Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Larger Than Life

It is with great sadness that HBIC has to report that one of the greatest scorers of all-time has passed away today. Russian Vladimir Krutov passed on today at the age of 52. As a member of the feared KLM line on the Soviet Union squad, Krutov was arguably part of the best line in hockey history. However, after being admitted to hospital earlier this week, Mr. Krutov's body finally gave out on him as he passed away from complications from internal bleeding, ending the life of one of hockey's best players. My thoughts and prayers go out to Krutov's family, friends, and teammates during this difficult time.

Vladimir Yevgenyevich Krutov (Владимир Евгеньевич Крутов) was born in Moscow, USSR on June 1, 1960. The young man rose through the ranks of Russian hockey, eventually gaining stardom with the Meteor factory team in Moscow. CSKA Moscow noticed the rising star, and invited the growing boy to their training camp at the start of the 1978-79 season. It was here where he gained notoriety through his play and nickname - "The Tank" - and was asked to join the Soviet Union national team. Krutov regularly weighed around the 200-pound mark, but stood at only 5'9" tall, turning his power forward status into more of a "bull in a china shop" when he put his head down.

Krutov found immediate success when paired on the same line on the Soviet national team with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. All three were stars in the Soviet Union on their respective teams, and they regularly decimated international teams with ease due to their immense talents with the puck. The Soviet Wold Junior team won two medals with Krutov in the lineup, capturing gold in both 1979 and 1980. With the KLM line intact on the senior team, the Soviet Union captured the 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals and a silver medal at the 1980 Olympic Games, and Krutov led Olympic scoring in 1988; five gold medals ('81-83, '86, '89), one silver medal ('87) and one bronze medal ('85) at the World Hockey Championships where he was twice named as the tournament's best forward; and, a gold medal ('81), a silver medal('87), and a bronze medal ('84) at the Canada Cup tournaments. In 114 IIHF games in these senior tournaments, Krutov racked up 74 goals and 65 assists for 139 points! In short, Krutov had a lot of accolades to display on his mantle as a part of the Soviet national squad!

In a draft that seemed slightly odd where the Oilers selected a player from Scotland and the Canucks chose a Brazilian-born player, the Canucks decided to take a chance on Krutov in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft. With the 238th pick in the draft, Krutov was chosen by the Canucks, and joined fellow countryman Igor Larionov in joining the Canucks in 1989. While Larionov and Krutov looked good early in the season, there was clearly something wrong with the enigmatic Krutov. His play deteriorated, and his weight ballooned as the season pressed on, and the Canucks began to sit the high-scoring Russian in favor of other players.

It was said that Krutov was homesick and depressed being alone as his family had yet to join him in Canada. Krutov reportedly turned to fast food to try to stifle his depression, and had bouts of alcoholism that took its toll on his body and his game. Bob McCammon, head coach of the Canucks in 1989-90, said, "His usual routine was to stop at a 7-eleven Store and order two hot dogs, a bag of potato chips and a soft drink. After practice, he would return for a second order." Former Canucks GM Pat Quinn told The Vancouver Sun that Krutov's life back home made it hard for him to adapt to a North American lifestyle.

"Larionov was a very urbane, worldly educated sort of guy and was excellent in English while Krutov not so much. He didn't have any English and was a peasant in terms of his upbringing. He was certainly a good hockey player but, unlike Larionov who was able to make the transition quite easily and welcomed it, Krutov was homesick right away.

"It was a terrible experience for him. He really wasn't enjoying it all and he didn't want to be here. You could see flashes of his hockey ability from time to time but not enough. He couldn't sustain it. He wasn't conditioned well. His passing is sad. We never got to know him really well."
Isn't that the truth, though? For all of his international experience, we never really got to know the man who was part of the most dominant line in international hockey history. After he was cut from the Canucks, he returned to Europe where he played for Zurich and two lower-tier Swedish teams, but he never really returned to his glory days again. He did coach CSKA in the KHL in 2001-02, but he left that position after a year as well.

In 1989, Krutov was made an Honoured Master of Sports in the Soviet Union, the equivalent to being inducted into a national hall of fame. Perhaps the biggest achievement of his career came in 2010 when he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation's hall of fame, completing the induction of the Soviet "Green Unit" of Krutov, Larionov, Markarov, Fetisov, and Kasatonov. With the five-man unit in the Hall of Fame, the IIHF recognized the extreme talent these five men had when they were together on the ice.

Losing Krutov is certainly a much bigger deal in Russia than it is in Canada, but I'm willing to bet that it would be difficult to find anyone who doesn't respect the talent that Krutov had on the ice. I'll leave you today with a great goal scored by Krutov against the Montreal Canadiens in 1982 when the Soviets visited the Montreal Forum.
Rest in peace, Mr. Krutov. While you may be gone too soon, you'll always be welcomed onto the great sheet of ice in heaven, and your achievements in this life stand the test of time when compared to any hockey player.

Until next time, raise your sticks in honor of one of hockey's greats!

No comments: