The life and legacy of Viktor Tikhonov

Dmitry Chesnokov
The life and legacy of Viktor Tikhonov

As the statement to R-Sport by CSKA’s General Director Igor Esmantovich read: “Victor Vasilievich Tikhonov passed away this morning at a hospital at 1 this morning after a long illness. CSKA Hockey Club is extending its deepest condolences and will take on all of the tasks related to the organization of the funeral.”  

There is one member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders category from Russia/Soviet Union – Anatoli Tarasov. Considered the patriarch of Russian hockey, Tarasov was considered a tough disciplinarian, heavy handed with brutal training methods. All that coupled with the hockey sense like no other in the country at the time, he was the innovator and his teams won.

If Tarasov was the patriarch, Tikhonov was his archbishop.

Assuming the reign of power at CSKA in 1977, Tikhonov was the architect and the engineer of the Red Machine that was the pride of the entire country for the next 15 years. All of the pride that current Russian hockey players and fans feel when they don their country’s jersey, to this day, is without a doubt attributed to Tikhonov.

The big wins have been far a few between since the last Olympic success of the country in 1992 with Tikhonov at the bench. But today marked the official end of an era for Russian hockey.

“Behind the bench” is not the term one would use when talking about Tikhonov as a coach. He was always in front of it. He was criticized for being a heartless authoritarian. Perhaps he was. But he was just as tough on himself as he was on his players.

He was an innovator. When his teams were playing North American teams – clubs and national teams – Tikhonov was the first coach to implement rolling four lines instead of three. It is virtually unimaginable playing three lines for the duration of the game today.

He was the coach who developed and gave the world such stars as Slava Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Zubov, Pavel Bure and many others. His KLM line – the Russian Five – is now a noun, and everyone knows its names.

His name is associated with winning. His name is associated with authority. His name is associated with the game of hockey.

“This is a great loss to the entire hockey world,” Pavel Bure told Sovetsky Sport today. “Tikhonov was a great part of my life. And the number 10, which is raised to the rafters in Vancouver, is also associated with Tikhonov for me, because that is the number I wore when I was playing for him.”

Tikhonov survived the fall of the Soviet Union, the crazy 1990s Russia where everything and everyone was sold. He survived the break-up of his beloved CSKA. But the death of his son Vasiliy last year was something he could never recover from.

The last beacon of the great era of Russian hockey is gone. But what he left behind is remembered and will be remembered for years to come.    

Dmitry Chesnokov is a writer for Puck Daddy and Yahoo Sports.