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Victor Tikhonov Passes Away at 84


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Legendary Soviet hockey coach Viktor Tikhonov passes away at 84

The Canadian Press

MOSCOW - Viktor Tikhonov, the Soviet hockey coach whose teams won three Olympic gold medals but fell to the United States in the "Miracle on Ice," died after a long illness. He was 84.

Russia's Kontinental Hockey League said early Monday that Tikhonov died during the night. He had been receiving treatment at home for an undisclosed illness that had left him unable to walk in recent weeks.

"The entire global hockey community has lost a great coach," Vladislav Tretiak, who played goalie for Tikhonov's Soviet team and now heads the Russian Hockey Federation, told Russia's R-Sport news agency.

"He devoted his entire life to hockey until the last second. Even when I was with him in hospital, we were discussing what needed to be done and how, in order to raise the Russian national team to the very highest level."

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to Tikhonov's family, the Kremlin said. The Russian Sports Ministry called his death an "irreplaceable loss" for hockey fans worldwide.

While a successful player, winning four Soviet titles as a defenceman, Tikhonov came into his own during 14 years in charge of the Soviet national team.

Under Tikhonov, the Soviet "Big Red Machine" was a powerhouse, although it had to settle for the silver medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid after the stunning defeat to the United States.

Tikhonov's teams went on to win Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988, and he took the post-Soviet Unified Team to another gold at the 1992 Games. He also led the Soviet team to eight world championship titles.

An authoritarian leader with a taste for intense training sessions, Tikhonov used the Soviet political system to control his players and was known to cut star players from the team for international tournaments if he feared they might defect to the West.

Tikhonov's funeral will take place Thursday with a memorial service at CSKA Moscow, the club he coached to 14 national championships, Russian media reported.

Tikhonov remained an active coach until 2004, when he stepped down from the Russian national team aged 73 after an unsuccessful comeback. He continued to shape Russian hockey as part of the management of CSKA and the Russian Hockey Federation until this year.

In recent years, Tikhonov provided guidance to his grandson, also named Viktor Tikhonov, a former player for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Tikhonov's only son Vasily, who spent three years as assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks, died last year in a fall at his Moscow apartment.


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Elliotte Friedman's write up on he and Pat Quinn was pretty good.


Viktor Tikhonov, grandson of the famous Russian coach, laughed at the thought of his grandfather and Pat Quinn arguing which hockey system is better, then setting up a big game to settle the debate forever.

“I hope someone makes a picture of that,” he said.


A few years ago, Labatt’s invited me to host a Question-and-Answer session with the now-retired Quinn at a company event. Looking for some good intel, I called Glenn Healy, who relayed a story about Sergei Berezin. There was a time when Berezin was sick in hospital. The first person he awoke to see was Quinn, sitting by his bed.

Berezin told his teammates how shocked he was. He never would’ve picked his coach to be there. I used this at the event and Quinn became very emotional. He started to tear up. I’d never seen that side of him.

“Why was it so important to be there for him?” I asked.

“Because,” Quinn said, fighting back a full breakdown, “He was one of my guys.”

Tikhonov never showed that side, and some of his former players wouldn’t forgive him. I was too young to cover his on-ice skirmishes with Canada and the United States, but came across him on a trip to Russia a few years ago. At a game in Moscow, one of our guides tapped me in the media room. Tikhonov walked in unannounced. I moved towards him, wanting to meet and maybe get an interview.

The guide stopped me. “You don’t just walk up to Viktor Tikhonov.” He still put fear into everyone.

His grandson, born in the former Soviet Union, but raised in California as his father coached in San Jose, admitted his own nerves when he returned to Russia at age 15.

“I’d heard tons of stories from lots of players about him,” Tikhonov said Tuesday. “I was pretty intimidated the first time meeting him after such a long time away. He gave me a huge hug, the smile never left his face. It switched who he was in my mind, a caring, loving grandpa.

“I can remember one day in junior hockey, I had my worst game. We lost, it was my fault, I was responsible for a few of the goals. I walk into his office with all of his medals, he’s writing something in his notebook. He’d never yelled at me before, but I thought this is where he’s going to give it to me.

“He said, ‘What do you remember about the game?’ I told him everything. He said. ‘Good. Losing is sometimes more important than winning.’ He told me you learn more, you analyze better, you don’t make the same mistakes. What a life lesson.”


As a teenager, Tikhonov did get one glimpse of his grandfather’s notoriously tough fitness regimen.

“The one day I went to the gym with him, he starts with the jumping and the squatting. Five minutes in, I’m thinking, ‘What is this?’ Fifteen minutes in, I’m done, sweating, asking for water to take breaks as much as I can. He says, ‘That was the warm-up.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, let me off the hook.’ He said, ‘This is how much work guys put in.’ Either in the gym or on the ice, if you want to get to the next level this is how much work you have to do.”

For all of Tikhonov’s successes, we in North America remember him for one major disappointment. That’s very different from Quinn, whose legacy here is cemented by a Gold Medal victory in Salt Lake City.

That was the biggest smile I ever saw on his face. Before he did any interviews with those of us waiting outside the team party, he wanted to know how Canada reacted to the victory. When told about the spontaneous parades across the country, he broke into an enormous grin.

“That’s awesome,” was all he could say.

He could joke about Bob Nystrom being offside in 1980. He loved the 1994 Canucks more than any other team, I thought. As much as he enjoyed Toronto, there was always a sense of disappointment that his 2001 and 2002 clubs fell short of the final round.

In North America, Tikhonov was defined by “Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 Olympic loss in Lake Placid or the incredible 1987 Canada Cup defeat, some of the greatest hockey we’ve ever seen. Viktor said he never asked about these experiences, but, after Russia’s great disappointment last winter in Sochi, his grandfather brought up the Miracle to him.

“I was upset,” Viktor said. “He told me it was going to be tough. The country is going to hate everyone, the players, the coaching staff, for a long time. You have to get through it. We crashed and burned in (1980) and we were eaten up for three years. You have to concentrate on work and everything will be okay.

“We won the World Championships and everyone felt better. He said, ‘See, you didn’t have to wait that long.’”

Quinn’s players are retired now. They spoke out beautifully on Monday. The tributes were really something. Viktor Tikhonov had a fantastic opportunity to honour his grandfather, a game.

His KHL team — St. Petersburg — was at CSKA Moscow, of all places. The team his grandfather made famous. There was no doubt he’d play.

“It was the hardest game to concentrate for in my career,” he said. “The are pictures of him everywhere, a special video, a moment of silence.”

His team lost, 5-3, despite two goals and one assist by Tikhonov.

“After the first goal, I looked up. It was for him.”

I kept the quote mostly to Tikhonov, but there were a few really good Quinn passages I couldn't leave out.

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