Long before Pavel Bure was even born, the Russian Rocket was putting on goal scoring displays that not even Pavel can imagine.
Vsevolod "Seve" Bobrov was nicknamed the Russian Rocket as he was compared to the best player in the world at that time, Rocket Richard. He never displayed Richard's temper or intensity, but was every bit as explosive and hungry for goals.
This athletic phenomenon who represented Russia in three different sports (bandy, soccer and ice hockey) was born at the border town of Sestroretsk on December 1, 1922. Soon his parents moved to Leningrad (today St.Petersburg) where the young Bobrov was fortunate enough to attend Mikhail Butusov's soccer and bandy school. As a youngster he became the Leningrad champion in bandy hockey. He played bandy hockey for Dynamo Leningrad between 1939-41 and Omsk between 1941-43. At the end of World War II he moved to Moscow where he went to an aviation academy. His bandy and soccer talents were quickly spotted and he was soon approached by CSKA Moscow.
In November 1945 Bobrov was loaned to Dynamo Moscow who toured England for some soccer games. The legendary English soccer journalist Charles Buchan (Arsenal) was mighty impressed by Bobrov.
"All the Russian players were great and they would be an asset to any British team. I have to mention one player though who was a standout. His name was Vsevolod Bobrov and he caused our players the most trouble," Buchan said.
During this visit in England, Bobrov found out about ice hockey. It was during one of the foggy November afternoons that he was walking around the streets of London together with his teammates from Dynamo. They saw a huge line of people outside a building. Bobrov got curious and with his very limited English asked a man who was standing in the line what was going on.
The gentleman said "Ice Hockey, Sir." The Russians had heard about hockey, or "Chokkej," but that to them was bandy and that sport was only played in outdoor arenas. This made them even more curious. One of the Dynamo players suggested that they would try to get in and take a look what it was all about.
The two British teams that played were stacked with Canadians. Bobrov and his teammates were fascinated by what they witnessed and totally forgot about time and everything around them that afternoon.
They came way to late for their dinner and afterwards the players discussed all night long what they had seen. Everybody agreed on that this kind of sport would suit them perfectly. It was like bandy hockey, with the big difference that the ice surface was a lot smaller. "Chokkej s sjajboi" (Hockey with a puck) had attracted new admirers.
Bobrov soon picked up the game of hockey, but first it's worth mentioning that he won the scoring title in the Russian soccer league in 1947, scoring 22 goals in 22 games. Bobrov was in fact such a good soccer player that he represented his country on three occasions, scoring 5 goals. In one of the games during the 1952 Olympics, the Russians played against Yugoslavia. One of the Yugoslavian star players at that time named Bobek was in total awe of Bobrov.
"When I look back at my career it's the 1952 Olympic game that I remember most vividly. Vsevolod Bobrov's performance in that game is the most awesome display on a soccer field that I ever saw. He was a true superstar who played with an enormous drive and desire," Bobeck said.
In the game that Bobek was talking about, the Yugoslavians were leading 5-1 with 17 minutes to go. Then Bobrov and his teammates exploded and evened the score to 5-5. During the overtime Bobrov dribbled his way past several Yugoslavian players and hit the post.
At this time Bobrov was more interested in ice hockey though. He played hockey for CSKA Moscow between 1945-49 and 1953-59. In between (1949-52) he played for VVS Moscow (as a playing coach).
In 1948 Bobrov scored 52 goals, compared to the runner-up who had 23. He also won the league scoring crown in 1951 (41 goals) and 1952 (34 goals). Bobrov, who played mostly left wing, scored a total of 243 goals in 130 games. Other Russian hockey players soon started to look up to him and he became the leader and "icon" for them.
Bobrov led the Russians to world championship Gold medals in 1954 and 56. He won the Silver in 1955 and 57. He also won the Olympic Gold in 1956. All in all Bobrov played 59 international games for his country and scored 89 goals.
Even the legendary Maurice "Rocket" Richard was very impressed by Bobrov
"Bobrov is an outstanding individual and a great player. I consider him being one of the ten best players in hockey history" Richard said in an interview in the late 1950's.
Bobrov's strength was that he always gave it all, no matter what the score was. It was a rare treat but natural for him. He was the national team captain in both soccer and ice hockey.
In December 1951 Bobrov scored 10 goals in a league game, which still is a league record. One season he scored 2.18 goals per game, a record as well.
A lot of his success was due to his strong mentality. He formed one of the most devastating lines in Russian hockey together with Yevgeny Babitch (140 goals in 170 games) and Viktor Shuvalov (220 goals in over 150 games). They trained harder than anybody else. At that time they only played and trained outdoors, many times in freezing winds and horrible conditions. Despite that they kept on training whatever the conditions might have been. This was the key to their success. When others had gone home, they were still working on small details in the rink.
After his playing days was over Bobrov went on to coach soccer teams in Odessa, Alma Ata and CSKA Moscow. In hockey he coached Spartak Moscow 1964-67 and the national team between 1972-74. Most Canadian fans will only recognize him as the head coach of the 1972 Summit Series squad that almost pulled off the biggest upset in hockey history.
Bobrov was a masterful player both technically and tactically, and one of the true pioneers of Russian hockey. He was elected to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997.
Vsevolod Michailovitch Bobrov died on July 11, 1979.