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Secrets of the Soviet hockey system of 1974

A group of Canadian coaches travelled to Moscow in 1974 to figure out how the Russians got so good at hockey.

Consistent coaching at all age levels seemed key

A group of Canadian coaches travels to Moscow to see how they teach hockey skills to youth in 1974. 2:41

The Russians were good at hockey — that much was apparent.

In 1972 a team from the Soviet Union had given Team Canada a run for its money, though they ultimately lost the Summit Series.

But they won a repeat of the series in 1974, proving that Soviet hockey skills were no fluke.

And that same year, a group of hockey coaches from across Canada travelled to Moscow to find out why.

The coaches who travelled to Moscow ranged from coaching university level hockey right down to peewee. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"To a man, they're impressed with the hockey program backed by the unlimited resources of the state," said CBC reporter Ron Laplante.

At the Red Army sports club in Moscow, the coaches looked on as a group of 11-year-olds who had been shown by "scientific tests" to have hockey potential played the game.

"So, their entire education is built around their hockey training," said Laplante, noting that some kids had started the program at as young as six years old. 

Players Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov, both Summit Series standouts, had honed their skills with the club.

"These kids are doing the same drills that the national team does," said a coach. "Our guys, from 12 to 15 or 17, they don't get the same type of training."

"Where we're losing out, I think, is from [age] 12 on," said another. 

'Different ideologies'

The coaches watched and took notes as a group of 11-year-olds at the Red Army Sports Club played scrimmage.

Gathering knowledge about the Soviets' system was one thing. Applying that knowledge to Canadian hockey was another.

"[There are] two totally different ideologies," said a coach with a Newfoundland accent, comparing the "capitalistic" and "communistic" natures of each country. "Here it's the state, totally. In our country we have everybody involved."

As a group of boys in hockey jerseys carried weights and jumped from foot to foot behind him, Laplante summed up the coaches' conclusions.

"They feel that our system is standing still while the Russian one is moving ahead quickly," he said. "In order to at least stay even with them, the time has come for us to make some changes."