We Set Off For
Canada Like Blind Kittens
An Interview with Vsevolod Bobrov
Weekend Magazine, Nov. 11, 1972
by Dmitry Ryzhkov
Moscow - Canadian pros
are, indeed, strong in hockey but not as strong as we thought. Though
the final score in games won, drawn and lost did not read in favor of
the Soviet Union, I don't believe that there are many people today in
Canada who are ready, as before, to claim that the Stanley Cup holder
is the world's best in the puck game. The games between the Canadian
professional stickmen and the picked sides of the USSR, Czechoslovakia
and Sweden showed that there are several strong bidders for the world
laurels. Today, the argument as to which one is the strongest can only
be decided on the ice.
"We set off for Canada
like blind kittens. We had only a hazy idea of the
professionals." This was how the coach of the USSR national team,
Vsevolod Bobrov, began our conversation. "And we remembered those
films we saw of the Stanley Cup games. I know now that the cinema can
really work wonders. Our boys were in low spirits after watching the
stunts of the goalies and the shooting of the forwards on the screen.
It reached a point where I ordered that showing of these films be
stopped in order to build up team morale.
"I realize now that the
makers of these films presented a dazzling spectacle far removed from
what really takes place in a game in Canada. But I did not know this
in August, and, therefore, turned to reminiscences to neutralize the
effect of the films.
"I told the boys about
our first game with the Canadians back in 1954 in Stockholm - how we,
newcomers in the world championship, went over to watch the Lyndhurst
club during a practice. This club represented Canada at that time. I
kept nothing away from the boys and admitted that we left that workout
crestfallen. It seemed to us that the Canadians were unbeatable. I
recalled how Arkady Chernyshev, our senior coach at that time, proved
to us that our trump cards that could beat the Canadians were speed
and passing. I did not have to tell the boys anything else: They knew
that we beat Lyndhurst, 7-2.
particularly troubled me before the opening game in Montreal: first of
all, whether our young goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, would stand up to
the hailstorm of shots, and, secondly, how much faith our forwards had
in the stories about the impregnability of Canadian net-minders. These
two problems were mainly of a psychological nature. As for the
technical details of the coming game, our strategy was clear. We would
not get tangled up in body checking, a department where the Canadians
were far stronger than we. We would irritate their defence with swift
passes and we would take advantage of our speed.
"I can admit now that
when we were trailing, 2-0, I thought we would lose the game. Tretiak
was uncertain and our forwards were timid in front of Dryden in the
early stages. But after the first period which ended in a 2-2 draw, I
felt a little bit more at ease. In the dressing room during the
intermission, Tretiak smiled and remarked that the Canadians' shots
were not stronger than those fired by Alexander Maltsev, Yakushev and
Valery Kharlamov. When Kharlamov netted the third goal in the second
period, I felt completely at ease, because this was a sign that they
psychological crisis was over as far as my boys were concerned.
"When Kharlamov sat
down on the bench after his goal, he shouted out to the rest:
"Hey, fellows, you can score between their skates."
Coach Bobrov said he was
"particularly impressed" by Phil Esposito.
"He is a center-forward
in the real sense of the word. Everyone should copy him in finding the
proper place at the proper moment in front of the goal and then
shooting instantly. The wingers, Ellis and Henderson, are highly
efficient. Incidentally, their style and that of our leading wingers
are very much the same. Gilbert is tenacious in body checking.
"I am sorry that I did
not see Bobby Orr, the famous Boston Bruins defenseman, in action. But
if, as they say, Orr is in a class of his own in comparison with the
rest, then he must certainly be an outstanding player. If Park,
Bergman, Stapleton and White were trained under our system and taught
to play faster, they could all become model defensemen. This is my
"I was somewhat
disappointed by the Canadian goalies possibly because I, like the
rest, expected greater things from them. I believe our Tretiak
performed better than they did."
"Can it be said,"
I asked Bobrov, "that in the light of the USSR vs. Team Canada
series, the Canadian school of hockey is better?"
"I believe that it
would be wrong to assert this. First of all, I would like to talk
about the schools of hockey themselves. The Canadians are more
inclined to body checking, and operate more individually than our men
in the rival zone. This is the major difference between the two
styles. There are also certain tactical nuances favoured by each
system. For instance, should the defenseman or the forward be the one
to cover the opposing wingers. The Canadian and Soviet schools of
hockey have much more in common today than, say, in 1954. This is only
natural because in this period both schools have reciprocally enriched
emphasized, "there is a fly in the ointment. There is something,
regretfully, that dampens my respect for the Canadian players. This is
their rough charging, and fights with players and referees. Mediocre
players can be excused for such roughhousing, but I can't understand
why such a top class players as those on Team Canada should go in for
this. I equally can't understand the attitude of Team Canada coaches
who ignored their men's dirty work."