Vladimir Krutov passed away yesterday, and it may not be big news for some, but it is for many others. Because at one time, mostly in the 1980’s, the guy was one of the finest hockey players on the planet.
Krutov played the left side on the famed KLM line, with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, and it was a dandy line, probably the finest threesome on the planet. They had become successors to the great Russian forwards like Kharlamov, Petrov, and Maltsev, and the KLM line rolled over NHL clubs and the elite of other countries, almost at will. The three of them seemed to know where each other was at all times, they played with exceptional speed and finesse, and they could be unstoppable.
I saw the Big Red Machine play live a couple of times, but what really stands out was when they met the Ottawa 67’s junior squad at the Civic Centre in Ottawa. The Soviets did nothing for two periods, allowing the 67’s to rack up a serious lead. We were flabbergasted. How could this be, we asked?
When it was all said and done, the KLM line and company had simply been toying with them and the fans, teasing us all, and along with the defence pairing of Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, they had finally decided to go to work. The juniors never saw the puck again. It became a most dazzling display of hockey and the outmatched 67’s were clobbered by a wide margin in a very short period of time. A game of keep-away. The Big Red Machine against a junior squad just wasn’t fair at all.
Krutov became known as the guy who couldn’t cut it in the NHL, after playing just one season with the Vancouver Canucks in 1989-90, although his linemates Makarov and Larionov became stars over here. Fans and media were all over Krutov for being pudgy and seemingly lost and uncomfortable, and the hot dog jokes flew.
But what no one seemed to understand was that it’s not every Russian who is able to come to North America, fit in and enjoy it. I know all kinds of Russians in St. Petersburg who have absolutely no inclination to come to the west. They’re Russian, they live in Russia, and that’s final. They’d probably hate it here, especially our food, and we just can’t fathom the idea that North America is not the land of milk and honey for all foreigners the way we think it should be.
Krutov just couldn’t fit in to this culture, and I understand it. I couldn’t picture Valeri Kharlamov coming either here.
He was a brilliant player when he was in his comfort zone, and passing away at just 52 is very sad.