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Hall of Fame

Sergei Makarov 'a superstar all over the world'

Longtime Soviet star earned 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame election with play at home, NHL

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

Sergei Makarov and his new Calgary Flames teammates were just beginning to get to know each other during their Friendship Tour of preseason games in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in September 1989 when he invited linemates Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk over for dinner at his Moscow apartment.

After riding up to the penthouse in a tiny elevator, Roberts and Nieuwendyk were struck by two things: How small Makarov's apartment was and how big his collection of trophies was.

"The first thing I remember is walking into his apartment and he had this maybe 100-square-foot room that was just a little sitting area that was full of all his crystals that he had won," Roberts said. "That was when I realized just how good this guy was with this very amazing trophy room that he had."

Makarov, 58, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday based on his entire career, including seven NHL seasons with the Flames, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars. But he probably did enough during his 11 seasons of playing for the Soviet national team and 13 seasons with the Soviet Red Army team to be worthy of enshrinement.

Joining Makarov will be Eric Lindros, Pat Quinn and Rogie Vachon. Also being honored are Sam Rosen for winning the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a broadcaster, and Bob Verdi for winning the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in journalism.

In international play Makarov, a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, won eight World Championship gold medals, two Olympic gold medals and one silver, two World Junior Championship gold medals and the 1981 Canada Cup. He led the Soviet Championship League in points nine times and in goals three times, won the Soviet Player of the Year award three times and was named to the Soviet League All-Star Team 10 times.

Skating mostly on the famed "KLM Line" with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, Makarov had 322 goals and 710 points in 519 games with Red Army. In three Olympics he had 11 goals and 28 points in 22 games. In three Canada Cup tournaments he had 16 goals and 31 points in 22 games.

In 11 World Championships, he had 56 goals and 124 points in 100 games.

"His stats are first-class, there's no doubt about it," said Larionov, a 2008 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. "But as one of the top players in the game when he was playing for the Soviet national team in the Olympics and the World Championship and then going to North America and the NHL in 1989, his consistency was remarkable."

Makarov was 31 years old when Soviet authorities permitted him to play in the NHL in 1989-90. He had 24 goals and 86 points in 80 games and won the Calder Trophy.

Makarov still chuckles at the mention of the controversy that caused; it led to a rule change that stipulated that a player must be 26 or younger to be eligible for the trophy. A man of few words, especially when he's the subject of the conversation, Makarov didn't want to discuss where that award ranks among his many achievements.

"There's not just one thing that was very important because I had a long career and there were lots of good things in my life," he said.

What does being voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame mean to him?

"Of course I'm glad like everyone," he said.

Those who played with and against Makarov believe his game would translate well to the NHL today. A 5-foot-11, 195-pound right wing, he could keep the puck away from defenders with his thick lower body, but also had the speed to race past them to score or set up a teammate.

"He was a great player," said Pavel Bure, a 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who played with Makarov with the Red Army. "He could beat the whole team by himself. He could go around all five guys on the ice and score a goal. I got lucky. I got to play with him when I was only 16 and I had a chance to play on the same line with him when I was 17, which was for me was unbelievable."

Larionov sees stylistic similarities to Makarov in St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. Roberts compares him to Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers.

"Jaromir Jagr has a big body that protects the puck as well as Sergei Makarov did," Roberts said. "Sergei Makarov was the same way. He could control the puck and stick his big [rear end] out and spread his feet, and you could not lift his stick to get the puck off his stick."

Although synonymous with the "KLM line," Makarov attributes his Soviet-era success to being part of a consistent group of five players. Dubbed the "Green Unit" because of the color of their practice jerseys, it featured Krutov, Larionov and Makarov, and defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.

"It's not right to talk about three because there were five of us," Makarov said. "We played together on the Red Army and we played together on the national team. What was good about this is we spent lots of time together and we knew each other. Everyone knew each other's role, how to skate and how to pass together. When you play with the same guys all the time and every one of them is a great player, it's easy to play."

Well aware of the talented players in the Soviet system, NHL teams began selecting them in later rounds of the draft. The Flames picked Makarov, who was 24 at the time, in the 12th round (No. 231) of the 1983 NHL Draft.

"He was referred to at that time as the Wayne Gretzky of Russia," said Cliff Fletcher, then the general manager of the Flames and a 2004 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. "He played on that powerhouse Red Army team, which was one of the greatest hockey teams ever, and he was the key player on their No. 1 line. Anybody who was a hockey fan, when you saw him play you knew he was a great player. The issue was, obviously, would the Soviet government ever reach the point where they would give permission to some of these players to leave."

With the Cold War nearing its end in 1989, it finally happened. Separated from Krutov and Larionov, whose NHL rights were owned by the Vancouver Canucks, Makarov was immediately slotted onto a line with Roberts and Nieuwendyk. That spot was open because Hakan Loob decided to return to his native Sweden after helping the Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Although Makarov bristled against the dump-and-chase approach NHL teams sometimes used, his skill shone through. In his first season he set a Flames single-game record with seven points (two goals, five assists) in a 10-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 25, 1990.

Roberts jumped from 22 goals and 38 points in 1988-89 to 39 goals and 72 points in 1989-90. During that season Roberts' then-wife, Tamra, was pregnant and he jokingly promised Makarov he'd name his first-born after him if he was a boy "because he was so good at giving me so many scoring chances."

He was a bit relieved when a baby girl they named Jordan arrived, but Makarov didn't stop setting Roberts up. In 1991-92, he helped Roberts score an NHL career-high 53 goals.

"He made me a better hockey player," Roberts said. "He would get mad at me for dumping the puck in. I would come across the red line and go to dump the puck in his corner, and he would just look across at me and shake his head. We'd come back to the bench and he'd say to me in his broken English, 'Robs, why you dump puck in? Give me puck. Go to the net.'"

Makarov acknowledged that his transition to the NHL was difficult at times because of the language barrier.

"On the ice it was no problem," he said. "It just took some time to learn to play together. It was outside hockey that it was a problem because of the language. I played with great players. They helped me a lot and got to know me and it was no problem."

After four seasons with the Flames, Makarov was traded to the Hartford Whalers on June 20, 1993. Six days later the Whalers traded him to the Sharks, where he was reunited with Larionov.

At age 35 Makarov matched his NHL-best with 30 goals in 1993-94 and scored eight goals in 14 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the help Sharks come within one win of reaching the Western Conference Final. He finished his NHL career with a four-game stint with the Stars in 1996-97 and then played briefly in Switzerland before retiring.

"His career may have been starting to downtrend slightly by the time he reached the NHL, but he had a very productive 2-3 years for us and there was no doubting his individual talent," Fletcher said. "He was one unbelievably skilled hockey player."

Makarov declined to speculate on what he might have achieved in the League if he had arrived 10 years earlier, perhaps because he doesn't want to devalue the years he spent playing in his homeland.

"You can't really delete those years we played together and the game we created, the five of us," Larionov said. "It's a huge part of the history of Soviet hockey and the game internationally and how the game is supposed to be played."

Bure doesn't see the point in discussing what could have been either.

"By the time he got to the NHL he was a superstar all over the world," he said of Makarov. "He probably would have loved to play in the NHL before age 31, but he was already a superstar."

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