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King, Roberts, Macoun endorse Makarov induction

Former Flames chronicle memories of Hall of Fame inductee, Makarov

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Arguably no man is better equipped to assess Sergei Makarov's Hall worthiness than Dave King.

The two men are synonymous with international hockey, King as the brain centre behind perennially-underdog Canada, Makarov as a global star with the powerhouse Soviet Big Red Machine.

They pitted styles and ideologies against one another on ice surfaces from Moscow to Montreal.

The longtime adversaries were finally able to collaborate, here with the Calgary Flames, to open the 1990-91 NHL season.

 

"Late in games, y'now, it wasn't like he was great defensively,'' laughs King now, from his home in Arizona. "So if we happened to be up a goal or two late in games often I wouldn't play him.

"I'd put out Nieuwy and Roy (Gary Roberts) and someone else with them. A (Paul) Ranheim or somebody like that -- someone more defensive-minded.

"Makarov didn't like that at all. So he'd take off his helmet, put it beside him on the bench, untie his skates and just sit there, staring straight ahead. Like: 'OK.'"

Well, on the backcheck he comes straight to the bench, gives me that Makarov stare -- a real prolonged stare, and he had a doozy -- like 'OK, buddy. See that? Don't mess with me. I'm Sergei Makarov.' - Dave King

King remembers Roberts and Nieuwendyk pleading with him one day, saying 'Kinger, please, one time in a game like that, put Sergei out there. If we're only up one, OK, we understand. If we're up two, though, call his name, please.'"

That game arrived in short order.

"So Makarov's sitting there,'' recalls King, amused, "last couple of minutes, we're up two, his helmet's off, his gloves are off, skates are untied and he's staring straight ahead. As usual. I call 'Okay, I want Niewuendyk, Makarov and Roberts ready to go!' He literally throws his helmet on, doesn't get the chinstrap done up, doesn't get his skates tied properly, jumps over the boards, gets the puck, goes in, dekes a couple of guys, just makes 'em look silly, and rings it off the goal post.

"And his skates aren't even done up! Anybody else would be stumbling and falling all the over the place.

"Well, on the backcheck he comes straight to the bench, gives me that Makarov stare -- a real prolonged stare, and he had a doozy -- like 'OK, buddy. See that? Don't mess with me. I'm Sergei Makarov.'

"A great player. Absolutely fantastic."

On Monday, the Red Army and Russian legend, one cog of the fabled KLM Line and in that first group of aging Soviet superstars to make the shift to North American pro hockey, was one of four men inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, class of 2016.

"Deserving?'' repeats King. "Of course. He's been a legitimate candidate for a while now.

"He was still a great player when he arrived here at what, 29 or 30? Can you imagine at 22, 23, 24, with a little more enthusiasm for it all, how great they could've been, what they could've accomplished?

"Still, this honour for Sergei … great to see."

Makarov's sublime skill set often left his teammates scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Roberts is fond of telling a story of how, having watched the Chelyabinsk magician weave his sorcery as part of the same line, he got ambitious and one game tried to feather a pass between two sets of skates to an unattended Makarov at the back post.

The puck made it through the first set, clipped one skate and deflected away on the second set of blades. Audacious in the attempt. A near-thing in the execution.

Still, when the pass went astray, Makarov simply shook his head forlornly and tapped his stick remonstratively on the ice.

"I was pretty proud of almost getting the puck through,'' laughed Roberts. "So we get back to the bench and I'm like: 'Sorry, Sergei. That's as good as I can do!"

The Makarov resume has long been Hall of Fame. Two Olympic gold meals, eight World Championship titles and the 1981 Canada Cup triumph, over and above the trail-blazing seasons he spent here in North America.

The stocky winger arrived here after negotiations by then-Flames' GM Cliff Fletcher with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation following Calgary's Stanley Cup-winning season, capturing the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year in contentious vote given his age at the time.

The stylistic transition was difficult, as expected, for Makarov, going from the cocoon of the Soviet system to the broader NHL game.

"We have so much diversity here in types of players,'' reminds King. "With Red Army, and that meant with the national team, too, you could almost play asleep -- those guys knew each other that well.

"Here the first two lines were skilled players, the third and fourth made up of tough, heavy, grinding players. When Makarov saw these guys in practice, you could see him going: "WHAT is this?! These guys could never play in our league in Russia.' And he was right. They weren't the right type of player for the game there but they were for the game here.

"To be in that first wave of Russians, exposed to a different style of game, it was a real eye opener.

"They were sometimes a little impatient with the skill level of some of our players."

Still, Makarov would go on to put up 292 points, including 198 helpers, in 297 games as a Flame before exiting for San Jose and a stint in teal.

"Such a talented, talented guy,'' says defenceman Jamie Macoun. "He had a big influence on a lot of guys, just the way he played. Gary Roberts went from a third or fourth-line guy up to playing with Joe Nieuwendyk, then suddenly turning into a goal scorer and playmaker because SO much attention was on Makarov.

"Gary joked once that his first three goals of the season were scored into empty nets -- because everyone, including the goalie, was so obsessed with Makarov.

"He had talent, quiet in the dressing room. One of those guys who'd come and 'Uh, Jamie, go here' and point to where he wanted you to be. Not because he's trying to showboat or anything, but just because 'I do it this way. I've scored 400,000 goals and I'll take care of it.' Just … honesty.

"Never tried to show anybody up. Very humble."

Anyone here during Makarov's years wearing the Flaming C can't wait to hear his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

"It'll be like 'Thank you. Bye','' jokes Macoun.

"Just that kind of guy."

That kind of a guy, and that kind of singular player. One of the finest, most impactful, of a generation. As such, richly deserving of the honour bestowed on him Monday.

"I think it's important that the Hockey Hall of Fame reflects the international nature of our game,'' says Dave King, one of enduring symbols of Canadian hockey globally. "Makarov was a superstar in Russia, all over Europe. Then he came over here and was a superstar in our game, too.

"Bob Johnson used to use the expression: A world-class hockey player. With Sergei Makarov, that is correct. He's a world-class hockey player.

"And is now deservedly in the Hall of Fame."

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