Flyers Alumni Russia Tour: Feb. 13, 2017
1:00 PM ET: THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Our hockey journey to Russia is starting, appropriately enough, at the Wells Fargo Center parking lot. We are taking a bus to New York to meet up with most of the rest of our traveling group: Joe Watson, Brad Marsh, Terry Carkner, Freddy Cassivi, Chase Watson, trainer Dave Cup and I are aboard the bus, passports and Russian visas in hand. In New York, we will meet up with Shjon Podein, Al Secord and Jeff Chychrun and tour coordinator Chuck Borge will meet us at JFK Airport. Lindsay Carson is flying to Russia from California.
During the tour, we will be joined at some point by some Russian players who are Alumni of the Flyers’ organization. We are still not sure which guys yet, but the invitations have been extended.
Sitting here on the bus, it is hard not to think about the late, great Fred Shero. The Hall of Fame coach, whose parents emigrated from Russia to Winnipeg, was deeply influenced by Russian hockey. He was a devotee of “the Father of Russian Hockey,” Anatoli Tarasov. During the early 1970s, Shero took off-season trips behind the “Iron Curtain” to attend coaching clinics, and to exchange ideas with Russian and international coaches. Some of the drills that Shero implemented during Flyers practices were things he saw in Russia.
Shero and Tarasov even became unlikely friends. Although Shero did not speak much Russian (he could understand more than he could speak) nor Tarasov much English, both men were professors in the language of hockey. The two iconic coaches would share a bottle of vodka while communicating through rink diagrams, hockey terminology and hand gestures.
While much of the drama surrounding Red Army’s game against the Flyers in Jan. 1976 was steeped in Cold War-era politics, Shero desperately wanted to win solely for hockey reasons. He had studied the Russian style of hockey so avidly, absorbing what he felt was useful to the North American style of game. that he felt the challenge of coaching his Flyers against CSKA (Red Army) was his ultimate test at a coach. He passed with, well, flying colors. The Flyers won, 4-1, in convincing fashion.
As an organization, the Flyers’ history with Russia, in fact, is much more complicated and episodic than most fans – and even most Flyers Alumni – realize. Yes, there was animosity but there was also hard-earned respect.
In his self-titled autobiography, Tarasov: The Father of Russian Hockey, Tarasov wrote about his deep admiration for Canadian-style hockey and discussed how, as hockey has evolved, there has been so much mutual influence between various North American and European methods and coaching techniques that the lines of distinction became less and less important. Tarasov believed that such evolution was good for the game itself. Shero believed the same.
Shero was not one given to displays of emotion. However, as the Flyers Alumni head to Russia to play a series of games, participate in on-ice clinics, and meet with Russian hockey people as well as dignitaries and businessmen while being treated as honored guests, it is safe to say that Shero would have quietly taken pride to learn of this tour.
The whole traveling party is here, waiting for our flight. Shjon Podein came well prepared for the February weather in Russia, as you can see below. Podes likes to be comfortable! Actually, it's just for the flight to Moscow. We won't be anywhere outdoors again until we are in Kazan.