Sergei Shepelev

The Sergei Shepelev experiment was a short lived one. But it worked at the perfect time for the old Soviet hockey team.

Shepelev stole all the headlines in the final game showdown of the 1981 Canada Cup. The world was watching Canada's 21 year old superstar Wayne Gretzky on a line with Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne, and the newly formed Russian top line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. But it was the anonymous Shepelev who was the game's hero, scoring three goals en route to Russia's humiliating 8-1 defeat of Team Canada.

It was Shepelev's second hat trick of the tournament. He also scored three times against Czechoslovakia, giving him a team best six tallies for the tourney. Only Canada's Mike Bossy had more.

The 26 year old Shepelev seemingly had come out of nowhere. As a younger player he was a winger with Avtomobilist Sverdlovsk who was criticized by the Russian hockey theorists who felt Shepelev was too aggressive and "too arrogant."

In 1980 he had joined Spartak Moscow where famed coach Boris Kulagin almost immediately turned him into a center. It was a seemingly odd move, given that Shepelev's lack of training as a center often troubled his defensive game and his passing, two must-have traits of centers in the Soviet system. Shepelev was a winger at heart, wanting to rush the puck and cheat offensively looking for quick breaks instead of playing high and springing the wingers.

Despite the unlikeliness of success, Kulagin captured lightning in a bottle. For a couple of years in the early 1980s Shepelev's line with Sergei Kapustin and Viktor Shalimov was as good as any line in the world. In the 1981 Canada Cup that line with unmatchable speed out-performed the KLM Line, the Gretzky-Lafleur-Dionne line and the Trottier-Bossy-Gillies line.

Ultimately Shepelev's moment in the sun was short lived. He was an important member of the Soviets 1981, 1982, and 1983 gold medal teams at the world championships. But when the older Kapustin and Shalimov slowed down and were removed from the national team, Shepelev was unable to find the same success with new linemates.

Shepelev's last year with the national team was 1984, without Kapustin and Shalimov. He participated with the 1984 gold medal winning team at the Sarajevo Olympics. His last appearance with the national team came back at the Canada Cup. This time he failed to score, picking up 3 assists in 4 games, as the Soviets failed to make the finals.

All told Sergei Shepelev played in 46 games with the Soviet national team at the Olympics, Worlds and Canada Cup. He scored 22 goals and 38 points. In 453 Russian league games he added 188 goals.

Here's a YouTube highlight video of the goals of the 1981 Canada Cup:

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