By Kevin Mcgran – The Toronto Star
Sergei Makarov draws comparisons to The Great One after international career that some call the greatest in hockey history.
Was Sergei Makarov the greatest hockey player ever? We’ll never know, but he certainly was compared — favourably — to the best.
“He was always referred to as the Russian Gretzky,” said Cliff Fletcher, now a senior adviser with the Toronto Maple Leafs but then the GM of the Calgary Flames, who drafted Makarov. “He was the best, most dynamic European hockey player.
“Unfortunately he didn’t come to the NHL until he was approaching the twilight of his career, but it was amazing what he could do with that puck,” added Fletcher. “How he thought the game, how he could pass, just make the best play that could be made. He was like Wayne in a lot of respects in that he saw things before they happened.”
Makarov will get his long-awaited induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, along with Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon and the late Pat Quinn.
Makarov played on one the most dynamic units in history — the KLM Line — with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov. He represented the Soviet Union internationally and played for CSKA Moscow (Red Army), dominant in the Russian league in its day.
“For me, Sergei Makarov is the greatest forward in history,” Russian sportswriter Vladislav Domrachev of Sovetsky Sport told the Star through a translator.
“He was a kind of evil genius. Makarov played without any problems, not injuries, no scandals. He was a bright player — stick-handling, speed, IQ. CSKA coach Viktor Tikhonov used him on the penalty kill, not Larionov. He was the brightest player of the KLM line. Krutov was hard-working. Larionov had a great IQ. But Makarov was the face of the line.”
The line was feared, both in the Soviet league and internationally.
With Makarov, the Soviet Union won the world championship seven times, Olympic gold twice and the world juniors twice, as well as the Canada Cup in 1981.
He had 710 points in 519 games in the old Soviet Championship League, predecessor of the KHL. He scored at least 25 goals in seven seasons (each less than 50 games). After coming to the NHL at 31, he had 384 points in 424 games with Calgary, San Jose and Dallas.
“He was a good person,” Fletcher said of Makarov. “It was more of a challenge for him than, say, Larionov to come to North America. Not just the lifestyle, but how hockey was played here.”
Makarov hated the dump-and-chase brand, preferring to hold the puck as long as he could. He would get into arguments with coaches about it.
“The way the Red Army system was, especially the KLM Line, it was all about puck control,” said Fletcher. “It was a challenge for him to change, but he was such an immense talent. He adjusted very well and was a real good NHL player even though he was in his early 30s.”
Still, he won the Calder as rookie of the year in 1989-90 with 86 points in 80 games, prompting the NHL to put an age limit on the trophy, now restricted to players 24 and under.
In Makarov’s last year playing in the Soviet Union, CSKA Moscow had one of the greatest collections of talent anywhere — not just in Europe — in part because it was the main feeder team to the Soviet nationals.
Still, the KLM line was in tact, with rising stars Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov on the way, not to mention Valeri Kamensky. The blue line featured Alexei Kasatonov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Vladimir Malakhov and a young Sergei Zubov. They all went on to have long NHL careers, with some of them — Fetisov, Larionov, Bure and Fedorov — making it into the hall of fame ahead of Makarov.
“It took NHL all-stars to compete at the top level with them,” said Fletcher. “They were good.”
Born June 19, 1958
Hometown: Chelyabinsk, Soviet Union
NHL: Calgary, San Jose, Dallas
NHL stats: 424 GP, 134 G, 250 A
Soviet stats: 519 GP, 322 G, 388 A
Olympic golds: 1984, 1988
World championships: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1990
Canada Cup: 1976
Calder Trophy: 1990