February 23, 2015

Igor Larionov reflects on playing for Red Army, and what is wrong with North American hockey: "If you look at the coaches in Juniors and minor league hockey, many of them were not skill players. Itís a lot of former enforcers and grinders who take these coaching jobs. Naturally, they tell their players to be just like them. Their players are 17, 18 years old ó younger than I was when I joined the Red Army team. Say what you want about the Whiplash mentality (or the Soviet mentality), but if coaches are going to push kids at that age, why are they pushing them to play a simple game? Why arenít coaches pushing them to create a masterpiece?

We lose a lot of Pavel Datsyuks to the closed-minded nature of the AHL and NHL."

posted by rumple to hockey at 02:21 PM - 8 comments

Incredibly well-said. This piece sort of tracks the evolution of the NHL from the introduction of eastern Europeans to the game we see today. I absolutely love hockey, and appreciate the NHL for having the best players in the world. But I'm beginning to tire of the chip and chase game every team plays, typically out of a fear of being counterpunched off of a turnover.* Even the cycling-puck control game guys like Larionov brought with them has morphed into a throw it around the boards/deep behind the net and let the big wingers fight over it type of cycle, rather than the freewheeling style that used the entire ice surface.

* I also recognize the irony of being a Devils fan and saying that, when it was the 94-95 Devils who probably did the most to destroy the freewheeling play of the late 80s and early 90s.

posted by tahoemoj at 03:13 PM on February 23

"Throw it in deep and forecheck. Set up the trap when the other team gains control in its own end." This seems to be the mantra for today's game. The only real creativity you see now is on turnovers in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, and avoiding these keeps players from trying to do something other than the throw and go game. The skating skills in today's game are as good or better than they ever were. Perhaps that's part of the problem, defensemen are more mobile than "back in the day", so forwards cannot maneuver as freely as they once did. One theme keeps coming back to me: "Widen the rinks to the international standard". Of course, this means that owners will have to give up a few rows of high-priced seats. So much for that idea.

posted by Howard_T at 03:32 PM on February 23

One theme keeps coming back to me: "Widen the rinks to the international standard".

This. I'm all for tradition, but Eddie Shore wasn't playing in a league where the average guy was 6'2", 200 pounds and could skate this fast. The objections in the pull quote sound a lot like non-English football players talking about the English approach to the sport.

posted by yerfatma at 04:11 PM on February 23

I'm all for that idea, too Howard. And like yerfatma, sadly think it's a pipe dream.

BTW--did anyone else watch ESPN's 30 for 30 on the Miracle on Ice? Thought it was brilliant in that it was told from the Soviet players' perspective, framed by Slava Fetisov's road trip to lake Placid with his 21 year old daughter.

posted by tahoemoj at 04:38 PM on February 23

Advanced stats are finally gaining traction in NHL circles, and they tend to support the idea that puck possession, rather than dump/chase/forecheck, is far more efficient offensively. With any luck (and maybe some help from the league cracking down on obstruction again) perhaps we can get back some of this. Because widening the rinks, unfortunately, seems unlikely to happen.

posted by Mookieproof at 04:53 PM on February 23

Maybe international ice would help but my gut feeling is there just aren't enough Datsyuks in the world for NHL hockey to be played the way Larianov imagines.

Those CSKA Moscow teams that Larianov played with got the pick of every draft-aged player in the country to fill out their roster, there was a ridiculous depth of talent. Practice 8 hours a day with those teammates to bake in some chemistry and the on-ice understanding gets to be telepathic.

I'm not sure how in the modern world you would draw the same level of talent together for long enough to build up that understanding. Watching old Red Army highlights its the puck movement that is amazing, they absolutely know/trust that someone will be there on the end of those blind passes. If anyone misses their spot those great passes turn into bad turnovers, pucks floating around in the middle of the neutral zone.

Unless we start cloning Sedins I don't see how there would ever be enough players with the right vision & cohesiveness to see a league-wide move to puck-movement offences.

posted by deflated at 05:48 PM on February 23

I think people need to give it some time still.

If you watch the game being played now compared to the 80s (which was incredibly high scoring), you'll see that the individual skill on display now is greater (on average) than back then. And it's greater than it was in the 90s, and probably greater still than the 00s.

You see plays now that were considered "amazing" back then (reverse passes when going behind the net, or between-the-leg passes/shots), becoming commonplace.

The age of Youtube is going to bring out even more creativity from young players.

I mean, watch these kids play!

posted by grum@work at 09:36 PM on February 23

Love The Professor.

posted by holden at 09:54 PM on February 23

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