Vladimir Petrov, 1947-2017
Russian hockey, and indeed the world of hockey in general, was in mourning today after hearing of the death in a Moscow hospital of Vladimir Petrov. Petrov, 69 years old, was an all-time hockey great, a member of one of the sport’s most famous forward lines through the 1970s. Read on, as we take a look back at his life and career.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Petrov was born in Krasnogorsk, a small town just outside Moscow to the north-west, in 1947, and showed athletic aptitude from an early age. He played bandy, tennis, basketball, and soccer as well as ice hockey, and was an avid chess player too (Lawrence Martin, in The Red Machine, describes him challenging — repeatedly and unsuccessfully — the famous Anatoly Karpov). But it was in the puck game that Petrov’s greatest talents lay, and in the early 1960s he joined the youth program at the Krylya Sovetov club in Moscow, making his Soviet Championship top division debut in 1965. In 1967, the young centre was spotted by CSKA Moscow and Soviet national team coach Anatoly Tarasov, and whisked away to the Central Red Army team.
Petrov made his national team debut in 1968, and by 1969 Tarasov had placed him on a line between two other young players in Boris Mikhailov and Valery Kharlamov. The trio would go on to become the dominant line in Soviet hockey and in the world. A longtime Petrov team-mate, the great goalie Vladislav Tretyak, described them thus in his autobiography:
“Their style was to stun, to crush, to confuse the opponent in a crazy roundabout way, to make them panic, and then to score a beautiful goal, taking advantage of the opportunity… They melted the ice with their speed and pressure.”
Petrov himself remembered his time with Mikhailov and Kharlamov in this way:
“We complemented each other very well. We always gave it our best and we had a very good chemistry both on and off the ice, and I believe that was a big part of our success. We played together for a long time. I always knew were they would be on the ice. It was easy to play with Boris and Valery because they were always in the right place. And we had a lot of fun. The only reason why I had such a good career was because I played with two such great players.”
Alongside the ferocious tenacity of Mikhailov, and Kharlamov’s sheer artistry, Petrov brought power to the line. At six feet tall and close to 200 pounds, he was the largest member of the trio, and possessed both excellent speed and great “hockey sense.” And on top of that, there was his devastating shot, described by 1970s Dynamo Moscow goalie Vladimir Polupanov as “a lightning bolt.” Petrov also had a certain stubborn self-confidence about him; in their reminiscences today, several of his former colleagues (Tretyak, Vyacheslav Anisin, and Vyacheslav Starshinov) made of point of mentioning that he was willing to argue even with Tarasov when he felt that the great coach had gotten something wrong.
The Petrov shot on full display against Tony Esposito at the 1972 Summit Series.
The Petrov-Mikhailov-Kharlamov trio ruled the roost in the 1970s, at home for CSKA and in international hockey for the Soviet national team. Their most devastating performance, perhaps, came at the 1973 World Championship, which was held in Moscow. Home ice was not always a great help to the Soviets, but on this occasion they were simply unstoppable. Petrov scored 18 goals and 16 assists in ten games (34 points still stands as the record for a single Worlds), and his line took all three forward spots on the post-tournament All-Star team. Overall, the USSR outscored the opposition 100-18 in that tournament, and cruised to a gold medal with a 10-0 record.
To tot up Petrov’s career accomplishments is a difficult task, but here are just a few of the highlights: Nine gold medals and four times named to the All-Star team at World Championships, along with two golds at the Olympics, and in all he scored 189 goals in 281 games for the Soviet national team (full details of his international career can be seen here). At the 1972 Summit Series, he scored 3-4-7 in eight games, including an important shorthanded goal (you can add versatility to the list of his hockey qualities) in the tournament’s opener in Montreal. At home, CSKA won 11 championships in Petrov’s 14 seasons with the team, and never finished lower than second in the Soviet Championship. In 585 domestic games, he scored 370 goals, placing him sixth on the all-time list. In 1969-70 he scored 51 goals for Central Red Army in 43 games, becoming just the fourth player to hit 50 markers in a single Soviet or Russian hockey season (and Petrov is still the most recent to reach that milestone, although Sergei Mozyakin will almost certainly join the club very shortly). I could go on, but you get the idea (and you can see Petrov’s full career statistics here).
Petrov’s playing career wound down with couple of seasons at SKA Leningrad in the early 1980s. His final international tournament was the 1981 World Championship, where he centred Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, two young members of the KLM line that would later dominate Soviet hockey in the 1980s the way Petrov-Mikhailov-Kharlamov had in the previous decade.
After his retirement, Petrov moved into the management and administration side of hockey. In 1992, he became the first President of the Russian Hockey Federation, a position he held until 1994. Among his accomplishments as head of the FHR was the founding of the country’s national women’s hockey team. Later, he served as General Manager of several teams, and the last years of his life were devoted to working with children’s hockey programs in Russia. He also remained heavily involved in doings at CSKA, and made frequent public appearances at his old team’s games.
Boris Mikhailov, now the last surviving member of that great line, lamented today the loss of “my best friend, a great sportsman, an excellent family man who loved life.” And he was far from the only one voicing accolades: Russian President Vladimir Putin described Petrov as “the pride and glory of Russian sport.” The Russian Hockey Federation decreed financial assistance for Petrov’s family (he leaves behind his second wife, Svetlana, and at least two sons), and the KHL held moments of silence at all its games. And the championship trophy of the VHL, Russia’s second-highest professional league, will be renamed in Petrov’s honour from next season on. Said FHR President Tretyak, concerning the new name for the trophy:
“I believe that to immortalize the name of a great hockey player in this way is a correct and necessary decision. By giving the names of legendary people, we preserve the memory of them for all time, we give a landmark to the modern generation of players, and we show what they must strive for. To the winner of the championship of the Youth Hockey League [i.e. the MHL, Russia’s top junior league] is awarded the Kharlamov Cup; it will be proper if the main trophy of the VHL championship will bear the name of Vladimir Petrov.”
RIP, Vladimir Vladimirovich.