April 20, 2018

Big Mak: Sergei Makarov

Sergei Makarov enjoyed a good NHL career, but his legacy should not be judged by his North American career.

Makarov's greatest feats occurred during the 1980's when he played for the communist regime in the old Soviet Union. Because of that regime and the ever existent Cold War, we rarely saw Makarov play other than at world championships, Olympics, Canada Cups and NHL exhibitions. Because of the political and social settings we were raised to hate him, yet secretly we marveled at his awesome skills.

Makarov was a crazy legged skater, blessed with dazzling speed and agility. He was as dangerous of a one-on-one player as there ever has been, emulating the bold and sudden dashes of his idol Valeri Kharlamov. He had a laser of a shot and as much of a goal scorer's mentality as the Soviet system allowed. But he was every bit as lethal with his great passing game, be it short give-and-goes or impossible breakout passes.

He played 11 years for CSKA Moscow of the Soviet league with his team winning the league title each season. He also participated in 3 Winter Olympic Games and 11 World Championships and has been a member of 13 gold medal-winning teams: Canada Cup (1981), World Jr. Championships (1977, 1978), Olympics (1984, 1988), World Championships (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989, 1990).

An 11-time Soviet National League All-Star and 8-time World Championship First-Team All-Star, Makarov also was a 2-time winner of the "Gold Stick" award as the outstanding player in Europe.

Makarov's greatest honor from his playing days in the U.S.S.R. would be his placing among 23 others as a Masters of Sport in Russia, an honor equivalent to Hall of Fame selection.

Here's a look at Sergei Makarov's career stats prior to joining the National Hockey League: 519 league games; 322 goals, 388 assists for 710 points. Keep in mind that this is just Soviet League games and does not include Olympic or World Championship games where Makarov and his linemates shone brightest. Makarov scored 189 goals in 315 games in 14 seasons with the Soviet national team.

Sergei Makarov was the greatest right winger in all of Europe during the 1980s, and the late Valeri Kharlamov's heir as the Soviet's most electrifying and deadly weapon. Together with linemates Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, Makarov was a magnificent player, as good as anyone in the world, except maybe Canada's Wayne Gretzky. The KLM Line was certainly the top line in all of hockey in the 1980s, and perhaps the most awesome offensive trio ever.

The fall of Iron Curtain allowed Makarov, along with linemates Larionov, Krutov, and defense partners Fetisov and Kasatonov amongst others to leave the Central Red Army and pursue a career elsewhere in 1989, and the NHL was waiting. Although they all came in their twilight of their careers, all have had varying success in the NHL. Despite being under an intense microscope, Makarov made the immediate adjustment the easiest of all the old Russian players, as he would score 24 goals and 62 assists with the Calgary Flames in 1989-90, earning him the Calder trophy as the NHL's best first year player.

Despite being critical of North America's dump-and-chase game as compared to the Soviet's intricate passing and puck control game, he would go on to put up impressive statistics for 4 more years before age caught up with him. Other than 4 lonely games in Dallas, Makarov finished his NHL career in San Jose, playing on the "ov line" with Igor Larionov and Swedish player Johan Garpenlov.

Sergei Makarov electrifying speed and stickhandling terrorized Canadian hockey fans for most of the 1980s, which is why he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2001. When he joined the NHL people doubted he could do it against NHL competition over an 80 game schedule. Despite some tough circumstances, Makarov proved them otherwise. Yet it is not his NHL career that earns him his place as a one the Greatest Hockey Legends.

Last I've heard Sergei Makarov still lives in California's Bay Area, with his wife American Mary and his children; son Nicky and daughter Katya. His oldest son, Artem, from a previous marriage, was living in Calgary. Makarov was said to be enjoying his anonymous life, but he is still active in the game. He is a certified player agent who acts as a liaison for young Russians wanting to play in North America.

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