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.

"Two things 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 opinion.

"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 each other.

"But," Bobrov 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."