Vladimir Petrov was born on June 30, 1947 in Krasnogorsk, just outside Moscow. He was raised in a family that placed a high importance on athletics, as his father was a famous bandy player who later tried his hand at hockey.
Vladimir first played organized hockey at the age 11 for a club named "Zorkij" in his hometown Krasnogorsk. Petrov went on to play two seasons (1965-67) for Krylja Sovetov (Soviet Wings) where he played under the guidance of former hockey great Alexei Guryshev. Between 1967 and 1981 he graduated to CSKA Moscow before finishing his career in SKA Leningrad from 1981 to 1983. With the Red Army team Hall of Famer Anatoli Tarasov put together one of the most devastating lines ever when he paired the center Petrov together with legendary wingers Boris Mikhailov and Valeri Kharlamov.
This trio was absolutely unstoppable. They scored 1086 goals in the Soviet league and 539 goals on the national team. In the World Championship all-time scoring table they are 1st, 2nd and 4th overall. Mikhailov had 98 goals and 71 assists for 169 points in 105 games. Kharlamov had 74 goals and 85 assists for 159 points in 105 games. Petrov had 74 goals and 80 assists for 154 points in 102 games.
Quick math tells us that in 105 World Championship games they combined for an incredible 482 points, an average of almost 5 points per game! They were the highest scoring line in 1969, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1979. They still hold the record for most points by a line in a single WC tournament - an unthinkable 86 points in 1973. They also have the second best result with 56 points four years later.
Petrov himself won the scoring title in the World Championships four times - 1973 (34 points in 10 games), 1975 (19 in 10), 1977 (21 in 10) and 1979 (15 in 8). Petrov still holds the record for most goals, assists and points in one tournament (1973). Not surprisingly Petrov was also a four time tournament All-Star in the World Championships.
Petrov of course wasn't just a dominant force on the international scene. He and his linemates were even more dominant in the Soviet league. Petrov himself won the scoring title in 1969-70 (51 goals in 44 games - assists not awarded at that time), 1972-73 (27 + 22 = 49 in 32 games), 1974-75 (27 + 26 = 53 in 36 games), 1977-78 (28 + 28 = 56 in 36 games) and 1978-79 (26 + 37 = 63 in 44 games). He's the last player to have scored over 50 goals in a season. Only Vsevolod Bobrov, Venjamin Alexandrov and Alexander Yakushev have scored over 50 goals in a season. All in all Petrov scored 370 goals in 553 league games.
So how come that the Mikhailov-Petrov-Kharlamov line was so good ?
"We complemented each other very well. We always gave it our best and we had a very good chemistry both on and off the ice, and I believe that was a big part of our success," Petrov observed. "We played together for a long time. I always knew were they would be on the ice. It was easy to play with Boris and Valeri because they were always in the right place. And we had a lot of fun The only reason why I had such a good career was because I played with two such great players."
On the contrary from most Soviet players, Petrov was not a great skater. He did not have that fluid skating style that many of his teammates had. His strength was his excellent stickhandling and hard shot. He also wasn't afraid to use his 6'1" and 205 pound body in the corners or on the wall, either. Petrov was also strong on faceoffs and a dangerous and aggressive forechecker.
Yet, like virtually every Soviet player in the early 1970s, Petrov was a complete unknown to North American hockey fans. That changed when the Soviets took on Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.
Interestingly Petrov, the great offensive force throughout his career, credited playing against the Canadians for making him a complete player.
"By Soviet standards I'd always been considered an offensive centerman. Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke forced me to play a more defensive style. The experience made me a better all around player," he said.
The Soviet media did not necessarily appreciate Petrov's play, however. He did scored 3 goals and 7 points and worked very effectively with his linemates Mikhailov and Kharlamov, noted series stars, but Petrov was criticized for not creating more scoring opportunities.
"Our best center, Vladimir Petrov, was not very effective on offense," wrote sports writer Lev Lebedev of Pravda. "He took so much time firing his powerful slap shots that the Canadians had time to block them. Our best players have to learn to release their shots more quickly. That's one of the important lessons learned in the series."
Special thanks to Patrick Houda and Arthur Chidlovski.