The Fastest Game in the World: Hockey and the Globalization of Sports is a history of the global sport based on research in multiple countries and multiple languages. The author was a history professor for two decades, and the book has the foundation of an academic work, with research done in 20 different archives. These original sources range from the letters and diaries of Canadian players in Europe during the 1930s to the minutes of state hockey committees in communist Czechoslovakia, CBC memos about hockey broadcasts, and correspondence between the IIHF and IOC. The aim of the book is to investigate the emergence of the “hockey world.” We use this phrase to encompass the network of players and coaches, male and female, who move from country to country. There are cultural differences within this hockey world, and the book discusses those (e.g., how did the distinctive European and Canadian styles of play develop?). At the same time, there are many common features. This is especially the case since the 1990s, as people, ideas, and equipment moved around the world.
The book is not so much an account of the game’s great players and memorable moments. Instead, it is a look at how different aspects of cultural, social, and political history connect with hockey. The book talks about climate, parenting, television, marketing, suburbs, socialism and capitalism. Along with Gretzky, Hasek, Larionov, and Wickenheiser, the book devotes attention to how people like Cecil Rhodes, Sonja Henie, Michael Eisner, and Vladimir Putin influenced hockey’s development.
Paperback copies are available from the publisher, University of California Press: www.ucpress.edu/9780520303737
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About the Author:
Bruce Berglund grew up in the cold, gray, rust-belt city of Duluth during the Cold War. He was fascinated by the pictures he saw of cold, gray, rust-belt cities in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He studied Russian at the University of Minnesota, and then earned his Ph.D. in East European and Russian history at the University of Kansas, switching his specialty to Czechoslovakia. He has earned three Fulbright grants for his research, and has written about East European nationalism, religion, totalitarianism, art and architecture. He taught at KU and Calvin College in Michigan for two decades, and now works on the staff at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.
Excerpt from Chapter Four: “Toward New Directions”:
In the Soviet Union, as in Canada and the United States, hockey participation rose with the demographic boom of the postwar years. Soviet boomers grew up with Canadian hockey, idolizing the stars of the Soviet Union’s first championship teams and playing on neighborhood rinks. The Soviet equivalent of the North American backyard rink was the korobka, the box, a small rink built in the courtyard of an urban apartment complex. For millions of people in the Soviet Union, the courtyard was the center of daily life: there was space for a community garden, playground, clotheslines, parking for those fortunate enough to have a car. “The courtyard was, for me, perhaps a second home, the primary school of life,” recalled Boris Mikhailov, captain of the Soviet team in the 1970s. Growing up in Moscow’s Khoroshevsky district, Mikhailov and his friends scavenged construction sites for planks to build their korobka and convinced maintenance workers to flood the makeshift rink.
The resourceful children of Mikhailov’s day not only had to find their own boards, they also had to improvise for equipment. As in other areas of Soviet life, hockey was plagued with shortages. During the late 1950s, when Mikhailov and his friends played in their boots with a tin can for a puck, the State Hockey Department was calling for construction of more rinks and setting production quotas for hockey sticks. Yet, as historian Paul Harder details in his study of Soviet hockey, the lack of basic equipment persisted. With little gear available, authorities published instructions on how players could make their own. “We made sticks, pads, shovels to clean the rink,” recalled national team player Viktor Kuzkin in a how-to article for the children’s magazine Young Technician. “I shot the puck once with a simple stick with a board nailed on the end as a blade. But the blade immediately broke off. So I had to go back to the workshop to make a new one.”
Authorities also sought to structure the games of these korobka players. In 1964 the youth organization Komsomol launched the Golden Puck tournament for teams from apartment blocks and schools. In its first year, the competition drew fifty-seven teams of 14- to 15-year olds. A decade later, the tournament had three age classes, several hundred teams, and – according to publicity – some four million players. Anatoli Tarasov was credited as the tournament’s founder and was a visible part of the event. He regularly attended games at the national level, telling the press that he was searching for boys to join the Red Army youth teams. . . .
Red Army had its pick of the best children starting out in the game. But Tarasov also recruited promising young talent from other Soviet teams. Players for other clubs knew that playing for Tarasov was the first step toward selection for the national team. If a player accepted the invitation, Tarasov arranged for the young man to be conscripted into the army. Coaches of other club teams resented this sway over players, and the Hockey Department criticized the lack of parity in the domestic league. Nevertheless, other top teams followed suit. Moscow clubs Spartak and Dynamo both hoarded talent from the provinces, with offers of better pay and life in the capital. In the 1960s, these three Moscow clubs – Tarasov’s CSKA, Arkady Chernyshev’s Dynamo, and the trade-union club Spartak, coached by Vsevolod Bobrov – dominated the Soviet league, and the national team featured their best players.
While Tarasov was notorious for working his players the hardest, all teams trained their players throughout the off-season. Soviet athletes made a full-time commitment, and they were paid well for their work. In the 1960s and 1970s, a hockey player’s stipend was two to three times an average worker’s earnings (similarly, the average NHL salary in the mid-1960s was double the median salary in the United States or Canada). Each member of the national team also earned a 1000-ruble bonus for winning the world championship, roughly equivalent to the annual average wage in the Soviet Union. Players pocketed even more money by bringing goods from abroad and selling them on the black market. “It was considered a decent trip if you could make three thousand rubles,” recalled national team captain Boris Mayorov.