Viktor Shuvalov in his Own Words
As part of the ongoing celebration of the 70th anniversary of Soviet hockey, the Russian Hockey Federation has been publishing, on its website, brief vignettes on famous figures from the history of the sport in the country. Above is the video posted this week containing some absolutely fascinating reminiscences by former national team forward Viktor Shuvalov. Now 94, Shuvalov is the last surviving member of the World Champion Soviet team from 1954, as well as from the Olympic champions of 1956. I have translated the text of Shuvalov’s remarks, so read on for his recollections of the Soviet national team in the 1950s and his team-mates, of the hard times of the 1990s, and of the saga of his Olympic gold medal.
Viktor Grigoryevich Shuvalov was born in 1923 in a small village in Mordovia, south-east of Moscow. His family moved to Chelyabinsk when he still a toddler, and it was there that he would later take up hockey as a member of the local factory team Dzerzhinets Chelyabinsk (the team plays on to this day, as Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL). Shuvalov played for Dzerzhinets from the 1947 to 1949 before moving on to Soviet Air Force team VVS MVO Moscow, where he won national championships in 1951, 1952, and 1953 to go along with scoring titles in 1949 and 1953. VVS MVO folded after the 1952-53 season, and Shuvalov then transferred to the Central Red Army team (now CSKA Moscow), where he won two more championships in 1955 and 1956. He finished his playing career as player-coach of army farm-team SKA Kalinin in 1959.
Shuvalov, at the height of his career, played centre on the first great forward line in Soviet hockey history, between Vsevolod Bobrov and Yevgeny Babich. The trio was formed at VVS MVO in 1950, and moved together to Red Army in 1953. In 1954, they formed the lynchpin of the Soviet national team that shocked everyone by winning gold in their first appearance at the World Championship; Shuvalov himself scored twice in the stunning 7-2 win over Canada that secured first place for the USSR. Though forced to settle for silver at the Worlds in 1955, the team, including Shuvalov, returned to the top spot on the podium at the 1956 Olympics, once again in the USSR’s first appearance at the tournament. In all Shuvalov scored 222 goals in 150 Soviet Championship games, and added another 40 in 51 matches for the national team.
What I have translated below is in fact the text of his remarks from the article at the Russian Hockey Federation website — you can see the Russian version here. It is not quite a verbatim transcript of what he says in the video above, but does not differ in any significant way whatsoever. In any case, any errors or the like are my responsibility alone. I have also provided some links, where I thought they might be helpful for context. Without further ado, Viktor Shuvalov in his own words:
“Life was Terrible”
Life was hard in the 1990s. Terribly hard. I got 420 rubles in pension, and my wife — 380. Well how can you live on that much money? Obviously, my wife and I suffered. I do not remember the exact totals, but I remember well how we struggled to survive. We received peanuts, but had to pay utilities — pay for the telephone, for light, for gas. And what remained in our hands — pennies.
Some journalist did something strange — he wrote that Shuvalov deals away his medals. I met him, this journalist, and said: “What are you doing? You wrote that Shuvalov set up a shop in Stoleshnikov Lane and is selling medals?! Your conscience is not worth a penny.”
In the ’90s it was hard for all the hockey players of our generation. And then someone calls me at home (I don’t know how they got my telephone number): “Viktor Grigoryevich, won’t you sell your Olympic medal?” Out of despair, I agreed. But I was inexperienced in this business, and I sold it cheaply — for 600 dollars in total. And soon, well, in the next month, someone else calls me: “Viktor Grigoryevich, are you selling your Olympic medal?” But I had already sold it. For interest’s sake, I asked: “How much will you give?” He said: “I’ll pay a thousand dollars!” He offered almost double the price.
Almost all the guys sold their Olympic medals. I asked about it. Kolya Khlystov and Alik Kuchevsky sold theirs, the guys from the Krylya Sovetov team. I don’t know if Lecha Guryshev sold his or not… Kolka Sologubov… Almost all the champions of ’56 did this, out of necessity.
It turns out that on my 90th, or something like that, Slava Fetisov calls me to congratulate me on my birthday. And then he asks: “How did your medal end up in America?” And I answer: “How it got there, I don’t know. I sold it.”
But in the ’90s there was no help for us. It was only later, when Slava Fetisov headed the Ministry of Sport, that he made an agreement with Putin about help for Olympic champions; 15,000 rubles were paid to us in addition to our pensions.
“We Outwitted the Canadians”
At the 1954 World Championship, the Soviet Union took part for the first time. The Canadians were very confident; they said, well, that they would beat us Russians by two or three goals. But we discussed their game with our coaches. The Canadians had a relatively strong team, but on a tactical level, they played very primitively. Chernyshyov and Yegorov drew attention to the fact that all the European teams played defensively against Canada. When they lost the puck, they retreated to the neutral zone, and tried not to let the Canadians enter their zone, and the only thing to do when crossing the red line was throw the puck into the corner; one forward rushed there, while the second stayed back on guard… If the Czechs and Swedes were not really inferior to the Canadians in speed, then we on the other hand out-did the Canadians in quickness. And so the coaches created a plan, so that the defencemen would get possession of the puck as soon as possible after a Canadian shoot-in, while the wingers and centre were positioned close to their defence. Well, if you did not manage to make the first pass, just throw the puck into the neutral zone.
Well, it all turned out very well for us in the first period — the Canadians fell for our counterattacks. One or two of their players were able to recover. But it already was a question of technique — a passing play with an extra player on the attack can always be successfully carried out. When one opponent comes to you, one of your partners remains open.
And we were already beating them 4-0 after the first period, if I recall correctly. Well, we thought during the intermission, now they will make some adjustments, change something in their tactics. Because they see for themselves that their game-plan — dump it into the zone and press — is not working. But we came out onto the ice, and the Canadians did not do anything new in the second period either. Even more angry, they began to throw the puck into our zone and go forward — and again they fell for our counterattacks.
To the 1956 Olympics from Canada came this sort of team: a club, reinforced apparently with several players from other squads. They were such a young team, but very cocky. They watched us, and we watched them. The Canadians lost to the Americans, but came out against us with maximum effort. And they tried especially hard against our line; they sent out players whose task was to neutralize myself with Bobrov and Babich. And they played against us very roughly. As soon as Bobrov got possession of the puck, the Canadians immediately began to take the body. And they continually hacked at our hands, slashed at our hands, slashed at our feet — just to get the first line off its game.
But the Soviet national team had a trump card — the three lines (the CSKA Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, and Krylya Sovetov Moscow trios) played in different tactical ways. If something was not working out for one line, the coaches switched them out in the expectation that the other clubs’ lines would be different. The Canadians, perhaps, really shut down our trio, but Uvarov and Krylov and Kuzin distinguished themselves — they scored the two goals.
“Shuvalov the Breakwater”
Seva Bobrov did not like the rough work. Basically, I and Zhenya Babich were the workhorses. Basically myself, rather. While playing as a centre-forward, almost every time after the loss of the puck I turned into a third defenceman. I acted as a “midfielder.” I was on the second level [i.e. behind the other two forwards — ed.], and when I saw that Bobrov had securely captured the puck and could make a pass to me, I got open for him, and took a shot on goal. And when the attack broke down, I rolled back immediately, first among the forwards. Journalists called me “the breakwater” or midfielder. On many teams the centres began to play like that — as they say, look how Shuvalov helps the defence.
“Bobrov’s Thirst for Goals”
When VVS MVO played against strong rivals — with Dynamo, with Krylya Sovetov, or with the army team — the game-plan was as follows: give up as little as possible and work well on defence, because our attack was strong, and we would score as much as necessary. In such matches Bobrov also played on the defensive, but when our rivals were weaker, Seva moved out into the neutral zone. But behind him they still put one defenceman, or even two. They feared him! In the neutral zone he did not just stand around, leaning on his elbow; he moved and waited for a pass.
His choice of location was good. And he had a terrible thirst for goals. Sometimes against him Sologubov and Alik Kuchevsky particularly did not stand on ceremony in the physical game — they knocked Bobrov down, and his feet flew higher than his head, but Seva all the same tried to score, and shot from unimaginable positions. Bobrov’s thirst for goals was amazing!
At the Worlds tournament in Moscow in 1957, our national team did not become champions. But they played at home, and in addition the national teams of Canada and the U.S.A. did not participate. The Swedes finished first, and we were second. I did not play [i.e. for the national team — ed.] anymore; at the last minute they did not include me on the roster…
Nikolai Nikolayevich Romanov, the head of the Sportkomitet, usually summoned the coaches for a report and discussion after international competitions. And this time he called them on the carpet even more-so — after losing at the World Championship at home. He summoned Chernyshyov and Yegorov, who worked with the national team, and Tarasov. Nikolai Nikolayevich asked Chernyshyov:
“Arkady Ivanovich, how could this happen? Last year you played abroad, and became champions at the Olympics, although the Canadians and Americans were there. You went completely undefeated. But here in Moscow, within your native walls, you blundered in the absence of the Canadians and Americans.”
“Nikolai Nikolayevich, a whole galaxy of these star players, starting with Bobrov, is coming to the end. Due to age. They are on the decline, but we do not have equivalent replacements. There are no players who will immediately replace them without difficulty,” explained Chernyshyov.
And then Tarasov entered the conversation:
“What do you mean that we have no replacements? Yes, we could put together two national teams! They would perform successfully at the World Championship…”
And Tarasov was named Head Coach of the national team. Anatoly Vladimirovich retained, among the assistants, Vladimir Kuzmich Yegorov. This national team of Tarasov’s for three years won neither the World Championship, nor the Olympic Games. Chernyshyov returned to the leadership of the team. And that’s when the successes came, one after another.
“We Don’t Understand Russian”
The national team went on a tour. From Norway to Finland we went on a steamship, and then travelled from Turku to Helsinki by bus. We were standing at the railway station. Our stuff stacked up, and we were standing beside it. And it was already midnight — we were hungry as wolves. We were conversing amongst ourselves. A man came by and heard that we were speaking in Russian. He stopped. He went up to Sasha Vinogradov and asked: “Guys, are you Russian?” But back then they instructed us not to speak with outsiders while abroad. Vinogradov looked at this man and answered: “What are you saying? I don’t understand.” He didn’t understand! The guys were holding their stomachs with laughter… But Seva had been in England before, and was generally more daring than the rest. He pleasantly explained: “Yes, Russians, we are Russians. You see our stuff — we have come to play hockey.”
“The President Re-Presents”
A lady from the presidential administration called me [in May of 2014 – ed.]:
“Viktor Grigoryevich, you are invited to the Kremlin — tomorrow the President will present you with your Olympic medal.”
Of course, I did not expect such happiness. But I explained:
“Thank you. But I have a very bad leg. I cannot get to the Kremlin.”
“Do not worry, Viktor Grigoryevich, we will send a car for you.”
“Well, if there will be a car, then I am ready.”
“At 12:00 the car will be waiting for you. Please, tell me your address…”
The next day, I went out the door at the appointed time. The car was there, and not just one; with it — a police car, with flashers on. They drove out onto Leningradsky Prospekt, and so rushed along the radial road. Like a breeze they delivered me to the Kremlin! And right to the Spassky Gate they brought me. Here, however, we stopped — the police patrol examined my passport, and said: “Go ahead.” And they escorted me to the hall, where Putin was to congratulate our national team on their gold medal at the  World Championship.
The President rewarded the national team players, and rewarded the coaches. Then they made the announcement about me, that they would present me with my Olympic gold medal from 1956. I went up to Putin — the President spoke in this spirit: this Olympic medal was the first for our country, it is priceless, more precious than these twenty will be.
Vladimir Vladimirovich asked me: “Show your medal, so that everyone can see it.” I began to get it out of the box, and it almost fell on the floor. But Vladimir Vladimirovich quickly supported my hand, and the medal did not fall. I held it higher, so that the journalists could take photographs. And I had a few words with the President.
And then they delivered me back to my relatives at the dacha. I usually spend the summer there.
Thank you for reading!