Nikolai Puchkov

Long before Vladislav Tretiak took the goaltending world by storm, there was a fellow named Nikolai Georgievich Puchkov tending the net for the Soviet Union. He was the inspiration for Tretiak and a legend in his own right.

When the Soviets arrived on the international scene in the mid-1950s. Puchkov was the man entrusted to stop the puck. He did so very well. He represented the Soviet Union national team 90 times in 10 seasons, winning gold at the 1956 Olympics and bronze at the 1960 games. He also participated in 5 World Championships.

Puchkov was becoming so renowned in the hockey world that the 1956 Cleveland Barons of the AHL reportedly tried to offer him a 2 year contract at $10,000 per season. That offer came after the '56 Olympics in which Puchkov shutout Canada and USA in back-to-back games - something never accomplished in Olympic history before or since.

In league play he led CSKA Moscow to nine league titles. Eight times he was an all star. Though statistics are very sketchy, we know he played a total of 220 games. It is uncertain if any of those games featured Puchkov wearing any more protection than his trademark leather cycling  helmet.

Many of Puchkov's league games were played outside. The great book Kings of the Ice tells a tale of Puchkov forced to withstand -40C temperatures in Siberia. After a long stretch of inactivity for the goaltender he allowed a goal from the neutral zone, drawing the ire of coach Anatoli Tarasov.

Tarasov is said to have told Puchkov he will have to toughen up. A couple of weeks later Puchkov was said to be toughening himself by walking barefoot outdoors in -20C Moscow weather

Other times he was said to have worn only a thick jacket and had teammates fire pucks at him to toughen up.

Tarasov and Puchkov inevitably had a falling apart. Puchkov was a rare Soviet player who studied English and Canadian hockey. He angered Tarasov by declaring Canada was a superior hockey nation. He also criticized Tarasov - the famous tactician - for his lack of knowledge of goaltending.

Tarasov responded by limiting Puchkov's time on the national team and desperately searching for a goaltender as good. Though international success was plentiful Tarasov never did find a great goaltender until Tretiak arrived. By then Tarasov, too, was gone from the national team.

Puchkov retired in 1964 and coached in Leningrad for 15 years, furthering his rivalry with Tarasov. He also coached in Sweden and Finland.

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