Fitting tribute to hockey legend

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

All his life, Alexander Kharlamov has had to rely on second-hand information to understand what anybody knows about seeing his father play.

Which is, that Valeri Kharlamov is one of the hockey greats. Not just one of the Russian greats, not just an international great, but one of the greats, period.

Famed Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov once said of Kharlamov: "If you could have taken pictures of every goal Valeri scored, you would see he never repeated himself."

Politics dictated that Valeri never got to play in the National Hockey League as so many of his countrymen now do, but there is no doubt, not a shred, that he would have been a star for the ages here.

LEGACY

He and wife Irina were tragically killed in a car accident on Aug. 27, 1981. Valeri Kharlamov was just 31 but left an impressive hockey legacy.

"He's obviously one of the better hockey players who ever played the game," said Canadian icon Paul Henderson. "In 1972, and for a bunch of years thereafter, he proved to us and the world that he was one of the most skilled, talented players ever.

"He did it all."

But now that the day has arrived for his late father's Hall of Fame induction, Alexander, at the age of 30, has been able to view the event from a unique perspective. A hockey player of some note himself (he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1994 and played for the Red Army, his father's former team), the younger Kharlamov has been playing in a four-city tour with a team of Russian stars against some Canadian stars of yesteryear.

Wearing his father's No. 17, Alexander has laced 'em up with Alexander Yakushev, Viktor Kuskin, Viktor Shalimov and others who played with his father in his prime.

This becomes especially poignant for him because he was only five years of age when his parents died and never really saw his father play.

"It's so exciting to be here for this weekend and to be playing in these games with Canadian legends and with Russian legends," he said after yesterday's game at the Air Canada Centre, won by Canada 7-4. "These people were my idols when I was growing up.

"Just being here for the Hall of Fame honour for my father would have been enough. But to experience it in this way, playing on the same ice with the great players, many who played with and against my father ... it's hard to explain the feeling."

Valeri Kharlamov's greatness, as was the case with most of his teammates, did not come as a slow, gradual awareness in Canada. We were hit right between the eyes with it in September of 1972. We never saw it coming.

He looked as if he had been born to the game of hockey and that game alone. He stunned not just the Canadian public but the Canadian hockey establishment.

"He sure did," Henderson said. "Him and 18 others on his team. Kharlamov and Yakushev would probably stand out. Ask the guys in '72 and they would have said that Yakushev was on a par with (Kharlamov)."

Which begs the question: Has the Hockey Hall of Fame shortchanged those superior teams that represented the old Soviet Union?

Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, and now Kharlamov, are the only players from that golden era to be inducted.

The innovative Tarasov was so honoured in 1974.

But what of Yakushev? Or Boris Mikhailov? Or Vladimir Petrov? Or Anatoli Firsov?

A true student of the game could probably come up with another half-dozen names of worthy candidates.

That is a question for another day, to be sure. This day belongs to the Class of 2005: Murray Costello, Cam Neely and Valeri Kharlamov.

It will be an emotional day for Costello and Neely, no doubt, but no less so for Alexander Kharlamov and his sister, Begoneta, who lost their parents so young.

"I feel confused," Alexander said. "A little bit nervous, but everything is going to be all right. It's a big thing in the newspapers back home, but what makes this so special is that he is being honoured in Canada where hockey is No. 1. To have that happen to my father, to be honoured in Canada, says everything that needs to be said."


Videos

Photos