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June 21, 2012

Blind Passes: Igor Larionov

Even before he came to the National Hockey League, Igor Larionov was world renowned as one of the best hockey players on the planet.

"The Professor" pivoted the mighty Soviet "KLM" line - with Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov on the wings. Together they dominated the international hockey scene and the NHL in head to head competition. Their epic clashes with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup are the stuff of hockey legend.

While Krutov and Makarov supplied the speed, power and razzle dazzle, Larionov brought a much more academic approach to the game. His brainy understanding of the game was nearly unparalleled. He was a master chess player, thinking several moves ahead and distributing his teammates with intelligent passes to make the line really work. I have the highest admiration for the players who have the equivalent of a masters degree in hockey. Larionov is right at the top.

What makes it even more amazing is, apparently, at the height of his career in the mid to late 1980s, he could barely seen. 

When Larionov joined the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks in 1989, one of his first adjustments to life in North America was to get his British Columbian driver's license. Then-Canucks trainer Dusan Benicky tells the story:

“I took Igor for a driving test to get his B.C. licence and after he passed the questions test, he went to the visuals,” says Benicky. “When I asked him what he was seeing, he said ‘nothing.’ They sent us to an optometrist and you should have seen Igor when he put glasses on. He smiled like a little kid with candy. He was playing all these years without seeing.”

Here's the full Igor Larionov biography

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