Follow the story of Soviet Hockey and learn Russian along the way.
Ask any American hockey fan about the Soviet hockey and they tell you that Soviet Union had dominated the international hockey scene in the years prior to 1980, winning five gold medals in the previous six Olympic Games. Then in 1980, at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y in the midst of the Soviets' dominance, “the Miracle on Ice” happened – the United States hockey team consisting of college players and long-shot pro aspirants beat the Russian team that had players devoted their lives to hockey and training together nearly year-round.
Meanwhile anyone in Russia can name the Russian Five of Soviet hockey, members of the famed Soviet national team and Red Army Club (ЦСКА – Центральный Спортивный Клуб Армии). Also, not many but some still remember and lament NHL players’ hacking, clubbing, kicking with skates the Soviet players. As the film shows, hockey offers a view of the broader history of the Soviet Union during its years of decline.
Watch the documentary telling a story of Soviet hockey.
Earlier in the film, a historian admits that in many ways, the history of Soviet hockey operates as the ultimate advertisement for a nation, allowing the state to control the narrative told about itself, its people, and its history.
This film could be a revealing moment, not only for the history of Soviet hockey but also for how Russians see their Soviet past; it also offers insight into why hockey coaches were and have been so popular in Russia.
Historically speaking, the Russian ice hockey was introduced as Canadian, although the philosophy of the game was different. In essence, hockey became a vehicle of resistance against the West rivalries, however the political implications went beyond the hockey competitions, illustrating for many the dichotomy “Them vs Us,” "East meets West” or communism versus capitalism. In the USSR, where sports were fully integrated into the social and political system, the influence of politics on sport was particularly evident; it therefore served as an unobtrusive form of propaganda. With the division of much of the world into two camps in the fifties, hockey effectively helped to break down national barriers, but sporting success was also seen by some as a measure of national vitality and prestige. For example, the I973 USSR v. USA athletics match in Minsk was attended by over 200 journalists, half of whom were from the West; BBC TV transmitted two half-hour programs on the two days of the tournament at peak viewing times (6.45 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.)-even though no British athletes were involved.
The original version of hockey in Russia since the 1890s was called “bandy,” a sport similar to field hockey, but played on ice. It was played with a small ball instead of a puck and had the rules of field hockey.
When was ice hockey introduced to the Soviet Union?
Listen for the expressions русский хоккей and канадский хоккей.
We heard that русский хоккей is … meaning ...
We heard that канадский хоккей is … meaning ...
Did you hear when the first Soviet championship occurred?
Listen for the name Vsevolod Bobrov.
Did you hear what happened in 1954 World Championships in Stockholm where the Soviet Union defeated Canada 7-2?
No matter how hard Soviets tried to view sport as an opportunity to show both foreign and domestic audiences the power and success of Soviet communism, it was evident that they used their sport system as an idyllic "Potemkin village," to mask the overall weaknesses of the Soviet system, especially those of the economy. Nevertheless, the strategy was to turn their weaknesses and limited resources into advantages. In the case of hockey, Russians could not afford to buy new sticks or have state-of-the-art skates. Therefore, they invented a new style of play, relying on quick passes and different skating techniques to compensate for their constraints.
The coach who built the Red Army into a powerhouse was remarkably innovative for his time and place, studying chess and dancing to foster creativity in his players. Players were able to move freely and improvise during the game, but within a team-focused structure. Most of the techniques centered on passing with the goal of creating open space in order to make plays, keeping forwards constantly circling. Coaches taught players to think the game, showing a variety of ways to attack or defense so that after enough repetitions, the players could develop a mental component. The coaches honed in on the details of players’ skating technique during each drill, making sure each repetition had an impact. Practices included the use of pylons and simple drills as well. Russians were also instrumental in introducing off-season training, which increased the conditioning and skills of the players.
Who was the coach of the first national hockey team of the Soviet Union?
What is he now best remembered for in Russia?
During the stagnation of the late Brezhnev years and the launch of perestroika and glasnost under Gorbachev, the Soviet team dominated on the world stage. Ironically, a rigid, oppressive system, at both national and team levels, created the freest, most expressive hockey there ever was.
What was the name of the coach, a rigid taskmaster hated by many players, whose coaching methods led his team to eight world championships and three Olympic gold medals?
The core of the team was a unit of three forwards and two defensemen.
Listen to their names.
Watch the film through to make a presentation on how important this sport was to the country.
For more information Gabe Polsky’s documentary Red Army (2014), which shows the foundations of Soviet hockey, and
George and Darril Fosty Splendid Is The Sun: The 5,000 Year History of Hockey (2003).