In the Beginning… (Part 2)
My favourite moment in the video below the jump occurs at about the 2:40 mark. At that point, we see Dynamo Moscow goalie Mikhail Stepanov bolt from the penalty box, which is set some distance back from the action, at full speed, hurdle the low, bandy-style, boards, and head back to his net after serving a penalty. In the background, the Dynamo forward or defenseman who was subbing in goal for Stepanov calmly leaves the goalie stick on top of the net, retrieves his own piece of lumber, and returns to his accustomed position. It is a lovely little illustration of just exactly how different the game of hockey was in that place and time.
The video, which I came across at this site devoted to the history of Dynamo Moscow hockey, is a newsreel clip of the deciding game of the 1946-47 Soviet Championship, between Dynamo and their Red Army rivals, CDKA Moscow (there is a brief introduction as well, clearly added at some later date). The game was played on the 26th of January, 1947, on a small ice surface marked out with the aforementioned low boards on the much larger bandy rink at one of Moscow’s soccer stadia.
That season, as we talked about last time, was the first in “Canadian” hockey for the USSR, and to say that there are differences between the sport then and there, and hockey as it is played here and now, is to understate things dramatically. And the commentary in the film pays close attention to the variations between this newly-adopted game and the long-established sport of “Russian” hockey — the differences in number of players on each team, the length of the sticks, and the size of the rink, are duly pointed out. And there are many other things too, that could be mentioned (the uniforms!). One note here, however – the commentary mentions periods of 15 minutes, rather than the 20 to which we are accustomed; this, however, was standard practice in international hockey at that time, and should not really be seen as a “difference.”
Most fascinating to the commentator, however, is the whole concept of penalties. Bandy, the Russian form of ice hockey, awards “free-strokes,” similar to free kicks in soccer, for violations of the rules, and the commentary in our clip returns several times to the then-new concept of players being removed from the game for a brief period. We should also note the position of the referee, who is sitting at a table with the timekeeper beside the rink. The lone penalty box, as mentioned, is set up away from the rink, but still on the bandy ice surface, requiring penalized players to skate a couple of dozen yards to and from it.
However, for all its differences, this is still recognizably ice hockey, and it should be readily apparent, among other things, that Russian players in the mid-1940s had no trouble whatsoever with the skating. Many of the players, of course, were experienced bandy players — even those drawn from the nation’s soccer programs played Russian hockey in the winter to keep in shape. In any case, and even allowing for the uncertainty of camera speed in the film, they could fly, and it is not hard to see how, only seven years later, the Soviet national team was strong enough to win the World Championships.
My Russian is not good enough to have translated the commentary on the clip by ear, so I am tremendously indebted to Mr. Gennady Yedekin, who transcribed it for me. That Russian text can be seen here. The translation into English below is my own, as is the responsibility for any errors included therein.
Without further ado then, roll tape! Enjoy!
Translation of Commentary:
0:00 — “The final matches of the first national championship began on January 20th, 1947. Three Moscow teams made their way to the final: Dynamo, CDKA, and Spartak. The whole tournament remained uncertain up until the final round, when the Army and Dynamo men met on the 26th of January. And the game was held in the presence of 10,000 spectators, an impressive number by today’s standards! Here’s how this crucial match was reflected in the newsreels of that time.”
0:39 — “Tournaments of Canadian hockey are held in our country for the first time! This kind of sport attracts tens of thousands of spectators. Of special interest is the meeting of the teams of Dynamo Moscow and the Central Red Army Club. This match determined the national champion of Canadian hockey.”
0:58 — “Canadian hockey is very different from the Russian kind. Only six players on each team participate in the game, and the rest are substitutes.”
1:07 — “The sticks in Canadian hockey are longer than in the Russian game. For a violation, the referee removes the player from the ice for a period of one to two minutes. This is a special penalty box for the violators.”
1:20 — “In Canadian hockey, the ball is replaced with the rubber ‘puck.’ The ice surface in Canadian hockey is smaller than in Russian hockey; this makes the game faster and more intense.”
1:36 — “In Russian hockey, the referee would award a free-stroke, whereas in this case, the player is removed from the ice.”
1:46 — “In Canadian hockey, play can also go on behind the goal, which allows players to maneuvre better. A segment lasts for only fifteen minutes, but it takes more physical effort to maintain one’s strength through all three periods. ”
1:58 — “Again a violation.”
2:11 — “The penalty time* has ended.”
2:22 — “In such an intense match, when the honourable title of ‘National Champion’ is at stake, sporting passions flare up especially.”
2:41 — “The Dynamo goalie has served his penalty. The minutes of enforced idleness dragged painfully slowly.”
2:49 — “A goal against CDKA! ”
2:54 — “The match ended in victory for Dynamo Moscow, by a score of two to one. The victorious team is awarded the honourable prize.”
3:04 — “Moscow Dynamo are the national champions of Canadian hockey!”
* – Literally “period of confinement.”