Former Soviet hockey great dies at 52
Twenty-plus-years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many hockey fans don’t realize how special it was when the USSR began allowing some of their top talent to come to North America to play in the National Hockey League.
Among the biggest names that came over in the late 1980s were members of the so-called “K-L-M Line”: Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. The trio formed one of the most potent offensive lines in hockey history.
Together, they won two Olympic gold medals and several world championships before leaving for the NHL.
Krutov, who tallied 288 goals and 215 assists in 438 games during 12 seasons in the USSR, never made it big in North America, lasting just one season before returning to Europe.
Sadly, he died last week from internal bleeding at the age of 52.
“We lost a great friend, someone with whom all of us would go to war, without any doubt,” said Vladislav Tretyak, the Hall of Fame goalie who is now the Russian ice hockey chief.
In the early 1980s, Soviet and CSKA Moscow coach Viktor Tikhonov, another Hall of Famer, created the Famous Five unit, teaming left wing Krutov, center Larionov and right wing Makarov with defensemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.
All five would play in the NHL and all but Larinov would play against the US in the famous 1980 Olympics, when the US defeated the Soviets at Lake Placid en route to the Gold Medal.
Krutov was also a member of the Soviet squad that traveled to Quebec City in February 1987 to play in the two-game series against the NHL’s best called Rendez-vous ’87, of which I was fortunate enough to have witnessed.
If I don’t remember Krutov’s performance in particular, it’s because the lineup of both squads was filled with superstars who turned their play up a notch for the then-rare opportunity to play against the best the world had to offer.
Krutov’s single season in the NHL was nondescript. Homesick and likely past his prime, he scored 11 goals and 23 assists in 61 games for the Canucks during the 1989-90 season.
Krutov played in Switzerland after that and later Sweden, retiring following the 1995-96 season.
In 2010, he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hall of Fame, according to the Toronto Star.
It’s unfortunate that most North American hockey fans, if they remember Krutov at all, will recall only his lackluster season in Vancouver. In his prime, he was as good as anything the NHL had to offer.
Doubtless, some Russian fans will argue he may have even been better.