It has been far too long since the last entry in this series (a year and half, I see)! When last we checked in, we looked at the 1955-56 season, won by the Central Red Army team, CSK MO Moscow (now CSKA), on the strength of a perfect 28-0 record. Could anyone unseat the two-time defending champions? Read on…
The 1956-57 Soviet Championship campaign began with great excitement and anticipation on a couple of fronts. This season would see the USSR host, for the first time, the IIHF World Championship, and the event brought another important change to the country’s hockey. In late 1956, there opened on the banks of the Moscow River the Luzhniki Small Sports Arena, capacity 8700, the USSR’s first indoor hockey rink. The Luzhniki is still going strong too; it would serve up until just a couple of years ago as the home of Dynamo Moscow, and hosted some of Spartak’s games in the 2016-17 KHL season. In its first season, a number of Soviet Championship games were held in the new arena, and it would of course be in service for the highly-anticipated World Championship.
However, before the international tournament, there was a domestic season to be played. The league did not relegate any teams after the 1955-56 season, but did promote Burevestnik Chelyabinsk from the second division, to make a 16-team top flight. The format was a double round-robin; each team would play each other team twice, for a total of 30 games apiece.
CSK MO, as mentioned, were the defending champions, coming off that perfect 1955-56 campaign. But changes were in store; 1956-57 would the last time that the team would call upon the services of the legendary trio of Vsevolod Bobrov, Yevgeny Babich, and Viktor Shuvalov. And coach Anatoly Tarasov could see already the seeds of his superb 1960s Red Army and Soviet national teams in the likes of young forwards Veniamin Alexandrov and Konstantin Loktev. The defence was still led by the speedy Nikolai Sologubov, voted best rearguard at the 1956 Olympics, alongside his steady partner Ivan Tregubov, and the goaltending was still done by the national team duo of Grigory Mkrtychan and Nikolai Puchkov, but this was a team with a certain amount of transition going on.
CSK MO’s closest pursuers for the title the previous season had been Krylya Sovetov Moscow, the team of the Soviet aviation and aeronautics industries. Their top line, under the guidance of head coach Vladimir Yegorov, would feature two-time Soviet Championship goals leader Alexei Guryshev alongside Nikolai Khlystov and Mikhail Bychkov. They were not the only three dangerous forwards on the team either; Krylya Sovetov (often referred to in English as “Soviet Wings” or “Wings of the Soviet”) could also look to Vladimir Grebennikov, whose 46 goals in 1955-56 had led the league. Behind them was the excellent defenceman Alfred Kuchevsky, who, along with team-mates Guryshev and Khlystov, had been part of the 1956 Olympic gold medal team. The goalies: 19-year-old Yuri Ovchukov and the veteran Boris Zapryagayev — not on par with the Puchkov/Mkrtychan duo, but a decent-enough tandem nonetheless.
For the first part of the season, it looked as though CSK MO were on track for a repeat; crucially, they defeated Krylya Sovetov 8-5 in the first meeting between the two. Although the Red Army side’s two-year winning streak came to an end courtesy of a 0-0 draw with Dynamo Moscow, that was the only blemish on their record in the season’s first half. Five times in the first half of the season, CSK MO scored ten or more goals in a single game, with the biggest rout being a 14-1 thrashing of Spartak Sverdlovsk. For Krylya Sovetov meanwhile, the loss to CSK MO represented their only points dropped in the first 15 games. And so the standings had Red Army ahead of the aviation industry side by a single point as the season moved into its second half.
There, however, things changed. The second and final meeting of the season between CSK MO and Krylya Sovetov saw the Army team twice pull in front thanks to a pair of goals by the relatively unheralded Vladimir Brunov. But each time, Krylya Sovetov responded, with goals by Anatoly Kiselev and Bychkov keeping the score levelled. The winner, when it arrived, was an own goal; the puck deflected off the leg of CSK MO’s Tregubov and into his own net. 3-2 the final, Red Army’s first loss in the league since early in the 1954-55 season, and now it was Krylya Sovetov topping the table by a single point.
From there, Krylya Sovetov needed only to avoid mis-steps the rest of the way, and this they did. CSK MO, for their part, hammered away at their opponents — they would out-score Krylya Sovetov by nearly 50 goals over the season, and concede ten fewer as well — but all to no avail. The Wings of the Soviet finished the season with a record of 29-0-1, while CSK MO came up just short at 28-1-1. And so Krylya Sovetov became the fourth different team to win the Soviet Championship, following on Dynamo, CSK MO, and now-defunct VVS MVO Moscow. To add to the triumph, Guryshev became a three-time scoring champion; his 32 goals led the way, by one, over line-mate Bychkov. Perhaps the only disappointment for Krylya Sovetov was that they had no chance to achieve the double, as the Soviet Cup competition was not held in this season.
When the dust had settled, Dynamo Moscow took third place for the third straight year, while Avangard Chelyabinsk were well back in fourth place. Newcomers Burevestnik Chelyabinsk finished 14th, and saw forward Vladimir Kiselyov pot 30 goals to finish third in league scoring. The Moscow Burevestnik team, meanwhile, increased their victory total from two to three over the preceding season, but still finished last and were relegated.
Sadly, the World Championship was to turn a disappointing one for the hosts. To begin with, both Canada and the U.S. boycotted the event over the Soviet invasion of Hungary the previous year, and four European countries (Italy, Switzerland, Norway, and West Germany) did likewise. But even against a somewhat weakened field, the USSR could not repeat the triumph of the 1956 Olympics. Needing a victory in their final game against Sweden to win the gold, the Soviets could manage only a 4-4 draw and had to be content with silver (the Swedes took top spot, while Czechoslovakia won bronze). On the bright side, the game against Sweden was played back outside at the Central Lenin Stadium, drew a crowd of more than 50,000 — then a world record for a hockey audience.
The 1957 World Championship also proved the last hurrah for Vsevolod Bobrov, Soviet hockey’s first real superstar. He led all scorers at the tournament, with 13 goals, but was injured by the end of the tournament and did not play competitive hockey again. He retired having scored 254 goals in 130 league games for Red Army and VVS MVO, along with another 94 in 54 games for the Soviet national team — and of course he took away gold medals from the 1954 Worlds and the 1956 Olympics, that after captaining the Soviet soccer team at the 1952 Summer Games. It is a matter for an article of its own, but Vsevolod Bobrov really should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In any case, the 1957 Worlds also marked the end of the trail for Bobrov’s line-mate with both CSK MO and the Soviet national team, Yevgeny Babich. Like Bobrov, he was withdrawn due to injury partway through the tournament, and hung up his skates. The third member of that stupendous line, Viktor Shuvalov, was not chosen for the Worlds that year, and had played his last game for CSK MO; however, he did take to the ice for another season as player-coach at farm-team SKA Kalinin.
That aside, the 1956-57 season belonged to Krylya Sovetov, worthy inheritors of the championship mantle. The following season would see format changes in the Soviet league, and increased appearances by the young men who would make up the core of Russian hockey in the 1960s. More on that in the next post in this series, and in the meantime thank you for reading!