The first demonstration of 'Canadian' hockey in the former Soviet Union took place at Moscow in March of 1932, shortly after the Lake Placid Olympics. A German workers' union team called 'Ficheti' played a series of exhibition games against the Central Red Army Sports Club and the Moscow Selects. The matches attracted a small number of spectators to an outdoor rink and resulted in a 3-0 win by the Red Army and 6-0 and 8-0 victories by the Selects. The Soviet teams were comprised of bandy players (field hockey on ice) and neither the players nor the spectators were impressed with the new game. Among the participants was Alexander Igumnov, a future Soviet hockey coach who developed such world class players as Vyacheslav Starshinov, Anatoli Firsov, brothers Boris and Yevgeny Mayorov, Alexander Yakushev and Vladimir Shadrin.
The Fizkultura i Sport magazine gave a detailed report on the first hockey games in Russia. This provided a clear indication of its negative opinion of the sport: "With the rules such as they are, hockey appears to be purely individualistic and primitive,"the article stated, stressing that forward passing was not permitted which forced the players to carry the puck almost all the time. "The game is very poor in combinations [passing] and in this regard cannot be favorably compared to bandy. From the viewpoint of its technique, the game is also quite primitive. The question of whether there is any need to cultivate Canadian hockey in our country should be answered negatively . . . "
Prior to the Fizkultura article, the Soviet sports press had often derided what was called 'Western Hockey,' describing it as a bourgeois game and therefore unacceptable to proletarian athletes. In addition, the "foreigner" had a strong native rival in bandy -- or Russian hockey -- which had been widespread in the country since the 1890s. However, despite its overall unpopularity, the foreign game had its supporters. "An advantage of Canadian hockey," stated the Leningrad magazine Spartak in its November 1931 issue, "is in the size of the ice fields. It would be possible to set up a hockey ground on any skating rink." In 1933, an attempt was made to start hockey in Moscow. The regulations of the Moscow bandy championship stipulated that five clubs -- Central Army Sports Club, Promkooperatsiya, Dukat, Serp i Molot and Dynamo -- were each to be represented by a hockey team as well, with the results of those games to count towards the championship. However, a shortage of proper sticks meant the hockey plans never materialized.
The next serious attempt to introduce hockey to the Soviet Union was undertaken in 1935 following a letter by K. Kvashnin, captain of the Moscow bandy selects, to the newspaper Krasnyi Sport. Kvashnin proposed to start playing the new game "as soon as possible," but the next practical steps towards implementing the game were not taken until the winter of 1938 when the Moscow Sports Committee made it mandatory for top league clubs playing bandy in the Moscow championship to have a team of 'Canadians' as well. Efforts to manufacture equipment with no competent advisors proved unsuccessful which undermined this latest attempt to introduce hockey.
Nevertheless, the development of Soviet hockey did not stop completely. In 1939, the game was introduced into the curriculum of the Physical Culture Institute in Moscow. Arrangements were made to stage demonstrations of games, seminars were planned for players to share their experiences, and experts in the manufacturing of hockey equipment were invited to Moscow from the Soviet Baltic Republics of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. (The three formerly independent Republics would all remain members of the International Ice Hockey Federation until 1946).
World War II interrupted the development of hockey in the Soviet Union, but training resumed at the conclusion of the conflict. The first official Soviet championship began on December 22, 1946 with the first goal scored by Arkady Chernyshev -- future coach of the Soviet National Team. A major turning point in Soviet hockey occurred in February of 1948 with the historic visit of the LTC Prague team of Czechoslovakia. Almost every player on the Prague team had been a member of the Czechoslovak squad which had received a silver medal at the recently concluded St.Moritz Olympics. The results of the three-game series surprised many as the Moscow Selects won 6-3, lost 5-3, and tied 2-2. Even more startling was the success of the Soviet National Team when it entered the World Championships for the first time in 1954. The USSR defeated Canada 7-2 in the gold medal game in a contest that permanently altered the complexion of international hockey. Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov was crucial to the rapid progress made by the national team and in 1974 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder Category. Some of the early Soviet stars were forward Vsevolod Bobrov, defenseman Nikolai Sologubov and goalie Nikolai Putskov.
The Soviet Union dominated the World Championships by winning gold twelve out of thirteen years between 1963 and 1975. In 1972 they provided a further shock by trouncing the top Canadian professionals 7-3 in the opening game of the Summit Series. Even though Canada came from behind to win the series, the legitimacy of the USSR as an equal rival was firmly entrenched. Goalie Vladislav Tretiak was the star of the series for the USSR but Alexandre Yakushev, Valeri Kharlamov, Vladimir Petrov, Valeri Vasiliev and Boris Mikhailov all played key roles for the team. Vasiliev won the IIHF Directorate Award as the best defenseman in international hockey on three occasions. In 1989 Tretiak became the first Soviet player to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Soviets enjoyed success at the Olympics by claiming the gold medal at seven out of nine tournaments between 1956 and 1988. In 1992 the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union defeated Canada 3-1 in a memorable gold medal contest.
Since the early 1990's, Russia has become the successor to the former USSR. A period of adjustment caused them to struggle on the international stage. Most of the top Russian players left the country to perform in the NHL or the domestic leagues of Western Europe. Stars such as Sergei Makarov, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Alexandre Mogilny and Alexei Zhamnov became household names in North America. Makarov was placed on the All-Star Team at seven straight World Championships between 1981 and 1989 while defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov was so honoured at eight straight tournaments from 1982 to 1991. The latter also won the IIHF Directorate Award as the best defenseman in 1978, 1982, 1985, 1986 and 1989.
Many players disagreed with the policies of the Russian Hockey Federation and refused to play for the national team. Some of the internal disputes were resolved in time for 1998 Nagano Olympics where the Russian squad won the silver medal. They lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic in a tight gold medal game. The following year the next crop of promising Russian players gave notice defeating their rivals from Canada to claim the World Junior Championship.