1947-48: Bobrov Arrives
A few posts ago, we took a two-part look at the inaugural season of the Soviet Championship in ice hockey, which took place in 1946-47 and saw Dynamo Moscow become the country’s first champions of the sport. Time, therefore, to check in with Year 2, and see what transpired during the campaign of 1947-48!
Of the ten teams that took the ice for the 1947-48 season, five hailed from the capital city. Four of the Moscow teams — CDKA, VVS MVO, Dynamo, and Spartak — were holdovers from the inaugural season. They were joined by Krylya Sovetov Moscow, the team representing the Soviet aeronautics and aviation industry. From outside the capital came two teams from Leningrad (Dynamo and Dzerzhinets) and three from the Baltics: Latvia’s Dinamo Riga, Spartak Kaunas of Lithuania, and Dinamo Tallinn from Estonia. And so the 1947-48 season was to be very a much a north-western affair.
It was also to be a simpler championship than that of 1946-47. Instead of a multi-stage tournament, 1947-48 had a simple format: every team played every other team twice each, once at home and once away. With ten teams in the league, that meant an 18-game season. There was no playoff, so the champion would be the team atop the table at the end. The last-place team would be relegated at season’s end to the newly created second division, and would be replaced by the champions of that group.
Gone were the previous season’s teams from Arkhangelsk, Uzhgorod, and Sverdlovsk, as well as the Officer’s Club squad from Leningrad (the last of those would most certainly be back — today that’s SKA St. Petersburg). Gone also were the long pants and work-shirts that had comprised the teams’ uniforms, replaced with more “traditional” hockey pants and sweaters. The low boards, and the outdoor rinks, remained.
One of the off-season’s biggest player moves had involved 1946-47’s top goal-scorer, Anatoly Tarasov of VVS MVO, the team of the Soviet Air Force. Tarasov, displaying the lack of reverence for authority that would later mark his career as a coach, decided that Vasily Stalin, the man in charge of running the Air Force team and the son of the Soviet leader, was not doing enough to build up the squad for a championship run, and he took himself off to CDKA. There, in addition to becoming player-coach, he formed a lethal on-ice partnership with Yevgeny Babich and Vsevolod Bobrov. The trio quickly established themselves as the first, but by no means the last, of the great forward lines to play for Red Army.
Of the Red Army trio, Bobrov was unquestionably the big star. He came from Morshansk, to the south-east of Moscow, and was already a renowned talent at soccer (he played for CDKA in that sport as well) before he picked up his first hockey stick. He had played one game for CDKA’s hockey team in 1946-47, scoring a hat-trick, and 1947-48 would mark his first full campaign in the sport. Bobrov was an individualist on the ice, fond of long solo expeditions with the puck — a fact that drove Tarasov nuts. The future builder of the great Soviet teams of the 1960s and 1970s was already a fan of the team-driven, pass-heavy, game that would become his trademark in later years. That aside, however, Bobrov could score goals like no other, as the 1947-48 season would demonstrate.
When it got underway on December 17th, the campaign season turned into a four-horse race, more or less, for the title. Spartak Moscow, behind good scoring from the duo of Ivan Novikov (32 goals, 2nd-best in the league) and Zdenek Zigmund (24 goals), won 14 games out of the 18 and tied two others to finish in second place. In third were the defending champions, Dynamo Moscow, who got 31 or 32 goals (sources vary) off the stick of Vasily Trofimov. And just behind them in fourth place came Dinamo Riga. The Latvians were the beneficiaries of 24 goals from Roberts Sulmanis, not to mention Harijs Mellups’ spectacular goaltending – the 20-year-old was named best netminder of the season by the league’s head coaches. The Riga team also recorded 1947-48’s most lopsided victory with a 16-0 mauling of Dzerzhinets Leningrad.
None of this, however, was enough to overcome Bobrov and friends. CDKA recorded 16 wins, with only one loss (2-1 to Spartak Moscow) and one tie (3-3 against Dynamo Moscow). Bobrov scored 52 times in the team’s 18 games — nearly a hat-trick per contest, on average, and a full 20 goals ahead of Spartak’s Novikov. His line-mates helped as well, with Tarasov finding the net 23 times and Babich 22. The trio’s 97 goals, out of 108 total for Red Army, was more than any other entire team managed that season. In fact, Bobrov by himself outscored five of CDKA’s rival teams. And not only was the Red Army team a scoring powerhouse, they had ample help at the back as well. Vladimir Nikanorov, an accomplished soccer goalie, played defense for the CDKA ice hockey squad, and played it very well. The team also had an up-and-coming young star in net in the person of Grigory Mkrtychan, Moscow-born but of Armenian descent. All-in-all, a formidable team, and one that fully deserved its title.
At the bottom of the table, it was the Lithuanian team, Spartak Kaunas, who earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first squad relegated to the Soviet second division. The Kaunas squad failed to register a single victory in the 1947-48 season, with three ties proving the only bright spots. Dzerzhinets Chelyabinsk, the team now known as Traktor, were promoted to replace them for the 1948-49 season.
However, the most disappointing team of the season was unquestionably VVS MVO. Anatoly Tarasov’s concerns over whether Vasily Stalin could build a team seemed well-founded, as the Air Force men managed only 5 wins, and suffered the indignity of being beaten in both their meetings with Dzerzhinets Leningrad (Dzerzhinets won only three games all season, and finished ninth). Despite the sterling play of defenseman Alexander Vinogradov, voted to the all-star team for the season, VVS MVO finished seventh, the lowest placing of any of the Moscow teams. This embarrassment at least had the effect of shaking young Stalin out of his lethargy; something clearly had to be done, and he set out to do it. That, however, is a subject for another time, when we look at the 1948-49 season!
1947-48 All-Star Team (later known as the “Golden Helmet” Award)
Goal: Harijs Mellups (Dinamo Riga)
Defense: Vladimir Nikanorov (CDKA Moscow), Alexander Vinogradov (VVS MVO Moscow)
Forwards: Yevgeny Babich (CDKA Moscow), Anatoly Tarasov (CDKA Moscow), Vsevolod Bobrov (CDKA Moscow)