SOCHI -- Ray Shero is the son of a Hall of Fame coach who ignored the political climate during the Cold War to try to learn hockey the Soviet way so he could bring the teachings and techniques back to North America.
On Saturday, Shero, the acting general manager for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, has the opportunity to do something his Hall of Fame father Fred never had the chance to do: Watch his team beat the Russians in Russia.
"As my dad would say, 'How do you know you're champions if you never beat the Russians?'" Shero told NHL.com on Friday. "He always thought they had maybe the greatest team."
Now the Americans think they might have the greatest team at these Olympics. They'll get a chance to showcase what they're all about when they square off against Russia, also a gold-medal contender, at Bolshoy Ice Dome in the second game of Group C play for each country (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
For the Americans, it’s the first chance to win an Olympic hockey game against Russia in Russia. For Shero it's a game that has meaning stretching back to the days when his father was studying the teachings of Anatoli Tarasov and trying to break down walls within the North American hockey world.
"My dad really enjoyed the style of play," Shero said. "People found that hard to believe when he was coaching the Broad Street Bullies (as the Philadelphia Flyers were known during the 1970s), but he really had a fondness for this level of hockey, the coaching and training in particular. To see 1980, which obviously was a statement for the United States as we know, and to have another opportunity to play them, it's going to be a great opportunity for the United States in Russia."
Fred Shero is one of the many reasons why nearly four decades later the Americans have become one of the world's hockey superpowers. He was an innovator and a risk-taker in addition to being a two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach with the Flyers.
At a time when Americans and Soviets were at odds, when communism ruled in this part of the world, Shero chose instead to befriend Tarasov, the father of Russian hockey, so he could learn the training techniques and playing style of some of the best players in the world.
The Soviets weren't enemies in the Shero household during the 1970s; they were extraordinary hockey players. While other kids might have hated Soviet stars such as Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov, Vladimir Krutov and Boris Mikhailov, a teenage Ray Shero admired them because of his father.
Ray Shero always thought Tretiak was this unbelievable figure, this amazing goaltender. He's still in awe of Tretiak even though he's met him several times and even ran into him and his wife here Thursday.
"I hated the [New York] Rangers and the [Boston] Bruins, that's who I hated," Shero said. "Then when my father went to the Rangers, I hated someone else. That's the way it goes in hockey. But no, I think there was an appreciation and respect for the way the game was played [in the Soviet Union]. I look back in the mid-70s and certainly before that, not so much in their style of play but their training techniques were so far advanced of what we had in North America. We were maybe 20 years behind from what they had here. It's amazing.
"It was at a different level of training. It was something. The Russians have made hockey better with their skill level, their training techniques. They have certainly made hockey a better game and you thank them for that. They have such incredible speed and skill and passing; it makes you dizzy."
The current Russian team has all of that plus power coming from the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Americans think they can beat that Russian speed, skill, passing and power with their own brand of it all.
Shero can't wait to see them try. He certainly wouldn't be surprised if they succeeded.
"I think in 2010 they made a statement, and there is an expectation now and a quiet confidence in this group as to how they can play," Shero said. "Let's be honest; it's one game. It's not going to dictate how the tournament goes. It's one game. But there is a confidence in the group and there should be because I think they're good players, they're resilient and they're hard-nosed kids. Hopefully we'll give them all they can handle."
And make his late Hall of Fame father proud.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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