Alexander Ragulin was the tower of strength on the Soviet squads in the 1960's and early 70's. There is no question he is one of the all time greats of Russian hockey. There is also no question that if he were allowed to, he could have stepped into the NHL and been a star, even in the old 6 team league before 1967.
"Sasha" was a very large man at 6'1" and a very solid 225Ibs. He used his size to full advantage, patrolling the blue line with selective physicality. Ragulin was the perfect defenseman for the NHL. He was big and very strong, as well as very good at moving out opposing forwards from the slot. When Ragulin put that "bear hug" around a player there wasn't much anybody could do about it.
His weakness was his skating, but that wouldn't have been as exposed in the old NHL days. He made up for that with excellent positional play, and great puck movement out of the zone. Offensively he had a heavy shot but, as a throw back even in Soviet hockey, it was primarily his defensive play that was his strength.
Many people may remember Ragulin as a newspaper cartoon, as he was often portrayed as a caricature in Soviet newspapers. Often seen as a fortress, he was someone who was "impossible to destroy." He was very seldom in the penalty box despite his physical play.
Alexander Pavlovich Ragulin was born in Moscow on May 5, 1941. He grew up playing soccer and hockey, along with music on the streets of Moscow, with his two brothers Anton and Michael who both went on to play hockey in the Soviet second division.
But it was Alexander, the bass fiddler, who was the star of the siblings, at least on the ice. He started his hockey career seriously when he was 14-years old in 1955. At that time he played for a fabrics team named "Kautchuk" out of Voskresensk. Between 1957 and 1962 Ragulin played for the Khimik Voskresensk team that has developed many Russian star players over the years.
In 1962 Ragulin moved back to Moscow where he played for the Red Army team CSKA. He would play there until his retirement in 1973. "Rags" played a total of 427 league games and scored 60 goals. Regularly paired with Eduard Ivanov, Ragulin led his CSKA team to 9 league titles. (1963-66, 1968, 1970-73). The strikingly handsome Ragulin was a fan favorite, especially among women.
His credentials on the Soviet national team is very impressive. He was a 10 time World Champion between 1963-71 and 1973. In five of those tournaments he was an all star. He also was a three time Olympic Gold medalist (1964, 68 and 72). In 1966 he was selected as the best defenseman in the World Championships, supposedly attracting the lusty desires of a millionairess while doing it.
He represented his country 228 times, scoring 26 goals. But one of his biggest thrills during his career was undoubtedly the 1972 Super Series against Canada. The 31 year old Ragulin's prime assignment was to stop sniper Phil Esposito. Esposito was deadly around the net and Ragulin was the only one who measured up to Esposito physically.
Ragulin remembered his titanic battles with Esposito.
" The coaches gave me the unenviable task of covering Phil Esposito. He was a different kind of centre for me - very big, very strong, always in the slot. Ours was a battle of two huge bears."
Ragulin held his own against the Canadian pros and proved that he could play in the NHL. In 1973 he retired only 32 years old and went on to coach the juniors in CSKA Moscow. It was a natural step for "The Bear" who always loved working with young kids.
He was one of the great defensemen of European hockey in his era. Ragulin was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997.
"Alexander Ragulin personified the Russian bear," said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. "He was the kind of player that no forward really wanted to confront in the corner or in front of the Soviet net. Ragulin was probably the most dominating international defenseman in the '60s."
On November 17th, 2004, Alexander Ragulin passed away. He was 63.