Yevgeny Babich

In the early days of Soviet hockey, Vsevolod Bobrov was quick to get much of the attention and credit as the first Russian hockey star. Like a Pavel Bure, he was an exciting scorer, not paying much attention to team defense or even passing the puck. He was an electrifying skater, a deadly marksman and an entertainer whose obvious skill level was much better than anyone else.

Bobrov often played on a line Yevgeny Babich and Viktor Shuvalov. Preceding Shuvalov was a young Anatoli Tarasov, who of course would go on to become the legendary "father of Soviet hockey." He was a brilliant coach who masterminded the quick rise of Soviet dominance in the world hockey scene.

Tarasov admired Bobrov's skill level, but he felt Babich was the better player. Babich was a complete player who sacrificed the spotlight for the good of the team. Babich, who could probably be compared to a Sergei Fedorov, and Shuvalov did the "hard labour" while Bobrov finished plays off with a scoring chance. The trio worked as a team, with the purpose being to get the puck to Bobrov.

This early thought process would stick with Tarasov. As a coach he tried his best to instill the same collectivism on his lines.

However Tarasov had thought of other tactics as well. One of them, as illustrated in his book Road to Olympus, indicates how he felt Babich was a better player than Bobrov, even though he wasn't as good a scorer.

"If we rejected the 1+2 principle (one scorer and two assistants)," he wrote, "then how were we to build our forward line? Perhaps, we should include three aces, three Bobrovs, all the more so since with the passing of time more high-calibre players appeared. However, was it possible for three Bobrovs' to play on the same line - three outstanding but quite similar attacking players? I do not think so. But three men like Babich could have made a winning combination. In fact, I feel sure that even the best defensemen in the world could not stop a line of three Babichs. Because Babich could do everything. He would wind up a beautiful attack, he could feed his partners sizzling passes and if need be, he could play defense!"

The great international hockey book Kings of the Ice describes Babich as "a real spark plug" who "constantly revved up the pace of the game by rushing forward and raising the intensity of every play." He was small and slight, but he could absolutely jet down the wings. Then he would stop on a dime and feed a beautiful pass to a trailing attacker, all the while opening up a large avenue directly to the net.

Babich, like most early hockey players in Soviet Russia, honed his impressive skating skills playing bandy, a sport similar to hockey but on a much larger sheet of ice. He was said to oppose the new game of hockey, far preferring bandy. But it was Bobrov who convinced him to get into hockey.

Babich and Bobrov were the ultimate duo. They were in many ways vastly different players but put together they formed an unstoppable combination.

Yevgeny Babich died in 1972. His body was found hanging in his bathroom. He committed suicide at the age of 60. According to all English reports I can find, his family has never had any idea what would have caused him to take such terrible steps.

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