Officially, Chief Coach Boris Kulagin's Moscow party line for the historic hockey games now under way between club teams of the U.S.S.R.'s Major League and the National Hockey League is that they are "true friendlies." No way, Boris. The NHL does not pay you $200,000 and pick up your expenses—including all those pre-and postgame vodka toasts—just for some cozy games between buddies; there's the little matter of an expected 130,824 paying guests and an intercontinental television hookup involved with the socializing.
"Pro teams do not play friendlies," admits Russian star Alexander Yakushev, Bobby Hull's choice as the best left wing in the world and currently on loan from the Spartak team to Krylya Sovetov (Wings of the Soviets) for its matches with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Chicago and the New York Islanders. "We have been told it would be very bad for us not to win," says Valery Kharlamov, probably the No. 2 left wing in the world—ahead of Mr. Hull—who is with his regular Central Army Club mates for their games against the New York Rangers, Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia.
Unofficially, the Central Army Club-Philadelphia "true friendly" next Sunday at the unfriendly Spectrum should also carry the title of Super Face-off I, because it will match the league champions of hockey's two worlds for the first time. In that game Kharlamov will once again meet old pal Bobby Clarke. At their last meeting, in Moscow during the 1972 Team Canada-U.S.S.R. series, Clarke "hunted me down," Kharlamov says, "and intentionally put me out of the game." In fact, Clarke, painfully aware of the fact that it was the shifty Kharlamov who had skated the Soviets to a 3-1-1 lead in the series, cracked his stick across Kharlamov's ankle, sending the Soviet star to the sidelines where he watched Canada rally to win the last three games and the series.
"If you want the people here to be friendly, you will not mention the name of Boo-by Clarke," said Felix Rosenthal, the intrepid interpreter, as he guided a visitor on a hockey tour of Moscow recently. "Boo-by Clarke is what we call a no-no."
January 5, 1976
"Hello again, hockey fans, this is Ozzie Ozerov here at rinkside at the Dvorets Sporta in Luzhniki Sports Complex for tonight's game between the Central Army Club and Spartak." Yes, it is hockey night in Moscow, and when first-rank teams such as Yakushev's Spartak and Kharlamov's Central Army Club meet at the Palace of Sports, 14,000 seats are filled and the game is beamed across the U.S.S.R. in black and white. For games between the Army Club and, say, Torpedo of Gorky, though, the stands are less than half filled and only the last period or two will be shown on videotape.
Ozerov is the Russian Howard Cosell, with silver on top instead of a rug. He always wears a shiny, black and gray herringbone sport coat over a blue sweat suit, and he stations himself next to a monitor along the boards, remembering to duck whenever the action gets too close to his herringbones. Ozerov works alone, with no Alexander Karrasov for color, and he never has to "pause for this message" because Russian TV has yet to invent commercials. Nor does he analyze or criticize the play or the players; instead, he simply peels off names—"Yakushev...Gusev...Kharlamov"—as a skater touches the puck. When there is a fight or an argument on the ice, the cameras automatically shift away from the action while Ozerov fills in with tidbits like "Moscow Dynamo defeated Lokomotiv 2-1 in a big soccer game two weeks ago."
There are 10 teams in what the Soviet Hockey Federation calls the Major League of the U.S.S.R. Hockey Championship, with another 14 in the First Division and 28 more in the Second Division. Major League franchises cost exactly $6 million less than the $6 million that the Washington Capitals paid for the privilege of joining the NHL. And, in Russia, Washington might not always finish in last place; in fact, each season the worst team in the Major League is dropped to the minors and replaced by the champion of the First Division, while the ninth-place team remains in the Major only if it can survive a two-game, total-goals series with the First Division runner-up.
As in most Russian sports, the 10 teams in the Major League represent various trade unions or arms of the Soviet military. For example, Spartak is sponsored by a union of textile and light-industry workers in combination with public servants such as the Moscow sanitation men. Dynamo has two clubs in the league—one from Moscow, the other from Riga in Latvia—and both operate under government subsidy as affiliates of the home affairs section, which includes the militia, the border guards and the KGB. Dynamo fans are the cold-faced guys with the short hair and the green shoulder straps on their khaki uniforms. The Wings of the Soviets are the representatives of the civilian aircraft industry, while Khimik represents the chemical industries in Voskresnsk, Traktor the tractor factory in Chelyabinsk, Torpedo the automobile plant in Gorky and Sibir the machine works in Novosibirsk.
Finally, there are two army teams: the Central Army Club in Moscow, which has won 19 of the 29 U.S.S.R. championships, and the Army Sports Club of Leningrad, which has never won a national title because, Muscovites joke, its best players always seem to be transferred to headquarters in Moscow. Although the Army Club players all hold rank, from private to major, they do not muster for 5 a.m. roll call, peel potatoes or spit shine their skate boots. "When I'm not in training with my teams," says Lieutenant-and-Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, "I help instruct the young recruits here at the Central Army Club."
The 1975-76 U.S.S.R. championship schedule began last Sept. 6 and will conclude on March 17. Each team plays only 36 Major League games, meeting every opponent four times; however, there are long breaks in the schedule following each nine-game cycle so that the National Team—really the Major League all-stars—and or individual clubs can compete in international events as well as those frequent financial "friendlies."
The city of Moscow's four Major League clubs—Central Army, Wings of the Soviets, Spartak and Dynamo—all play their home games in the Palace of Sports, a cold, drab building with sight lines little better than Madison Square Garden's. However, reserved sideline bench seats cost only one ruble and 20 kopecks (approximately $1.50), compared to the $12 top charged by the Rangers. Sitting space in the end zones costs a single ruble, while youngsters pay only 10 to 50 kopecks (15¢ to 75¢) for admission if they cannot sneak into the building. Week-night games start at 7:30 and there are usually two games on Saturday and Sunday—the first at 1 p.m., the second at 4 p.m. "You're supposed to leave the building after the first game," says 13-year-old Oleeg Yegorov, a youth member of Spartak, "but we all know where to hide inside so we don't have to pay 10 more kopecks to see the second game." One favorite hiding spot between games turns out to be First Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev's rarely used private box above the VIP section at center ice.
Program sheets are free, not $1.50 as they are in Montreal, and there are no air horns, organ grinders, banners and, best of all, no vendors bawling and blocking the aisles. Between periods the spectators line up at the concession counters, and for about 50 kopecks they can buy a small meal consisting of a sosisky (a kind of hot dog) or a sausage sandwich, an icecream bar about twice the size of an Eskimo Pie and either tea or coffee. After the game almost everyone piles into public buses for the trip home. Parking is free at the Palace of Sports, but only one of every 25 adults in Moscow owns an automobile, so there are never any parking problems or traffic jams. The handful of people who do drive to the games always remove their windshield-wiper blades and lock them inside their cars, because the Pep Boys haven't yet opened a branch in Moscow and parts are even more difficult to come by than the cars themselves.
The players dress for the contests in rooms that are sparsely equipped by North American professional standards, lacking such conveniences as wall-to-wall carpeting, stereos, television sets and, of course, hair dryers. Exactly five minutes before the start of each game the players on both teams leave their dressing rooms, walk out to the hallway adjacent to the VIP tea-and-caviar area, shake hands with visiting dignitaries such as former chess champion Tigran Petrosian, and then line up alongside each other behind the game officials. A bell rings, massive curtains swing open, and the players march out onto the ice to the recorded accompaniment of a Russian song whose roughly translated title is "Cowards Don't Play Hockey."
The match between Spartak and the Central Army Club was clearly superior to the other seven Major League games played at the Palace of Sports during a recent six-day period; in fact, it was so spectacular that it could easily have passed for one of those wide-open, speed-skating skirmishes typical of a Buffalo-Montreal matchup. The capacity crowd was at least 95% male and maybe 80% pro-Spartak—the cry of "Spar-tak, Spar-tak, Spar-tak" echoed through the arena all night. On the other hand, the Army Club's supporters, mostly military men dressed in khaki uniforms, rarely unfolded their arms and never uttered a sound, unless it was a slow yawn.
With Yakushev, a powerful 6'3" and 205 pounds, swooping around the ice and controlling the puck, Spartak surged to a 4-2 lead. Then, midway through the third period, the Spartak players seemed to become unsettled when the referee approved an Army Club goal that Boris Mikhailov had clearly kicked into the net. Seconds later, as the Spartak players were still directing words at the official, the Army Club tied the score.
Yakushev was mad. He took the puck in his own end, cruised up one side of the ice, held off two Army Club defenders with his right arm, controlled his stick and the puck with his left arm and broke in on Tretiak in the goal. Three Army Club players were draped around Yakushev, and Tretiak was in the process of lunging at him, but Yakushev coolly rolled the puck into the net to give Spartak a 5-4 lead.
"Mol-od-tsy, mol-od-tsy, mol-od-tsy" the crowd roared. Good boys, good boys, good boys. Unfortunately for Yakushev and Spartak, the Army Club scored once more and managed to escape with a 5-5 tie. At the siren the teams lined up at their respective blue lines and, following Russian tradition, exchanged overhead waves of their sticks before turning to salute the appreciative crowd. "The——referee," complained Spartak Coach Nikolai Karpov—the George Allen of Moscow—outside the dressing room, "he personally cost us the game. The replay proved that Mikhailov's goal should never have counted. But what can we do?"
As Karpov suggested, Soviet referees, some of whom have attended NHL training camps and wear official NHL-issue black and white shirts with the NHL logo covered by a Soviet federation patch, generally proved to be inept; they skated straight-legged and slowly, stayed too far away from play, acted only with indecision and, confirming rumors, tended to favor the Central Army Club at all times. All in all, the officials were so poor that they deserved the crowd's derisive jeer "Sudya Na Mylo"—Referee to the Soap Factory.
Boris Kulagin is the original Russian Lombardi. Around Moscow they call him "Chuckles," one of those irony-laden Slavic jokes prompted by the near-perpetual scowl on the coach's bearish face. Kulagin continually barks criticism at his Wings, often accentuating his remarks by sticking a finger into a player's face. What he seems to be telling them—or maybe what his glare tells them—is something like, "Do that again, you dumbkov, and I'll option you to Siberia on 24-year recall."
On or off the ice, Soviet coaches, with the possible exception of Kulagin, who handles the National Team as well as the Wings, hardly think or act with independence. They have all been programmed by the hockey federation and operate their training schedules and game plans with strict attention to the official federation-approved guidelines. A coach like Konstantin Loktev, for instance, would never dream of breaking up the Central Army Club's vaunted line of Kharlamov, Petrov and Mikhailov unless ordered to do so by the federation. Nor would Karpov ever experiment with Yakushev at defense. And the coach who does not follow the unit system—that is, substituting one five-player unit for another—may not be a coach very long.
Consequently, Major League games, even a superior match such as the 5-5 tie between Spartak and the Army Club, tend to look the same. Except for Riga Dynamo, the major teams concentrate on short, crisp passes to move the puck up the ice; then, once in the attacking end, they work what might be called perimeter pick plays, trying to isolate a man for one good shot at the goal. In essence, four players simply move the puck around while the fifth attempts to clear the route for that one good shot by picking some defenseman and removing him from the play. In the NHL, pick plays are called interference and earn the picking player two minutes in the penalty box. Riga Dynamo, the exception, plays the Westernized way, stationing its centers Phil Esposito-style in the slot and trying to work the puck directly to them for quick shots at the goal. Riga also is the only Soviet league team with the names of its players sewn on the backs of their jerseys.
Defensively, all Soviet teams ignore the standard pro tactics of forechecking and backchecking. The idea of defense never seems to enter a play until the puck-carrying team has crossed the red line. Also, Soviet players never invade the corners in search-and-destroy missions for the puck. In fact, the referees are instructed to whistle play to a halt rather than let two players jostle for the puck against the boards.
Not surprisingly, this systematic sameness extends to the equipment worn by the Soviet players and also to their physical appearance on the ice. Except for the goaltenders, Soviet players generally use only one piece of Russian-made equipment: their dentures. Goaltenders do wear bulky Russian-made chest protectors, but everything else is imported. Jofa helmets are in now because the hockey federation recently worked out a "good deal," as Kulagin says, with the Swedish manufacturer. The players favor Canadian-made skates, particularly Super Tacks, and Victor Kuznetsov of the Wings wears a pair of green and gold skate boots that once belonged to the California Golden Seals. "One of the best things about this trip to North America," says one Army Club player, "is that we'll all come back with a couple of pairs of new skates, dozens of new hockey sticks, new sweat suits, new shoes and a lot of other equipment—all compliments of the manufacturers."
Finally, although no Russian has a full Mountain Man beard like Atlanta's Bill Flett or a perm like Philadelphia's Don Saleski, there is one player who does sport a mustache: the iconoclastic Yuri Tjerhin of the Wings. "I do not believe he will have his mustache when we are in North America," Kulagin says. Or, as one of Tjerhin's teammates said, "He may have his mustache, but he won't have it in North America."
Felix arrived promptly at five o'clock with the champagne, the beer, the bread, the Stolichnaya vodka, the red caviar and, most important, the guest of honor—Alexander (Sasha) Yakushev, who was full of apologies. "I'm sorry that Tanya is not with me," he said, "but she could not get a baby-sitter for Katya. The best baby-sitter is Babushka, but Tanya's mother lives far from us and can't come on short notice."
Instead of the sweat suit and gym shoes that Soviet hockey players seem to wear wherever they go, Yakushev was modishly attired in a blue-gray Glen plaid sport jacket with a pink shirt and a red silk tie, flared navy-blue slacks, laced-up hi-riser shoes and a nasty gash under his right eye, compliments of an errant hockey stick. He was obviously stunned by the view from Room 1321 of the Intourist Hotel on Gorky Street in downtown Moscow. Red Square, the Kremlin, Lenin's tomb and the massive GUM department store were dead ahead, while to the right, protruding above a dark panorama of the eastern sector of the city, were the Gothic spires of Moscow University and the cavernous Ukraine Hotel. "Do you mind if I have a look?" Yakushev asked. "I have never seen my city like this before."
Yakushev finally sat down on the hard couch, crossed his legs, then, in rapid order, politely declined the champagne, the beer, the bread, the Stolichnaya and the red caviar. "Do you have any mineral water?" he said. Felix jumped to the phone and ordered some mineral water. "Grape, please," Yakushev requested. "I am in serious training." Oh? So he was not in serious training that night after an exhibition in Portland, Ore., back in January 1974, when he spent an hour trying to persuade the bartender at the Holiday Inn to sell him an after-hours' fifth of vodka? Yakushev laughed. "Yes, I remember," he said. "I think we were celebrating someone's birthday or anniversary." He winked.
Growing up, Yakushev lived with his father, mother and two brothers in a one-bedroom apartment that was within walking distance of the Iron-Steel Works Sports Stadium in east Moscow. His father worked at the iron-steel plant, so young Alexander was permitted to play for the various athletic teams sponsored by the plant's trade unions. In time Yakushev showed particular skill in hockey, having honed his abilities during endless games in the courtyard of his family's apartment complex, and at the age of 12 he was invited to play for the union's Hammer and Sickle team in the Moscow city championship. Although Yakushev was three years younger than most of the other skaters, he was named the most valuable player in the tournament and, consequently, became a red-chip prospect for the recruiters.
"I joined Spartak when I was 15," Yakushev said. "The main reason, I guess, was that Spartak also was the home club of my hockey heroes—the Mayorov brothers, Boris and Evgeny, and Vyacheslav Starshinov. Besides, Spartak is more liberal, more democratic than, say, the Central Army Club, which has a very stern regimen that I don't like."
During the next few years Yakushev frequently toured Europe and North America with the Soviet National junior team; then in 1968, at the age of 20, he was selected for the regular National Team. Now 28, Yakushev has been a member of six world championship teams, and he led Russia to an Olympic gold medal at Sapporo in 1972. During this period he also completed his studies and received a bachelor's degree from the Moscow Institute of Physical Culture and Sport. For all his accomplishments, Yakushev officially ranks as a Merited Master of Sport in the U.S.S.R.
"What's your salary?" he was asked.
"Three hundred rubles [approximately $400] a month, paid by the Hockey-Federation," he said. "Besides playing hockey, I also handle the admissions program for the youth hockey school at Spartak."
"Any bonus rubles?"
"Like 1,500 rubles for a world championship and 5,000 rubles for a gold medal in the Olympics?"
"You know, if you ever defected to North America and signed with one of the major professional leagues, like your friend Vaclav Nedomansky of Czechoslovakia did last season with the WHA, you could make 200,000 rubles a year."
"I've thought about it. The money, I mean, not leaving my country. I read about all those salaries, but I don't understand them. Why does someone need all that much money, anyway?"
By Russian standards, Yakushev lives the good life on his 300 rubles a month, which is about twice the salary of the average Soviet worker. "We have a big apartment out off the Leningrad Highway, with a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen," Yakushev said. "Tanya was a philologist when I met her on a cross-country skiing holiday, but now she stays home with Katya, our three-year-old daughter, and likes to do a lot of decorating." When Yakushev is home, he reads all the hockey and soccer magazines, dabbles in Tolstoi and Dostoevski and listens to an eclectic mixture of music—Elton John and Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus—on a stereo he purchased in Sapporo.
Yakushev drives a new Volga, too, with the vanity license plate 00-15, his uniform number on the National Team. New Volgas cost some 9,000 rubles but like all Merited Masters of Sport Yakushev was permitted to buy his for the low-low, Duke of Discount price of about 5,000 rubles. And when the 11-month hockey season ends each year, the Yakushevs spend the month of June on an all-expenses-paid vacation at the Spartak resort on the Black Sea.
"I pay 17 rubles a month for rent, 20 rubles for gas for the Volga, 150 rubles for food and about 30 rubles for taxes," Yakushev said. "I'd spend at least another 50 rubles on food, though, if I didn't live in camp with my hockey teams so much."
"What's this camp life you keep talking about?" Yakushev was asked.
"Oh," he said, "when the league schedule gets very difficult, with a lot of games to be played during a short period of time, all the teams move into their camps so they can concentrate on the games and keep in good training. When the National Team is together, we usually practice at the Army Club's rink and spend the rest of our time at a dacha out on the edge of the city."
"What happens if you miss curfew?"
"You don't miss curfew. Ever."
The Spartak resort camp is in the Serebryanyi Bor—the Silver Forest—on the northwest fringe of Moscow. "On game days," Yakushev said, "I get up at nine o'clock, then do about 40 minutes of P.T. Breakfast is at 10 o'clock: yogurt, fried or boiled eggs, a variety of meats, coffee or tea, bread and mineral water. After breakfast the coaches meet for at least 30 minutes with each five-man unit. At two o'clock we have a four-course lunch—salad, soup, meat and fruit, along with coffee or tea, bread and mineral water. Then I try to take a nap. At five o'clock we have a team meeting, and at 5:45 we take the bus to the rink. After the game I see my wife, and sometimes I get permission to spend the night at home if we don't have a game the next day. If we do have another game, I ride the bus back to camp, eat supper—salad, fish, meat, milk and, yes, mineral water—and go to bed. Curfew is 2300 hours." He stopped for a moment.
"Do they have curfews in the pro leagues?" he asked.
"The pros prefer to call them bed checks," he was told.
"Yes. The coach checks each player's room to see if the beds are there. Bodies don't count. Just the beds."
He laughed. "Now let's get serious," he said. "You realize, don't you, that I have been very fortunate. I am a member of the third generation of Soviet hockey players, but I have played against the elite of all three generations—Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr. I saw Howe play in 1964 when I was in North America with the junior team. How old was Howe that year?"
"No, he was 35 or 36, wasn't he?"
"At least. He was just a kid."
"Incredible. I expect to retire in just a few more years, maybe when I'm 32, and now Howe's what?—47, and playing on the same team with his two sons. On the basis of my limited information, he must be the greatest player in history."
It was 7:30 p.m., time for Yakushev to leave. "Tell me," he said, putting on his coat. "This Schultz I keep reading about, the guy who plays for Philadelphia. Is he really a good fighter?"
"Well, they call him the Hammer," he was told.
"So why don't they call him the Hammer and Sickle?"
He grinned. "Now we're even," he said. "You had your bed check, and I had my hammer and sickle."
"Would the honorable coach of the National Team and the Wings of the Soviets stop popping stomach pills and consent to a brief interview?"
"Of course," mumbled Kulagin, popping another pill. "You'd have a jumpy stomach and high blood pressure if you had my troubles. The Wings are only in fourth place now and have shown a bad performance. I've got five newly marrieds on the team, and they spend too much time with their wives and not enough time with their hockey. We have the games against the North American professionals, then the Olympics in February, and I only hope that my stomach and my blood pressure don't crack."
"Violence, Boris. Have there been any outbreaks of violence in your league?"
"It has been terrible. Since that 1972 series against Team Canada we have played more dirty in every game. The professional influence is hurting us. Sometimes we even have fights."
"Right, Boris, and didn't even the normally mild-mannered Mr. Yakushev recently get a five-minute major penalty for decking Yuri Shatalov of your Wings when Shatalov attempted to cross-check him for the second time in a game?"
"Yes, that happened. I saw it all myself. Yakushev was provoked."
"Boris, the people in North America always have thought that your guys play sneaky and do a lot of holding and hooking and even kicking when the referee is not looking."
"I am not going to answer that. However, we do a lot more hooking and use our sticks a lot more now than we did before that 1972 series. Our games are much rougher. Much too rough now."
"According to the statistics, your Wings are the most penalized team in the league with 8.3 penalty-minutes per game."
"What can I do? My players are very young, and it is very difficult to reach the young minds."
"The Philadelphia Flyers average a little more than 25 penalty-minutes a game. In fact, any of your Wings would win the Lady Byng award for clean play if they were in the NHL. Do you know Dave Schultz?"
"I've heard of him."
"Sergei Kapustin is Dave Schultz, you know, because he is the most penalized player in the Soviet league."
"Well, he does have 24 minutes in 18 games with your Wings. Of course, Schultz sometimes gets 24 minutes a game."
"Valery Vasiliev says that he is a fan of roughness himself and knows all about Schultz. Is that why you've added Vasiliev to the Army Club's roster?"
"What do you mean?"
"The Army Club plays Philadelphia."
"No, I never think that way."
"These games are friendlies for us."
"Bobby Clarke's team does not play friendlies with anyone."
"Ah, excuse me, please. I've got to see the trainer. I must get some more little pills."
When Brad Park and Jean Ratelle joined Boston recently, veteran Bruin Forward Wayne Cashman graciously gave them a guided tour of their new quarters at the Boston Garden. Coming to the trainer's room, Cashman told his new teammates, "This is where we hide from the writers after the game." In Moscow, the sportswriters hide from the players. They talk only with the coaches, and even then the coaches ignore all questions and simply issue a few terse sentences on how they saw the game, never mentioning the name of any individual player. Game stories are direct from Journalism One, long verbal replays of each goal but little analysis or criticism.
Occasionally, however, the Soviet sports hierarchy uses the press to censure players and coaches for excesses, all of which occur, it seems, when a player or a team has performed poorly. When the National Team lost several hockey games in Sweden a few years ago, the Moscow press reported that the Soviet players were detained at the airport while officials confiscated the "contraband"—clothes, stereos, records—they had stashed in their luggage. Despite having guided the National Team to European and World titles, Coach Vsevolod Bobrov was criticized in the media for buying too many foreign gadgets for his Volga when the team seemed to be slumping; indeed, few Muscovites were surprised when he was demoted to a minor soccer job a few months later.
Komsomolskaya Pravda, the youth paper, recently attacked Alexander Maltsev, the captain of Dynamo and a regular on the National Team, with a stinging editorial broadside in the form of an open letter, written, undoubtedly, by someone from the Hockey Federation. The letter itemized Maltsev's alleged sins: "1) He missed the National Team's plane from Moscow to Sweden because his alarm clock failed; 2) He has been boozing with well-wishers; 3) He has been bragging of his successes; 4) He has constantly violated training schedules." Continuing, the letter said, "Maltsev has become affected by a star disease. Glory has made his head spin. Maltsev should think about his responsibility to himself, his teammates, his club and hockey. He should not wait until the alarm clock goes off."
The next day K-Pravda printed Coach Anatoly Tarasov's reported reaction to the criticism of Maltsev. "It was timely," Tarasov said, "and it should have a sobering effect, like a cold shower, on all those who lack culture, modesty and the patience to carry the lofty name of sportsman. Our society, unlike the capitalist world, does not need supermen, but, rather, human beings with all-round development."
Seated at a table in the VIP section at the Palace of Sports, Maltsev sounded contrite when questioned about the printed criticism. "I was embarrassed," he admitted, "but I also realized why it was done. I was becoming a hockey bum and I had to change my approach before it was too late."
Chastened, the new Maltsev has lost 10 pounds, one extra chin and a few inches around the waist. He also has been the leading scorer in the Major League and has helped keep the surprising Dynamo club in first place. "I have found a new life," he said. He also bought a new alarm clock.
Off the ice, Valery Kharlamov is Russia's answer to Derek Sanderson: a well-heeled bachelor who squires only chic young ladies to the best Moscow discos in his luxurious Volga, which is equipped with a stereo tape deck, dual rear-seat speakers, reclining bucket seats and a large pocket on the front right-side door for parking tickets.
"Valery will be a little late," said Anatoly Firsov, the assistant coach of the Central Army Club team. "It was a long game last night, and he was very tired at the end. He will be here in about an hour." Firsov was sitting in a small room across the hall from the dressing quarters at the Army Club's athletic complex on the northwest side of Moscow. Out on the ice, Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitaev, the world pairs figure-skating champions, were practicing. In the other buildings and on the dozens of outdoor athletic fields, youngsters from five to 18 were kicking soccer balls, shooting basketballs, firing pistols, spiking volleyballs, balancing on parallel bars, playing street hockey and working on tennis backhands.
"When you come here," Firsov said, "you see why the Army Club is such a dynasty in all the sports. We have a system of training. In hockey we hold the first tryouts when the kids are almost six years old. Then we select the best 40 of the players and submit them to our training regimen. Vladislav Tretiak, Alexander Gusev, Vladimir Lutchenko—some of our best hockey players—have been working with us since they were little tots."
For years Firsov was considered the U.S.S.R.'s best hockey player. Now, at the age of 34, he is Major Anatoly Firsov and working on the third season of his retirement. "Yes, I know that I am still very young by the standards in North America," he said, "but I played at the top level for 15 years and got fed up. I never saw my wife or my children. Our constitution provides for only one month's vacation each year, while the North American pros get about four months. Also, glory can have a negative effect on your head, you know. When you are six times the world champion and win a couple of Olympic gold medals, it's hard to keep pulling yourself up to meet the next challenge."
Kharlamov finally walked into the room. "My son Anatoly is five years old," Firsov said, "and he believes he is Yakushev when he plays hockey with his friends. I've told him a million times to forget Yakushev, that Kharlamov is our pet here at the Army Club." Pause. "Oh, excuse me, Valery, I didn't know you were here."
Kharlamov smiled as he sat down on a bench underneath a 1971 Toronto Maple Leafs calendar and began to pick through the Army Club's fan letters. "Listen to this," he said, reading from a card. " 'Hello, guys. I can't recognize you. Your team should be at the top of the placing table, not behind a Dynamo. You should shoot more at the opponent's goal from any position.' It's signed Vera from Donetsk."
Unlike the NHL's garrulous Sanderson, Kharlamov is normally very close-mouthed. "I am 27 years old and single," he said in a rapid monotone, "and I will not get married until my career as a player is finished. Some girls may have selected me, but I have not yet selected a favorite girl."
Kharlamov still is a student at the State Institute of Physical Culture and Sport and, like Yakushev, he hopes to be a coach at the end of his playing career. "Yes, I remember Boo-by Clarke," he said. "Anything can happen in a game, but I try to keep no grudge. He was not a sportsman in that game, but it is over now." With that, Kharlamov stood up, shook hands and bolted for the dressing room. "I am late for the workout," he said.
On the ice, Loktev had finished putting his players through their prescribed numbers of sit-ups, push-ups, knee lifts, toe touches and deep knee bends, and now he called for a series of three-on-two line rushes. The Kharlamov line, with Vladimir Petrov at center and Boris Mikhailov at right wing, headed up the ice, moving the puck with the instinct acquired during six seasons of total togetherness. This time, though, a defenseman broke up the play. Loktev was mad, particularly at Kharlamov, who had messed up the maneuver with a fancy but unrequired behind-the-back pass to Petrov. So, at Loktev's command, there was the Soviet Sanderson contritely doing a dozen push-ups.
"Was that the way for a coach to treat his star?" Kharlamov was asked later.
"If we had lost the game last night," he said, "I might have had to do two dozen."
The sprawling new campus of the State Institute of Physical Culture and Sport is located on Moscow's eastern edge, not far from the Lokomotiv Stadium, where, Felix had joked, "The big cheer goes 'puff-puff.' " The institute's uniquely trained faculty prepares high school and university instructors in all sports while its scientific branch designs the training regimens for Soviet national teams.
Fred Shero attended the institute's summer hockey clinics in 1973 and 1974, then coached the Philadelphia Flyers to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships. John MacInnes attended the 1974 clinic, then coached Michigan Tech to the NCAA championship. On the other hand, recently-fired coach of the St. Louis Blues, Garry Young, said the only thing he had learned was "something about the power play that I haven't had time to put into our system."
Valery Kharlamov is enrolled in the institute's four-year program for hockey instructors. Anatoly Firsov is taking a one-year refresher course. Alexander Yakushev already has graduated from a similar institute. And there are several players on teams in Leningrad and Chelyabinsk who are taking the institute's five-year correspondence course. Before they graduate, students spend a minimum of 1,600 hours immersed in the study of their sport.
Tuition is free. In fact, each of the 8,000 regular students is paid a monthly stipend of 50 rubles to cover bus and subway expenses, laundry and other incidentals. One five-story wing of the main building houses the institute's administration offices, dozens of classrooms with tiered seating, study halls, lecture rooms and libraries. On the walls are pictures of former Olympic champions, including such gold medalists as Sonja Henie, Jesse Owens and an old Yale track star named Richard Sheldon. There are also two wings of sports halls—every sport, it seems, from archery to yachting, has its own facility, complete with videotape equipment to analyze the finest points. There are also a number of what Dean Vyacheslav Varjushin called "relaxing parlors to get one's head back in place after a hard day's work." Two hockey arenas and a grass tennis court are under construction.
"There is nothing we don't teach the students about their sports," said Varjushin, who prefers soccer to all others and dispels any Jack La Lanne-style zealotry on the subject of physical fitness by chain-smoking filter-tip cigarettes. "At present the institute's emphasis is on hockey, particularly the kinesiology of hockey. Vyacheslav Kolosov, the head of the hockey federation, wrote his doctoral thesis on the kinesiology of hockey players here. We are very concerned about physiology: anatomical rehabilitation after practices and games, diet, sleeping habits, everything. What we want to do is make a model for the teams in all the hockey programs."
Varjushin opened his desk. "It's cold outside," he said, taking out a welcoming bottle of vodka and some goblets. Then he picked up the telephone, mumbled a few commands and, presto, a matron appeared with a platter of bread and caviar. "It's a Russian tradition," Varjushin said, hoisting his goblet. "Bottoms up."
The scientists at the institute have been using the Moscow Dynamo team in their kinesiological studies. "Nothing is official yet," Varjushin said. "The scientists have examined the players very frequently during the schedule, and they have been putting the results into the computers for estimation. We have given each Dynamo player a printout of his physical and psychological ratings, and we have recommended methods of training for each. Dynamo is now at the top of the placing table, so the programs we have devised must be working. One thing we discovered is that a glass of dry wine after competition is better than a glass of beer. We have found that at the top level the best sportsmen use liquor to kill the shock of hard training. The best thing to drink after a game, though, is mineral water. Grape mineral water."
Before the last few words were out of his mouth, Varjushin was refilling the goblets with vodka—not grape mineral water. "We must be doing something right," he said. "Bottoms up."