked, perhaps every Russian elite team would have an NHL affiliate. But they killed the goose.

Didn't the NHL also kill the golden goose by taking the best players developed under the Soviet system and not doing anything to cultivate a future crop of promising Russian players?
Well, I think the NHL has lost its conscience. I think that they have neglected their responsibility to replacing the trees that they've cut down in Russia. It's not different than a rain forest that's been denuded by a greedy paper company, and they leave for the next rain forest. And I think it's very shortsighted by the NHL, considering that almost twenty percent of the players in the league are from the former Soviet Union, including the top stars of the game. I think that American business is sort of a slash and burn, rape and pillage mentality, just to get you to the next quarter for your stockholders' meeting. And I think that from the commissioner on down to the general managers, they have to succeed each quarter. They don't think about five, ten years from now. Russia] used to be a hatchery for the NHL. They would just breed 'em, like little fish. And now, the hatcheries are drying up.

During the two seasons as the Russian Penguins, the club came over to North America to play a series of games against teams from the International Hockey League, with those during the 1993-94 season counting in the IHL standings. The Russian Penguins returned again in 1994-95, but those game were treated as pure exhibition matches.

Russian Penguins pennant photo RussianPenguinspennant.jpg

The 1993-94 games saw the Russian Penguins finish a dismal 2-9 with 2 additional losses in overtime in their 13 games, one each against each IHL club. They did bring a couple of players that would eventually become familiar to fans in North America, future long time New Jersey Devil Sergei Brylin and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, both of whom would win Stanley Cups.

Andrei Vasilyev was the star of the show, scoring 10 goals and 16 points in 13 games. He would also eventually appear in the NHL, playing 15 games over three seasons with the New York Islanders and one with the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Russian Penguins returned again in 1994-95 to play against teams from the IHL, but those games were treated as exhibition matches and were not counted in the standings.

Today's featured jersey is a 1993-94 Russian Penguins Sergei Brylin jersey as worn during the Russian Penguins schedule of games against teams from the IHL. These CCM jerseys are miles ahead of the standard lightweight mesh jerseys with sublimated or heavily screen printed logos worn by teams during the days of the Soviet Union.

This jersey can be dated by the Iron City Beer patch on the upper right chest, while the set worn during the 1994-95 tour had Gillette sponsorship.

Brylin, born on this date in 1974, was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1992 NHL Draft. He came to North America for the 1994-95 season and first played for the Albany River Rats of the AHL while the NHL season was delayed by labor issues. He then joined the Devils once the season got underway, playing in 26 of their 48 games. He also was active for 12 of the Devils 20 playoff games, which concluded with the Devils winning the Stanley Cup in Brylin's first season in the NHL!

He would eventually play 13 seasons for the Devils before returning to Russia in 2008-09 with SKA St. Petersburg for three seasons prior to joining Metallurg Novokuznetsk for 2011-12. In all, he played in 765 NHL games, scoring 129 goals and 308 points and would win Stanley Cups again in 2000 and 2003.

Russian Penguins 1993-94 jersey photo RussianPenguins1993-94Fjersey.jpg
Russian Penguins 1993-94 jersey photo RussianPenguins1993-94Bjersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1994-95 Russian Penguins Vladimir Zhashkov jersey as worn by the Russian Penguins during their second and final season. The Gillette sponsorship has now replaced the Iron City Beer, and in an unavoidable manner with not only a logo on the front, but a large banner ad across the back.

Russia Russian Penguins 1994-95 jersey photo RussiaRussianPenguins1994-95F.jpg
Russia Russian Penguins 1994-95 jersey photo RussiaRussianPenguins1994-95B.jpg

While the formal arrangement with the Pittsburgh Penguins came to an end after two seasons, the Russian Penguin logo continued on for many years - and in a most confusing manner, which will be the subject of tomorrow's entry"The Civil War - A Tale of Two Teams With the Same Name."

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