Anatoly Tarasov, 76, Innovative Coach of Hockey in Soviet Union, Dies (1995)
Posted by Dean Holden at June 23rd, 2012
By RONALD SULLIVAN, New York Times, June 23, 1995
Anatoly Tarasov, the fiery and inspirational coach who led the former Soviet Union to become a dominant world power in international hockey, died in Moscow. He was 76.
A Russian news agency said he died after a long illness.
In a letter to Mr. Tarasov’s family, Russian President Boris Yeltsin called Mr. Tarasov a “living legend and an example to Russian athletes.” Yeltsin said his death was an “irreparable loss for national hockey, for Russian sports, for many people to whom he was more than a coach, more than a teacher.”
Mr. Tarasov was widely regarded as a coaching genius. He helped introduce the Canadian version of hockey into the Soviet Union in 1946 and, eight years later, his team won the international amateur hockey championship. He adapted the Russian version of hockey, which at that time resembled outdoor soccer on ice, to the style that is played indoors on smaller rinks. He then defeated the Canadians and Americans at their own game.
Still, he often regarded the play in the National Hockey League as “primitive.” When the prevailing Canadian style would be for a skater to plow his way by a defensive player, Mr. Tarasov’s team would try to finesse and find a way to pass the puck and skate around him.
Before he dropped the puck for a face-off in a practice once, he used his stick against the face of one player and shoved an elbow into another’s chin. “We do these things,” he explained later, “so our players get used to the tactics of the Canadians.”
He was widely known as the “father of Russian hockey” and coached the Central Army club for 29 years. Under his leadership the Soviet team won every world championship from 1962 to 1971. His teams won the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympics, plus 11 European championships.
Mr. Tarasov, who retired after the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, explained the Soviet’s loss to the United States “Miracle on Ice” team in 1980 at Lake Placid, N.Y., by saying, “We let you win every 20 years to have good relations between our countries.”
Both Canadian and American hockey coaches attempted to copy his highly successful methods, and many of them saw him as a composite of the American football coaches Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi. Mr. Tarasov was the first European coach to have his portrait in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
He also wrote more than two dozen books on tactics and strategy. In 1987, the last-place Vancouver Canucks hired him as a consultant. Mr. Tarasov virtually mesmerized N.H.L. coaches with his intricate maneuvers and dazzling skating and passing. His brand of hockey became a chess game on ice.
“Even though there is a limit on how fast a hockey player can skate,” he said, “there is no limit to creative endeavors and progress.”
A visiting American coach asked him in 1974 to reveal his coaching secrets. “Do you think we have secrets?” he replied. “Today’s secret is tomorrow’s common knowledge. All you have to do is look. There is no secret in hockey. There is imagination, hard work, discipline and dedication to achieving whatever the goal is. But there are no secrets, none at all.”
He said a hockey player “must have the wisdom of a chess player, the accuracy of a sniper and the rhythm of a musician.” But more important, he said, “He must be a superb athlete.”
Mr. Tarasov is survived by his daughter, Tatyana, who is a leading coach of Russian figure skaters.
A tribute to Coach Tarasov… an influential coach who was ahead of his time.