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03-27-2011, 07:31 PM
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Posting this here, because it has implications far beyond the one player:

An "ancient" 31 year old Bilyaletdinov was added to a declining Soviet Club in 1987, out of desperation.

There is a feeling among long-time international observers that the Soviet program is in a state of transition, both in style and personnel. Although the Soviets have been playing hockey for 40 years, their game may be experiencing its first growing pains.

In one move interpreted as desperation, 31-year-old Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was added to the touring squad shortly before the Soviets left for Quebec, although he hadn't qualfied for the national squad in years. (For the Soviets, 30 is nearly ancient in hockey terms. Once past that "golden" age, players are routinely farmed out or given coaching duties.)

The pool of young talent has evidently dried up. The Soviets went victoryless in the recent fight-filled junior championships. [Alan Eagleson] said he couldn't recall seeing a worse collection of Soviet
-Providence Journal, Feb 14, 1987

Seems the Soviet Hockey system was in decline in the late 80s, even before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This after its "peak" in the early-mid 80s. Speculation: Did Tikhonov throw away too many players he didn't like?

Either way, it explains one of the great mysteries of the fall of the USSR related to hockey. I've seen it asked on the History of Hockey board - was Fetisov really that good or did he just look good compared to the other Soviet defensemen? It's an logical question - while many Russian forwards have been huge impact players in the NHL, their defensemen really haven't been, with the exceptions of single year blips from Konstantinov and Zubov.

This shows, however, that well before the fall of the Iron Curtain, the USSR hockey program was already in decline, especially when it comes to defensemen.

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