Anatoly Tarasov




Anatoly Tarasov is widely regarded as the father of modern Russian ice hockey (Russian ice hockey also describes the sport as played in the Soviet Union, or USSR, until 1989). Tarasov began coaching in the Russian club leagues in the late 1940s, at the conclusion of his successful playing career. As a young man Tarasov had also been a well regarded soccer player as well as a proficient bandy player, a game with some similarities to field hockey. Tarasov first attracted the attention of the leadership of the national Soviet ice hockey program through his success as the coach of the Moscow club team CSKA in the early 1950s. Tarasov became the national team coach in 1958, a position he held until 1972; he continued to coach CSKA until his retirement in 1974.

In the early 1950s, Canada was recognized as the dominant world ice hockey power. Canadian teams comprised of second- and third-tier ice hockey talent had regularly won both world championships and Olympic gold medals both before and after the Second World War (1938–1945). During this period, the team sent to represent Canada at a world championship was the men's senior amateur championship team from the previous season. National Hockey League professionals were prohibited from participating in these events due to the strict rules in that era concerning the division between amateur and professional international sports.

The first inkling that USSR teams had moved to a position where Canadian hockey dominance could be successfully challenged was at the World Championships in 1954, when the Soviet national team won a decisive victory over the Canadian representatives. By the time Tarasov assumed control of national team in 1958, the foundation had been established for a powerful international Soviet hockey presence. The political leadership of the Soviet Union had determined that ice hockey success would be a primary objective of the national sport program.

Tarasov was one of the first hockey coaches to appreciate the importance of the comprehensive physical condition of his players to achieve team success. In the 1950s, the standard fitness program for North American ice hockey players was to "skate their way into shape" at a preseason training camp in September, in advance of the October start to the professional season; little or no attention was paid by athletes or coaches to the concept of year-round fitness. Tarasov believed that dry-land training, the general expression for all physical training conducted away from the playing surface, was the most important part of his program. Tarasov incorporated various forms of aerobic and anaerobic exercises into the team practices through out the entire year. The players were provided specialized weight training programs, customized for the individual, and there was formal practice time devoted to sports such as soccer and handball, because Tarasov believed that the cross-training benefits of these sports were ideally suited to the development of hockey excellence.

Tarasov also furthered the interest of his own club, CSKA, throughout this period. CSKA had strong ties to the Soviet Red Army. Through Tarasov's active recruitment of hockey players who would first be drafted into the army, high-quality hockey talent was directed by the Red Army to the CSKA. Tarasov won a further 16 national championships with CSKA during his coaching career.

Between 1958 and 1972, the methods of Tarasov paid remarkable dividends to Soviet hockey. The national team won Olympic ice hockey gold medals in 1964 and 1968, in addition to the nine world championships captured during that period; Tarasov was deposed as national team coach when the Soviets failed to win gold at the 1972 Olympics. The hallmark of Tarasov-coached teams were the speed and the skating ability of the players, combined with a precision passing style that valued the creation of quality scoring opportunities, as opposed to simply taking as many shots as possible at the opposing goal. Tarasov's methods are proof that the sincerest form of flattery is by imitation; his revolutionary approaches to hockey training in the 1950s are now standard procedure today throughout the entire ice hockey world.

The coaching influence of Tarasov became evident in a different direction when his coaching career ended in 1974. His daughter, Tatiana Tarasova, is regarded as one of the most successful Russian figure skating coaches in the history of that sport. Tarasova has coached skaters who have won a total of eight Olympic gold medals in various figure skating disciplines.

Trasov's coaching brilliance has been recognized throughout the world of ice hockey. He was inducted into both the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame (1977) and the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame (1974). Tarasov was also named a Master of Sport, the Soviet Union's highest athletic honor.

SEE ALSO Cross training; Ice Hockey; Ice hockey strength and training exercises.