Thursday, September 17, 2009

REMEMBERING BORIS ALEXANDROV


"Dumbasses like me don't defect to other countries!"


Boris Alexandrov. Red Army and Soviet National Team

Despite the slender build, Boris Alexandrov, not only scored a lot of goals to Canadians, but firmly fight them back every possible time.
What makes us proud of our country? One and only answer cannot be provided. Someone contemplating, looking at the green birch trees, someone's heart stops, when the heavy tanks are roaring thruogh the Red Square, and some remembering the ballet and the cosmos, where we always were the first, and for tens of millions of citizens our hockey remains as our greatest proud.
The greatest athletes of the world, receiving miserable wages, magicians of the puck, easily interacting with Brezhnev and Gagarin, but often lived in one-room closet, people unusually gifted physically, who by age of thirty had this seemingly endless resource drained to the bottom, national heros across the country, through two or three years turning into a chronic alcoholics, people with disabilities who die sometimes just before retirement, but also not passing forty years mark...
After a career they were forgotten firmly and permanently. Someone was able to become a coach, someone friends were able to help to get a job at a prestigious car service, but someone went up to play hockey till fifty in the lower leagues, or for veterans, earning a penny, but knowing that nothing else he could do himself feed him. It’s a different fate of the once greats. But why is "once"? For us, they are great. After all, there is no such thing as “former” Olympic champions...
In the spring of 1996 along with a photographer Anatoly Belyasov I was sitting in a cozy apartment of one of the most beloved hockey players of our country, Boris Alexandrov. His stocky figure exuded calm and confidence. A huge black Labrador dog, manipulative calmed down and was lying at the feet of the master.
We drank tea and were talking slowly, remembering the old days. Boris smiled, glancing out the window at the Tushino (the Moscow suburb – A.N) new buildings, the church at Volokolamka and nature awakens across the “Koltsevaja” Highway. And none of us could have known that seeing each other we had last time and it was his interview would also be the last – this interview was destined to go to print after almost seven years after meeting, after the tragic death of this great player last year.
In two days Boris left to Ust-Kamenogorsk, where I received a fax from him short: "Excellent! You can print ". But it so happened that I left print company, which was prepared to print this interview, went to the civil service, and the text stayed in my old notebook for all these years...
After the death of Boris, I began looking for it, but never found - while repairing a computer was "cleaned". But quite by accident, going through my archives, I came across a dozen of the old floppies. Stuck the first one into my computer and found ... seemingly lost files!


Boris Alexandrov. Izvestia Prize 1976. Photo by Nikale1

- Tell me, Boris, when you were in 1972, watching on TV the first games the USSR played against team NHL, did you think that after several years the kids of Ust-Kamenogorsk would just admire your game against Montreal and Philadelphia?
- Not that I thought, I was just hoping to play against Canadian professionals. There already one already a well-known player in Ust-Kamenogorsk - Eugene Paladiev (Spartak Moscow and Soviet national team defender, 1972 series participant – A.N), so that everyone understood that the road to great hockey for us is not that closed. One needed only to get to a decent team.
- But it was crazy competition among the forwards in CSKA. Mikhailov and Petrov and Kharlamov, and Firsov with Vikulov, and other stars all played that time for Red Army...
- In March 1973 CSKA came to us for two friendly games, though without the major players, the national team members in the roster. I played not too bad against them, scored, I guess three goals. In general, after some time came Anatoly Firsov, who was the playing coach of CSKA Moscow, talked with my parents, and in August 1973 I found myself in Moscow. I played for the main CSKA and, when the schedule allowed, for the youth CSKA team as well. In 1974-1975 I began to play for the Soviet Junior team, participated in two World Championships.
- You go out on the ice in the main Soviet league 22 years ago. Now in 1996 you are doing it for the Ust-Kamenogorsk Torpedo. When was it easier to play?
- Now the level of hockey is greatly fallen. And of course, the veterans - Vasily Pervukhin, Alexander Kozhevnikov, and me – we all feel pretty calm. In addition, when I started to play most teams played three lines. Now every team is playing four lines, one cannot even be too tired after the game. In the past, players approaching the thirty years mark accumulated fatigue from hockey.
- But you know, Boris, I am quite sure that in case Larionov stayed in Russia he wouldn’t play any hockey now...
- But the NHL – is a different matter. The people there are playing for a lot of money, they want to extend their hockey career, earn a little more for the rest of their life. And we, once again I say, were much more tired by that age. I now think of my youth: we have never been at home. It was permanent camp at Archangelsky, no family, no friends, nobody. Viktor Tikhonov used to keep us for nine months on the base itself, and by the way, lived with us all this time. And from this one gets tired most of all - the same room, same person, same talk about hockey ...
- And every vocation out of camp turned into a full-drunkenness, everything that is said, were out of any “border”. Right?
- For me, just sitting at the training camp was a torture. I'm kind of funny and emotional man, so when the suppressed emotions were given way out... someone did it quietly, drank a glass almost under his pillow, then trembled - just hoping the coach would not smell the alcohol, about my “actions” at that time everybody knew. Usually, after the hard game, unmarried young players from CSKA Moscow, met in the restaurant on the air terminal, it only began where, and then we moved to the "Belgrad" (famous Moscow restaurant – A.N)and had all this “celebrations” finished where...
- And What about other restaurants, "Beijing" for instance? Did not you attend it?
- No, "Beijing" - it was a Dynamo restaurant (meaning this one was common for Moscow Dynamo hockey players – A.N). Spartak after the winning game can be found in Aragvi (another famous Moscow restaurant – A.N). So our leisure all was organized about the same: win, drank, walked, fall asleep, and – back to the camp.
- How it was from the coaches view?
- It varies. Konstantin Loktev, for example, didn’t not welcome such "rest", then, at least, understood that players needed it, and did not not punished for such things. For him playing hockey was more important, not what one does off-ice. But Viktor Vasiljevich (Tikhonov – A.N) had different attitude ...
- And how these fairly decent dose of alcohol affect the physical condition?
- When you young, it did not affect you. We do not drink hard drinks, mostly champagne. When the organism is young, trained, you go out the next day to workout, run, sweating ... To play the game in two days in general you are a hundred percent ready. But such "alcoholic" days we were given infrequently, two or three times a month. The rest of the time we were just sitting at the camps – no way out.
- But at the training camps you all also drank as well...
- Sometimes, but rarely. If someone had a birthday, we drove into the woods; birthday boy took out of the trunk a few bottles of champagne. We all drank and one got congratulated ...


Boris Alexandron And Mats Waltin

- This summer, when in the same Archangelsky camp, I spoke with Tikhonov, I saw this picture: young players from CSKA Moscow (the eldest - 23 years), went out after training, smoke, and Tikhonov, pretends not to notice ...
- Before he could any star just get "buried" for such thing. Great many players finished to play ahead of time just because of Tikhonov! Sasha (Alexander – A.N)Gusev (CSKA and Soviet national team defender –A.N) Tikhonov removed from the team too early, and Mikhailov-Petrov-Kharlamov line was ruined by his own hands. Tarasov created, but Tikhonov destroyed (Red Army team – A.N). When he arrived, they were already great hockey players, so knowledgeable and able to do everything in hockey, to the same they were self-willed people, so Tikhonov “finished” them one by one and removed ...
- You too? For in due time about your transfer to the SKA MVO (despite the fact that you were one of the best scorers in the league) passed around so many rumours ...
- Well, you know, rumours are rumours, but in reality it was so - in 1979 we played in Leningrad back-to-back games with SKA. We had one game played already. I stood on the steps of the hotel and talking to my girlfriend who was from Leningrad - a figure skater Marina Leonidova (famous Soviet ex-figure skater – A.N). Time was - fifteen minutes past eleven. Tikhonov arrives: Oh, so-so, tomorrow game, and you're standing here with a prostitute ... Well, I replied in the same spirit, were not in very decent shape. In general, the next day it was the team meeting - I was sent to Moscow as result. I was offended, didn’t go back to Moscow, and remained in Leningrad for another four days. And when I returned to Moscow, I found out that I already belong to SKA MVO...


Boris Alexandrov. Spartak Moscow. Photo by Nikale1 1981

- How did you manage to escape from the army to Spartak?
- Of course, from CSKA Moscow, with such fans as Brezhnev, Ustinov (the minister of defence – A.N), I would not be able to get away, but from SKA MVO was easier (Just a comment for the non ex-Soviet readers – SKA MVO at this time was the second Soviet league team which can be regarded as CSKA farm club if not less – that made Alexandrov’s escape possible as moving him down to this team indicated the finish of his career as a top player - A.N). But Boris Pavlovich Kulagin, coach of Spartak, had to work hard to get me. There were government members Spartak supporters as well so the special decision has been made and I was released peacefully.
- Boris, despite your slender build, you had the reputation of one of the toughest players in our hockey. You even called in CSKA Cassius Clay (that was ironically – A.N)...
- The nickname I was given by Zhenya (Evgeny – A.N) Mishakov (Read Army and Soviet national team forward – A.N). We played a tournament in 1973 where there were constant skirmishes, fights, someone I have sent to knockout like a boxer so that's how I got a nickname.
- Have you done any boxing specifically?
- I was engaged with soccer, and gymnastics, and boxing - all quite seriously. Anyway, I have my boxer blow set right.
- Due to this, you could knock down the huge Canadians?
- Well, first of all, I had a very good skating, I stand on skates excellent (It is what, in my opinion, Crosby doing perfectly, but not Malkin – sorry for off-point comment - A.N), I felt the distance. Secondly, I felt, when nobody was waiting my hit or body check. There were times to count, where the player is about to pass, has his head bowed, I met him - and got him flying easily.


Boris Alexandrov. Torpedo Head Coach

- Recently on TV two decades ago game CSKA vs. Canadiens was shown again, which is still widely considered the most beautiful game of modern hockey. During this game you did not only sent Canadians “flying” (Hm..?! – A.N), but also scored the decisive goal, equalized the game...
- Till that time I just turned twenty years old, but I had no fear of the Canadians at all. On the contrary, I wanted to bet with them, to score against them. Here we are with you remembered the games of 1972. Me, up to tears, it was sad for hockey players, who were beaten, but they did not respond. And then I already decided to take revenge for them avenged. I did revenge: I have got the Canadians beaten, I scored against them, depriving the sweetest victory in the historic match. Imagine how they would be proud if this game finished with a score of 3:2. But I did not give them to do so.
- Were you offered to stay in Canada, U.S., play in the NHL?
- Of course, I was offered. But we were so “watched”, we were "herded" what we failed even talk about this with anyone. Even if a few words had been shared with someone of the emigrants, one had already been taken for bad memo ... When we played The World Junior Champ in Winnipeg, I was offered to stay in Canada. Then after the game with "Montreal" I was offered to sign a decent contract.
- And did you really have no desire to stay?
- No, I didn’t. There were times when we stayed in Canada and have played for a month; we were already waiting for the last few days to fly back home. I still thinks that Dumbasses like me(“раздолбаи” in Russian version – A.N), do not stay in other countries, it was possible for “quiet” person ... And I could not imagine myself out of Russia.
- But you still got to Italy.
- It was during the Soviet restructuring (Gorbachev “perestroika” – A.N). At that time I was a leader among the highest scorers in the elite league, scored 33 points while playing in Ust-Kamenogorsk during the first phase of the championship. That was the reason the special personal contract came to me from Milan. I played in Italy 28 games and scored 33 goals. But I was forced to leave Italy just next year. In Italy hockey a Canadian lobby was very strong. There were quite a lot of Italian-Canadians, who played in Canada. All their contracts were twice of our cost. They had everything done to get rid of the other foreigners. If we lost, then everything was normal, but if you start winning, then you should never get a pass from them. You almost have to take the puck by force from your partner, to cross entire rink and to score. So they changed me to a Canadian of Italian origin ...
- So, Boris, you're finished playing, absolutely stopped any drinking, took possession of a lucrative service station, bought a silver Chevrolet and got yourself “bourgeoisified” and finally calmed down. And what possessed you after two years of quiet life to return to hockey as a player?
- I was invited to play for the national team of Kazakhstan at the 1994 World Cup. I arrived to Ust-Kamenogorsk, practiced with the team. But to play for the national team did not happened. I had a Moscow residence permit (“Propiska” in Russian – it’s pointless even to try to explain the meaning of this institute to non ex-Soviets – A.N). But after that I remained with Ust-Kamenogorsk team. The normal conditions were created for me there; I played mostly in the "home" games, no special camps, I was scoring quietly somewhat... Well, Then I became part-time senior coach of Kazakhstan national team. And then appointment of the head coach of the Ust-Kamenogorsk Torpedo all of a sudden had fallen. In addition to being a coach, at any time I get on the ice, if I feel that the team without me lose ...



... With Torpedo (Ust-Kamenogorsk) and the national team of Kazakhstan Alexandrov has reached great achievements. Team under his direction performed at the Olympics in Nagano, 98 in group A and has taken 5-8-th place. In July 2002, Boris was suddenly removed from the club. It was some rumours talked about financial improprieties (though the head coach has nothing to do with money), discontent with some hockey players ...
It is clear that Boris was very upset. But the main thing is beyong it. If Boris remained with "Torpedo", he would hardly go out of Ust-Kamenogorsk to drive to Moscow through Chelyabinsk and Ufa, where his youngest son, Victor has played a small tournament with the capital's Spartak. On the evening on July 31 while driving by his wife's brother, Boris, the car went to overtake a bus, flew into the opposite lane and was faced with the "Volga" ...
Boris Alexandrov was 46 years old. A great hockey player he was buried in Moscow Mitinskoe cemetery.

Alex Bogomolov February 24, 2003

4 comments:

  1. Bob Smirnoff, London. OntSeptember 18, 2009 at 5:34 PM

    Thank you, Sasha

    Ecxellent article, thank you for translation

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Boris,
    Hockey fans will like you forever. You are the best of all. Now you can see all well from heaven and I hope, your favourite hockey teams make you joy. We will meet in heaven.

    ReplyDelete