SIHR’s Behind the Boards

The Birth of Soviet Hockey

SIHR’s Behind the Boards


The Birth of Soviet Hockey

Marcel Lang
Posted February 01, 2021

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In 1945, Nikolai Romanov became chairman of the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sports, the governmental body overseeing sports in the Soviet Union. Anatoli Tarasov would later characterize him in the following manner:

Granted, he scolded me more often than he praised me, but all his remarks were certainly fair and sensible: they helped to grow and to see a horizon behind the horizon. And beyond. More than others, he understood that it is impossible to create anything new in sports without experiments and risks. [1]

One of Romanov's ideas that brought something new was the idea that the Soviet Union should take part in the Olympic Games. He argued that the international appeal of the Olympic Games would make them a great stage for Soviet athletes to demonstrate their superiority and bring glory to their home country – an argument that tied in with how the Soviet leadership under Stalin had come to view international sports during the 1930s.

 

Nikolai Romanov

Nikolai Romanov. Credit: https://km1954.ru/pervye

 

Romanov and his colleagues at the Committee were optimistic. As Sergei Savin, head of the football (=soccer) and hockey (=bandy) department, put it in retrospect:

            Olympic winds were blowing over the country. It was assumed that we could already take     part in these largest contests of our time in the winter of 1948. [2]

It didn't come to pass: the traditional Communist stance was to reject the Olympic movement as bourgeois and hostile to the working class. Ideologically motived opposition against Romanov's plan delayed the Soviet entry to the Olympics until 1952. However, one of the steps taken in 1945 couldn't be undone: the introduction of Canadian hockey to Russia.

 

Sergei Savin

Sergei Savin. Credit: https://fhr.ru/news/item/71861

 

Envisioning Soviet participation in the Olympics, Romanov gave Savin the task of stuyding the program of the Olympic Winter Games. When Savin handed in his report, he emphasized that a game called Canadian hockey was „in the center of the public attention“ at the Winter Games. Having studied the report, Romanov gave out the directive: „This Canadian hockey must be put on Russian tracks immediately.“

Curious Russian bandy players had already looked into and tried out Canadian hockey before. In 1932, a German trade union team had visited Moscow and demonstrated how the game with the puck was played. At the State Central  Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow, lectures on Canadian hockey had been held by renowed soccer coach Mikhail Tovarovsky since the 1930s. Among those who had attended them was Anatoli Tarasov. Written descriptions of Canadian hockey were available, but what was missing in Moscow in 1945 was a rule book that was up to date. Savin turned to Latvian bandy player Edgars Klavs for help. In Latvia – an independent country until its occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940 –, Canadian hockey had been played since the early 1930s.

 

Edgars Klavs

Edgars Klavs. Credit: https://timenote.info/lv/Edgars-Klavs

 

Klavs, who had been a member of the Latvian national team at the 1937 and 1938 World Championships, invited Savin to the Latvian capital Riga. The meeting in Riga was crucial, as Savin recalls:

Once I was accommodated in my hotel, Klavs brought me a hockey stick, gloves, skates and several pucks. The next day I was shown footage of a pre-war newsreel where some moments of the Latvian championship and several international matches were captured. And   two days before my departure, Edgars gave me the dearest present – he brought the rules of Canadian hockey, translated from Latvian to Russian. Believe me, there is nothing I have ever treated as carefully as those few sheets, written in the neat handwriting of Klavs. [3]

 

Savin took everything to Moscow and called a meeting to present his findings to the sports clubs and governing bodies. Leading coaches and bandy players – including Pavel Korotkov of the Army club (CDKA) and Arkadi Chernyshov of Dinamo Moscow – got acquainted with the „character and substance of the new game and with the prospects of broad international ties.“ Among the students at the State Central Institute of Physical Culture, two teams were formed to prepare them for a public demonstration game:

The Institute did fulfill the order very responsibly. Starting in September 45, the teams were selected and systematic training began to unveil the 'secrets' of the puck that were still unknown to us. [4]

The students trained for five months and were frequently joined by interested outsiders like Arkadi Chernyshov. The public demonstration game took place on February 17, 1946, following a bandy match between CDKA and Dinamo Moscow. „Sovietsky Sport“, the popular sports newspaper, reported:

The match between Dinamo and CDKA has ended, but thousands of spectators remain. Their attention is attracted by a small goal, like in water polo. The small field is surrounded by boards. On the field there is a referee with a 'police whistle' and there are two teams – one red and one white – with six players per side. On the back of the players there are numbers and in their hands unusual sticks – long, light, with a long hook at an almost right angle. On the ice there is a solid black rubber 'disc', heavy and gliding over the ice with lightning speed. This is a demonstration match held by students of the Institute of Physical Culture. In Europe and North America, Canadian hockey is very popular. Without a doubt, it can be developed in the Soviet Union as well. [5]

Meanwhile, the CDKA players – headed by Pavel Korotkov and guided by Anatoli Tarasov – were tinkering with Canadian hockey too. When they visited Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) in early February 1946, they staged their own public demonstration of Canadian hockey for the local audience after the scheduled bandy match.

 

Pavel Korotkov

Pavel Korotkov. Credit: https://www.peoples.ru/sport/football/pavel_korotkov/

 

In fact, the Armed Forces went one step further: in March 1946, the northern city of Archangelsk hosted their first tournament in Canadian hockey. CDKA prevailed over other teams of the army, fleet and police that had picked up the game with the puck on rather short notice.

After the experiments of the 1945-46 season, the first Soviet championship in Canadian hockey was announced for the 1946-47 season and the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sports called for the bandy clubs to enter teams for the new sport. Nikolai Romanov's wish was fulfilled: Canadian hockey was put on Russian tracks.

 

Notes:

[1] Anatoli Tarasov: Khokkey. Rodonachalniki i novichki (2015)

[2] From an interview with Sergei Savin. URL: http://www.offsport.ru/hockey/vratari

[3] Same

[4] Same

[5] Alexander Gorbunov: Anatoli Tarasov (2015)

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