Sunday, October 2, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR – RUSSIA (D)

Alf was known as the go-between on both sides since he was the only one there who had a full command of both spoken tongues at the fiesta and inebriation session. Alf translated for Mekkar a comment made about him by one of the Russians as, “At least Mekkar is too drunk off to dish out anymore punishment right now like he did at the rink. That crazy dude! He (Mekkar) got worse when the score became lopsided and had gotten out of hand. He didn’t care and played tonight like one of the vicious Canadian squads of past tournaments.” However, Alf’s translation abilities were hit and miss at this point because the youngster was also greatly affected by the spirits he had consumed. Alf was at the same time laying on the floor right next to his brother. One could hear Mekkar only sometimes acknowledge his sibling with a murmur or an undecipherable sound. The older one, Mekkar, was in his own dream-like state and was fortunate to drink the good vodka this night and thus avoiding the homemade alcohol. Despite that, even in this frame of mind Mekkar would have gulped down that booze too, if that is all there was available.

After the blowout of the last match and the drinking episode at the dacha, Mekkar thought the poor treatment and mind games on the part of the host authorities actually improved somewhat. Even so, it would have been better if they had not confiscated the last shipment of alcohol from home some of the Selects’ players had arranged to tide them over. It was about then, Mekkar and those in his little clique among the squad began to overhear biting comments regarding his team. Government officials, police, and others on the street would make statements like, “We don’t have to worry about them too much since they are young and not good competition for our players and teams. This showed when the Red Army kicked their butts so bad the other night.” Of course, this is how Alf interpreted it for the guys. “At least, they gave us a break and less hassles since the drubbing,” positively quipped Mekkar. Still, the Arctic Warrior was still not amused.

The Native from the North had an inkling that the result could have been much more lopsided regarding the score. Mekkar was of the opinion the host Russian club let up a bit in the latter part of the game. He thought they started to eventually use the match as an opportunity to get some work in against live competition. In other words, shore up and focus on some weaker aspects of their game strategy and tactics for future tougher opponents.

Lasse and Mekkar had a discussion at the beginning of this world wide tour about the perception regarding the Selects as a squad. The Selects were aptly described as a collection of misfits, trouble makers, rebel rousers, and cast offs which in a way fit Mekkar. There was also a sense on Mekkar’s part that their skilled opponents could see those aspects as well. In his mind the Russians saw that Mekkar’s squad was hastily put together and they took advantage. The Soviets always used the opportunity to show that their sports system and clubs were superior in every respect as compared to the rest of the world. Mekkar distinguished this same haughty attitude as being displayed in major international tournaments, as well as, the annual World Championships and The Olympics.

Alf’s older brother, Mekkar was not the only one on the team who felt that the leadership of his nation’s hockey federation sought to find out if this group could jell as a team. However, it was a hard thing to ask for a lot of successful cohesion in such a rapid manner. The Selects executives and their bosses wanted to observe any individual examples of responsiveness and the ability to thrive under pressure. It was determined that those factors would go a long way to decide who does and doesn’t participate in other pursuits with various hockey possibilities at higher echelons. Mekkar thought that it was just another exhibition of position where head honchos always want to assert their power and influence on any given situation.

The Selects next opponent was no slouch either. Dynamo Moscow was usually looked at as the second best hockey club in the whole of the Soviet Union. They had talented athletes who also performed admirably against the professionals and squads from Canada and the United States. Since the Red Army first string team only had a limited number of slots available some of the other similarly talented Russian hockey players would land here. Other squads that called the capital their home would absorb talented individuals also. Alexander Maltsev and Valeri Vasiliev were two of the better known players that dotted this Dynamo roster. They were well known for their participation in the 1972 Summit Series versus Canada [hockeydb.com; eurohockey.net; chidlovski.com; Wikipedia]

Due to his Russian language skills, Alf warned his Selects teammates and especially his maniacal brother Mekkar about this matchup. Alf mentioned that this club was related in some manner to a security apparatus or organization like the police or the infamous and dreaded KGB. The young Alf said that most, if not all, Dynamo squads are set up in this way. Alf flatly said to his older sibling, “Don’t get too outrageous or do something really stupid in this game against this team or they might throw you in jail here in Russia. I would feel sorry for you. They could also still later on banish you to a gulag in the eastern part of the country. Good luck ever getting back home, if that happens. Many World War II prisoners from the German military never made it back home following the war, if you are familiar with past history.”

Not that Alf realized it or not but his comments unintentionally screwed up the Selects in their game preparation for this match. Due to their lack of aggressiveness as a team the game plan execution was lacking also. Mekkar was even less effective as well because his game relies so much on his drive and aggressiveness factors for success. The result ended up with the Selects being stomped nine to one and it could have been much worse.

Even though the Selects were not scheduled to face off versus a more talented Moscow Spartak club, they did have to have to square off against a younger and hungrier team. The Soviet Wings squad was not short on skills or ability either. The Wings would achieve an overall winning record when matched against pro franchises in North America during this era. Despite not being as well known as some other Soviet star players, the Wings’ roster still was represented by players who donned the USSR jersey in international play. Alexander Bodunov, Yuri Shatalov, Yuri Lebedev, Yevgeny Zimin, Alexander Sidelnikov and more filled in at times, on those powerhouse squads, versus the world.

Mekkar remembered the ice surface that day as being more conducive for speed. The Wings took a decided advantage of their speed and experience over the Selects by running away with a ten to three victory. Mekkar didn’t feel that the Soviet Wings club were very physical but he exclaimed, “Boy they could skate and were fast too!” Mekkar thought that weariness of his team contributed to the shellacking they received. Since Mekkar hated to lose the only positive he could see was the barometer of what he needed to do and continue to develop. There were many more lessons for him to learn to elevate him to higher levels in the hockey world. Now the trip home would give him some time to heal up the bumps, bruises, and that shattered hand to prepare him for future battles on the ice. Unfortunately, Mekkar wouldn’t get as much time as he hoped.