Today is Anatoly Tarasov’s birthday. The father of Soviet hockey would have been 102.
It’s a good time to briefly discuss his program’s most lasting tactical contribution to our sport: neutral-zone build-up play
What looks like beautiful but discordant player and puck movement actually follows one simple principle: inversion
Invert, always invert!
Charlie Munger, American investor & vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway
The Soviet Long Regroup
Below is an illustration of the moments leading up to Valeri Kharlamov’s breakaway goal against the Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Eve, 1976:
The Canadiens are set up in a 1-4 neutral zone trap, a defensive formation Scotty Bowman used with success against the Soviets with the Habs and with the 1976 Canada Cup team.
On the night the MTL-Red Army game would finish in a 3-3 tie, with the NHLers heavily out-playing and out-shooting the Soviets, partly thanks to this passive but hermetic defensive stance.
Teams such as the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins would move the puck up the wing and run a dump-and-chase play. But not CSKA Moscow (aka the Soviet Red Army).
Indeed the stage is set for the visitors to run their patented neutral-zone regroup, and it’s all about inversion:
Center Inverts: Instead of being in the middle of the action and pushing north toward the MTL zone, C #16 Vladimir Petrov takes control of the puck as the last man back
Wingers Invert: Rather than post up at the far blue line, LW #17 Kharlamov and RW #7 Boris Mikhailov move to their off-wings, then swing back to build speed
Defensemen Invert: Abandonning their positions behind the puck carrier, #5 Valeri Vasiliev stays wide to be an outlet and #2 Alexander Gusev pushes up, acting as an east-west moving pick in the middle of the neutral zone
No one is doing what a typical player of their position is meant to do - in fact they are doing the exact opposite.
Watch what happens next (starting at 1:03:59):
The spirit of Tarasov is alive and well in modern hockey. Learn all about it:
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