Anatoli Tarasov

Anatoli Vladimirovitch Tarasov is regarded as the architect of the Soviet Union's powerful hockey empire. Yet he alienated the Soviet hockey higher-ups enough to land him in hot water several times, including for the 1972 Summit Series.

Tarasov was a product of Soviet hockey himself. He was a workmanlike winger who was overshadowed by the flashy Vsevolod Bobrov. Tarasov lacked Bobrov's natural skill, but made up for with an incredible understanding of the game and a willingness to experiment. 

The two would continue their mostly friendly rivalry for years off the ice as well. Both became successful head coaches. Tarasov coached his country's national team to nine straight world amateur championships and three consecutive Olympic titles before he retired after his team's gold win at Sapporo in 1972. He was the undisputed king of Soviet hockey until he was abruptly unseated shortly after the 1972 Olympic win and shortly before the 1972 Summit Series showdown with the Canadians. He was replaced by Bobrov.

But why?

According to Lawrence Martin's book The Red Machine, the final straw was a rivalry between Tarasov and the political bosses he answered to. Tarasov, with a history of insubordination if he felt it was beneficial for the team, clashed with the head of the Soviet Sports Committee, specifically a fellow named Mr. Pavlov, over money accepted from the Japanese. The Japanese offered Soviet players $200 a piece to play 2 exhibition games prior to the Olympics. This of course was very unacceptable in the Communist world and in the thinly veiled amateur sports world. Pavlov, who was closely monitored by the Kremlin, was furious.

Following the Olympics Tarasov, and his national team assistant coach Arkady Chernyshov, asked for time off to rest from the rigours of coaching. Pavlov agreed, but gave them both a permanent break. In essence they were fired from the national team. Tarasov was replaced by the skating legend Bobrov behind the bench.

Initially it looked like a bad move for the Soviets. Bobrov led them to the silver medal in the World Championships. For most nations that would be a major accomplishment but that marked the first time the Soviets had finished without the gold in a decade. To make matters worse key players  Anatoli Firsov and Vitaly Davydov protested by not playing for the national team.

Bobrov ultimately wouldn't last long. He relaxed the stringent and rigid game Tarasov had preached and was so successful with. The players quickly grew to appreciate the freedom and responsibility, and it showed in the performance at the 1972 Summit Series. However the political bosses would favour a young up and coming coach named Viktor Tikhonov.

Tarasov seemingly disappeared from hockey after his dismissal. He continued to coach the Red Army club team until 1974 and supervised the Soviet Gold Puck tournament for boys. More than 1,000,000 youngsters were registered for the various youth competitions. 

Tarasov also travelled the world attending seminars and making personal appearances. In 1987 he served as a coaching consultant to the NHL's Vancouver Canucks during training camp.

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