Magazine article Russian Life

The Legend's Grandson: Viktor Tikhonov Was, by Any Definition, a Soviet Hockey Legend

Magazine article Russian Life

The Legend's Grandson: Viktor Tikhonov Was, by Any Definition, a Soviet Hockey Legend

Article excerpt

As coach of the USSR's national team (known in North America as The Big Red Machine), Tikhonov led the squad for 22 seasons, winning three Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988, 1992) and eight world championships. * Meanwhile, on domestic ice, Tikhonov guided the Soviet Union's best team, CSKA Moscow, to 12 national championships in 20 seasons.

Now, nearly 30 years later, another Viktor Tikhonov, the elder's grandson, is also trying to etch his name in hockey history. With many Russian players like Tikhonov playing in the NHL, the 27-year-old says he has to work to maintain a balance between the Russian and American aspects of his personality.

"I still feel I'm a bit more Russian," Tikhonov said, "but I know that my American is definitely up there. I couldn't really put a percentage on it. But I'm definitely more than half Russian and a little bit under half American."

Born in Riga when his father, Vasily, was coaching Dynamo Riga's hockey club, the younger Tikhonov came to the US by way of Latvia and Finland. The family moved to California when Viktor was four, after Vasily took a job as an assistant coach with the NHL's San Jose Sharks.

As a result, the first sport Viktor fell in love with was not hockey but surfing.

"I still go in the summer with some buddies down to Santa Cruz," he said, referring to a town about 30 miles south of San Jose that has some of the best surfing in the US.

Hockey was never far away though, and Viktor began playing at age 6 for the Santa Clara Blackhawks.

"Back then, youth hockey wasn't very big," Tikhonov said. "There weren't too many teams and it was really tough to get ice time. We had shorter practices. I got lucky because my dad would always take me to skate at the Sharks' arena after their practices when the team was at home. Now there are three teams per age group, which is crazy. But it's cool to see that develop."

A series of coaching job changes eventually put the family on the move, first to Kansas City, then Kentucky, Finland and Switzerland. Making four transcontinental moves before the age of 11 taught the young Tikhonov to adapt quickly.

"Obviously, at first, it was really tough," he said. "You get used to being in one place. Once we were settled in California for a good seven, eight years, you get used to your school, your friends, your house. It kind of felt like home really fast. That first move is always really tough. But once you get through that first day and meet the new kids, everything's fine. The next time you do it, it just gets easier and easier."

Then at 14, Viktor's cultural education came full circle.

In 2002, Vasily Tikhonov accepted an offer to coach with his father, the legendary Viktor, at CSKA Moscow. That job provided an opportunity for young Viktor to bond with his famous namesake and to learn first-hand about his grandfather's legacy.

Yet there was some trepidation.

"We had a bunch of Russian players on the San Jose Sharks," Viktor remembered, "and they'd tell me stories about how tough my grandpa was, and how he disciplined guys. I thought, 'That's what's going to be waiting for me when I get back to Russia.'"

Viktor's grandfather had a reputation for intimidating control. One of his stars said that Tikhonov had "no heart" and ran a "dictatorship." When another star came off the ice after making a mistake, Tikhonov reportedly punched him in the stomach with such force that the player doubled over in pain.

Tikhonov's players would train for 11 months while living in barracks and spending a lot of of time away from their families, since the Red Army operated CSKA and viewed its players as commissioned officers. Tikhonov himself served as a general and received the Order of Lenin--the USSR's highest honor for his coaching success.

"I remember that first day," Viktor recalled. "I was definitely nervous. I think I could've made myself nervous. …

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